A tribute to Seamus Heaney

3 September 2013

Seamus Heaney, Nobel Prize-winning poet and a great friend of the Bodleian Libraries, passed away last week at the age of 74.

Heaney, internationally recognised as one of the greatest Irish poets, had a long relationship with Oxford. He was the University’s Professor of Poetry and a Fellow of Magdalen College from 1989 to 1994 (his 1995 The Redress of Poetry features his Oxford lectures), and he received the Bodley Medal from the Library in 2004. Heaney’s relationship with the Library continued through the Clutag Press, which published a small volumes of Heaney poems entitled ‘A Shiver’. The archives of the Clutag Press are at the Bodleian, including some Heaney manuscripts and letters, and some of the Libraries’ very first podcasts feature Heaney reading at the launch of the Clutag literary magazine Archipelago.

Heaney was born in 1939 in Northern Ireland, coming from the ‘scraggy farm and moss’ that played a feature role in his work. After an Irish education, he settled in Dublin, though he taught in the UK and US. Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 ‘for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past’. His work was known for its resonance far beyond the literary world; his poetry often addressed politics and identity in Ireland, and his prose and translations saw him explore the role of poetry and the poet as well as illuminate ‘with plain speaking’ moments of history from the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf to the Irish Sweeney legend.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Heaney won the Whitbread Prize for his translation of Beowulf, the David Cohen Prize from Arts Council England for lifetime achievement, the TS Eliot Prize for poetry, the Forward Prize and the Griffin Prize, among others. He was an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was last year bestowed with the Seamus Heaney Professorship in Irish Writing at Trinity College, Dublin.

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