Seamus Justin Heaney – 13 April 1939 – 30 August 2013 – was an Irish poet, playwright, translator and lecturer, and the recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Born on 13 April, 1939, on a family farm in the rural heart of County Londonderry he was a teacher, lecturer, translator, broadcaster and prose writer of distinction, but poetry what he will always be remembered for; from its range, its consistent quality and its impact on readers: Love poems, epic poems, poems about memory and the past, poems about conflict and civil strife, poems about the natural world, poems addressed to friends, poems that found significance in the everyday or delighted in the possibilities of the English language.
He was a professor at Harvard from 1981 to 1997 and its Poet in Residence from 1988 to 2006. From 1989 to 1994 he was also the Professor of Poetry at Oxford and in 1996 was made a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres. 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) In 2012, he was awarded the Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry. Heaney’s literary papers are held by the National Library of Ireland.
Heaney, aged 74, died at Dublin’s Blackrock Clinic on 30 August 2013, following a period of poor health. Upon his death, Heaney’s books made up two-thirds of the sales of living poets in the UK.
He will be laid to rest on Monday 2nd September 2013 in the same Bellaghy graveyard as his baby brother, Christopher, immortalised in one of his greatest poems:
I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o’clock our neighbors drove me home.
In the porch I met my father crying–
He had always taken funerals in his stride–
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.
The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand
And tell me they were “sorry for my trouble,”
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand
In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.
Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,
Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
A four foot box, a foot for every year.
Here is a video of him reading the poem:
Seamus Heaney was a patron of The John Hewitt Society and I had the enormous pleasure of meeting him during one his readings during the John Hewitt International Summer School in Armagh. Even after a couple of hours of readings, and book signings, he never lost his smile, his grace, or his willingness to spend time with people chatting or giving advice.
Here is a video taken in 2012 of Seamus reading his favourite John Hewitt poem, The Watchers:
The world has not just lost one of its greatest poets but also one of its greatest men. I’d like to leave you now with his own words …
Now it’s high watermark
And floodtide in the heart
And time to go…
What’s left to say?
Suspect too much sweet talk
But never close your mind.
It was a fortunate wind
That blew me here. I leave
Half-ready to believe
That a crippled trust might walk
And the half-true rhyme is love.
~from The Cure At Troy by Seamus Heaney