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Seamus Heaney

Heaney, Seamus (Justin) (shāˈməs hēˈnē) [key], 1939–2013, Irish poet, one of the finest contemporary English poets, b. Londonderry (now Derry), Northern Ireland, grad. Queen's Univ., Belfast (B.A., 1961). In his early works, such as Death of a Naturalist (1966) and Door into the Dark (1969), Heaney is a lyrical nature poet, writing with limpid simplicity about the disappearing world of unspoiled rural Ireland. He moved from Belfast to the Irish Republic in 1972, ultimately settling in Dublin. In works such as North (1975), Field Work (1979), and The Haw Lantern (1987), Heaney attempted to grapple with Ireland's bloody past and troubled present. In Station Island (1984), often declared his best sustained work, he tried to come to terms with his own exile, reworking Dante to dramatize a tragic vision of Irish history. Later poems, alternately elegiac and visionary and filled with a love for the common objects of the world, are included in Seeing Things (1991), The Spirit Level (1996), Electric Light (2001), District and Circle (2006), and Human Chain (2010), which reflects on death, memory, and other preoccupations of old age.

Extremely evocative yet clear and direct, balanced between the personal and the topical, Heaney's carefully crafted poetry has been praised for its powerful imagery, dense yet nuanced language, meaningful content, musical phrasing, and compelling rhythms. Widely recognized as Ireland's greatest poet since William Butler Yeats, Heaney was awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. Many of his critical, biographical, and autobiographical essays were collected in Preoccupations (1980), The Government of the Tongue (1989), and Finders Keepers (2002). He was also a skillful translator; his works in this genre include the medieval Irish Sweeney Astray (1984), Sophocles's Philoctetes (tr. as The Cure at Troy, 1990) and Antigone (tr. as The Burial at Thebes, 2004), the highly acclaimed Beowulf (2000), and the libretto of Janáček's song cycle Diary of One Who Vanished (2001). Heaney was also a teacher, at Oxford (1989–94) and Harvard (1985–2006); his Oxford lectures on poetry are in The Redress of Poetry (1995).

See studies by R. Buttel (1975), T. Curtis (1982, repr. 2001), B. Morrison (1982), H. Hart (1992), M. Parker (1993), J. W. Foster (1995), R. F. Garratt, ed. (1995), C. Molloy and P. Carey, ed. (1996), M. Allen, ed. (1997), E. Andrews, ed. (1992 and 1998), H. Vendler (1998), H. Bloom, ed. (2003), F. Collins (2003), and A. B. Crowder and J. D. Hall, ed. (2007); B. O'Donoghue, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Seamus Heaney (2009).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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