Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney Has Died

August 30, 2013

Seamus HeaneyThe 1995 Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney has died. According to the New York Times, the Irish poet “whose lyrical beauty and ethical depth… gave him a prominence far beyond literary circles, died in Dublin after a brief illness.” He was seventy-four. Other awards that Heaney received include the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (1968), the E.M. Forster Award (1975), the PEN Translation Prize (1985), the Golden Wreath of Poetry (2001), T.S. Eliot Prize (2006), and two Whitbread Prizes (1996 and 1999).

Born on a farm in Londonderry in Northern Ireland, Heaney chose to live in Dublin. He resented British oppression in Northern Ireland, but greatly admired British culture and English literature. “His poems often mined the images of his childhood—the peat bogs, small towns, and potato farms—and, in collections like 1975’s “North,” delved into the sectarian violence that was ripping the North apart, exploring its sorrows and causes, though he avoided becoming a spokesman for the Republican cause.” Notable about Heaney is that through his rise to fame, he remained an accessible and public writer. He was a respected translated and broadcaster also. One of the most gifted and distinctive poets of the 20th century, Robert Lowell called him the most important Irish poet since Yeats.

The New York Times rightly states that he was rare among modern poets in that not only the vast majority of critics and academics praised him, but millions of readers also bought him. According to some estimates, he was the best-read living poet in the world in recent decades. He published more than a dozen major collections of poems in his lifetime.

Heaney taught at Harvard, and to the Boston area, he was a great facilitator of interscholastic play and celebrations of poetry. A big and generous spirit, he made fiefdoms less insular and more communal. He was a great teacher and ambassador for poetry’s role in the world.

AWP is honored to have presented Seamus Heaney, together with Derek Walcott, in a keynote presentation at its recent Annual Conference and Bookfair in Boston.

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