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Seamus Heaney

1939–2013

Seamus Heaney was born on April 13, 1939, in Castledawson, County Derry, Northern Ireland. He earned a teacher's certificate in English at St. Joseph's College in Belfast and in 1963 took a position as a lecturer in English at that school. While at St. Joseph's he began to write, joining a poetry workshop with Derek Mahon, Michael Longley, and others under the guidance of Philip Hobsbaum. In 1965 he married Marie Devlin, and the following year he published Death of a Naturalist (Oxford University Press, 1966).

He produced numerous collections of poetry, including Human Chain (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010), District and Circle (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), Opened Ground (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999), which was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; The Spirit Level (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996); Selected Poems 1966–1987 (Faber and Faber, 1990); and Sweeney Astray (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983).

He also wrote several volumes of criticism, including The Redress of Poetry (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995), and of translation, including Beowulf (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000), which won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award.

In June of 2012, Heaney was awarded the Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Trust For Excellence in Poetry. He was also a Foreign Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and held the chair of Professor of Poetry at Oxford from 1989 to 1994. In 1995 he received the Nobel Prize in Literature. Heaney was a resident of Dublin from 1976 to 2013. Beginning in 1981, he also spent part of each year teaching at Harvard University, where in 1984 he was elected the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory.

Seamus Heaney passed away in Dublin, Ireland, on August 30, 2013. He was seventy-four.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry
Selected Poems, 1988–2013 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014)
Human Chain (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010)
District and Circle (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006)
Electric Light (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001)
Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966–1996 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999)
The Spirit Level (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996)
The Midnight Verdict (Gallery Books, 1993)
Seeing Things (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1991)
New Selected Poems, 1966–1987 (Faber and Faber, 1990)
The Haw Lantern (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1987)
Station Island (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1985)
Sweeney Astray: A Version From the Irish (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983)
Poems 1965–1975 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980)
Field Work (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979)
North (Oxford University Press, 1975)
Wintering Out (Oxford University Press, 1973)
Door into the Dark (Oxford University Press, 1969)
Death of a Naturalist (Oxford University Press, 1966)

Prose
Finders Keepers: Selected Prose, 1971–2001 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002)
Crediting Poetry: The Nobel Lecture (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996)
Homage to Robert Frost, with Joseph Brodsky and Derek Walcott (1996)
Preoccupations: Selected Prose, 1968–1978 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980)
The Fire i' the Flint: Reflections on the Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Oxford University Press, 1975)
The Government of the Tongue: Selected Prose 1978-1987 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988)
The Place of Writing (Scholars Press, 1989)
The Redress of Poetry: Oxford Lectures (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995)

Translation
Aeneid, Book VI: A New Verse Translation (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016)
Beowulf: A New Verse Translation (W. W. Norton, 2001)

Drama
The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles' Philoctetes (Noonday Press, 1991)

Seamus Heaney
Photo credit: Giovanni Giovannetti

By This Poet

4

A Kite for Aibhin

After "L'Aquilone" by Giovanni Pascoli (1855-1912)
Air from another life and time and place,
Pale blue heavenly air is supporting
A white wing beating high against the breeze,

And yes, it is a kite! As when one afternoon
All of us there trooped out
Among the briar hedges and stripped thorn,

I take my stand again, halt opposite
Anahorish Hill to scan the blue,
Back in that field to launch our long-tailed comet.

And now it hovers, tugs, veers, dives askew,
Lifts itself, goes with the wind until
It rises to loud cheers from us below.

Rises, and my hand is like a spindle
Unspooling, the kite a thin-stemmed flower
Climbing and carrying, carrying farther, higher

The longing in the breast and planted feet
And gazing face and heart of the kite flier
Until string breaks and—separate, elate—

The kite takes off, itself alone, a windfall.

Anything Can Happen

Anything can happen. You know how Jupiter
Will mostly wait for clouds to gather head
Before he hurls the lightning? Well, just now
He galloped his thunder cart and his horses

Across a clear blue sky. It shook the earth
And the clogged underearth, the River Styx,
The winding streams, the Atlantic shore itself.
Anything can happen, the tallest towers

Be overturned, those in high places daunted,
Those overlooked regarded. Stropped-beak Fortune
Swoops, making the air gasp, tearing the crest off one,
Setting it down bleeding on the next.

Ground gives. The heaven’s weight
Lifts up off Atlas like a kettle-lid.
Capstones shift, nothing resettles right.
Telluric ash and fire-spores boil away.

Audenesque

in memory of Joseph Brodsky

Joseph, yes, you know the beat.
Wystan Auden’s metric feet
Marched to it, unstressed and stressed,
Laying William Yeats to rest.

Therefore, Joseph, on this day,
Yeats’s anniversary,
(Double-crossed and death-marched date,
January twenty-eight),

Its measured ways I tread again
Quatrain by constrained quatrain,
Meting grief and reason out
As you said a poem ought.

Trochee, trochee, falling: thus
Grief and metre order us.
Repetition is the rule,
Spins on lines we learnt at school.

Repetition, too, of cold
In the poet and the world,
Dublin Airport locked in frost,
Rigor mortis in your breast.

Ice no axe or book will break,
No Horatian ode unlock,
No poetic foot imprint,
Quatrain shift or couplet dint,

Ice of Archangelic strength,
Ice of this hard two-faced month,
Ice like Dante’s in deep hell
Makes your heart a frozen well.

Pepper vodka you produced
Once in Western Massachusetts
With the reading due to start
Warmed my spirits and my heart

But no vodka, cold or hot,
Aquavit or uisquebaugh
Brings the blood back to your cheeks
Or the colour to your jokes,

Politically incorrect
Jokes involving sex and sect,
Everything against the grain.
Drinking, smoking like a train.

In a train in Finland we
Talked last summer happily,
Swapping manuscripts and quips,
Both of us like cracking whips

Sharpened up and making free,
Heading west for Tampere
(West that meant for you, of course,
Lenin’s train-trip in reverse).

Nevermore that wild speed-read,
Nevermore your tilted head
Like a deck where mind took off
With a mind-flash and a laugh,

Nevermore that rush to pun
Or to hurry through all yon
Jammed enjambments piling up
As you went above the top,

Nose in air, foot to the floor,
Revving English like a car
You hijacked when you robbed its bank
(Russian was your reserve tank).

Worshipped language can’t undo
Damage time has done to you:
Even your peremptory trust
In words alone here bites the dust.

Dust-cakes, still—see Gilgamesh
Feed the dead. So be their guest.
Do again what Auden said
Good poets do: bite, break their bread.

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