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Seamus Heaney

About Seamus Heaney

Seamus Justin Heaney (April 13, 1939 – August 30, 2013) was an Irish poet and playwright, academic, journalist and educator.

He was born on a farm in the Castledàwson, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland, the first of nine children in a Catholic family. He received a scholarship to attend St. Columb’s College in Derry and went on to Queens University in Belfast, studying English and graduating in 1961.

Heaney worked as a schoolteacher before becoming a college lecturer and eventually working as a freelance writer by the early ‘70s. In 1965 he married Marie Devlin, a fellow writer who would figure prominently in his work. The couple went on to have three children.

Heaney’s first poetry collection Death of a Naturalist, was published in 1966. He went on to publish many more collections, including North (1974), Station Island (1984), The Spirit Level (1996) and District and Circle (2006). He also became known for his prose writing and work as an editor, as well as holding professorial posts at Harvard and Oxford universities.

Heaney’s work often deals with the beauty and depth of nature. He became popular with general readers as well as the literary establishment, with a large following in the United Kingdom. His subjects include love, mythology, memory (particularly on his own rural upbringing) and human relationships. Heaney also tackled the sectarian civil conflict known as The Troubles, which had beset Northern Ireland, in works such as Whatever You Say, Say Nothing.

In 2000 Heaney was highly praised for his translation of the epic poem Beowulf (2000), which became a global best-seller and won him the Whitbread Prize. He also translated other works, including Laments, by Jan Kochanowski, Sophocles’s Philoctetes and Robert Henryson’s The Testament of Cresseid & Seven Fables.

In 1995 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and later England’s T.S. Eliot and David Cohen prizes

Heaney published his last book of poetry, Human Chain, in 2010. Regarded as a “kind, lovely soul”, he died in Dublin, Ireland, on August 30, 2013, at the age of 74.