Seamus Heaney, Nobel-winning poet, dies at 74
Former Nobel Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney speaks during a rehearsal for the Northern Irish national Holocaust commemoration at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2004. Heaney joined survivors of the Holocaust and other victims of genocide at the UK's main ceremony in Belfast. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
Seamus Heaney, an Irish poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, died yesterday morning in a Dublin hospital, according to an emailed statement by his publisher, Faber & Faber. He was 74.
He had been unwell for some time and had canceled recent engagements.
Heaney was the eldest of nine children from County Derry, Northern Ireland, and his rural upbringing was reflected in much of his poetry. While he was put by admirers on the level of Irish literary greats such as Yeats and Shaw, he said he was simply the son of a farmer who was trying to write.
He moved to the Irish Republic and also taught at Harvard and the University of Oxford. His best-known books include Field Work and North, published in the 1970s.
Heaney’s “contribution to the republics of letters, conscience, and humanity was immense,” Irish President Michael Higgins said in an email. “His careful delving, translation and attention to the work of other poets in different languages and often in conditions of unfreedom, meant that he provided them with an audience of a global kind.”
In 1995, the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Heaney “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past,” according to the citation on Nobelprize.org, the official website of the prize.
Born in April 1939, he went on to study at Queen’s University, Belfast. In 1989 he was elected professor of poetry at Oxford University for a five-year period.
Heaney, who also wrote plays, had three children with his wife Marie, whom he met early in his career.
“He was a huge figure internationally,” Irish Minister for Arts Jimmy Deenihan said in an interview with state broadcaster RTE. “He was such a great ambassador for literature, but also for Ireland.”
“Seamus Heaney was the voice of this community, a man of the people who knew his community well and reflected the history and cultural richness of that community,” said Patsy McGlone, a member of Northern Ireland’s Assembly. “I remember him calling into my father’s business when I was younger and being struck by his humility,” he said. “You just have to permit it.”
Heaney stressed his Irish heritage and responded to being included in a book of British poetry by writing: “My passport’s green/ No glass of ours was ever raised/ to toast the Queen.”
He will be best remembered for his rural poems such as “Song”:
“A rowan like a lipsticked girl.
“Between the by-road and the main road
“Alder trees at a wet and dripping distance
“Stand off among the rushes.
“There are the mud-flowers of dialect
“And the immortelles of perfect pitch
“And that moment when the bird sings very close
“To the music of what happens.”