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Seamus Heaney (Seamus Justin Heaney) Biography

(1939– ), (Seamus Justin Heaney), Death of a Naturalist, Door into the Dark, Wintering Out, North, Stations

Irish poet and critic, born in Castledawson, Co. Derry, educated at Queen's University, Belfast, where he began lecturing in 1966. During the early 1960s he was part of the Belfast writers' group run by Philip Hobsbaum and was closely associated with the emergence of Ulster poetry. He moved to Glanmore in Country Wicklow in 1972 to devote himself to writing. Following a succession of visiting appointments at American universities, he became Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard in 1986 and was elected Oxford Professor of Poetry in 1989. His first two collections of verse, Death of a Naturalist (1966) and Door into the Dark (1969), reflect his agricultural background with an immediacy and authenticity for which the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh a rural Irish precedent. Throughout his career he has continued to make remarkably full and varied use of themes and images drawn from his native locality. Ireland's troubled history and Heaney's uneasy identity as an Irish Catholic writer with firm allegiances to the English literary tradition assume increasing significance in his earlier volumes. The outbreak of sectarian violence in Ulster in 1969 was registered deeply in Wintering Out (1972). The collection initiated the imaginative engagement with the landscape of the peat bogs as a means of comprehending contemporary events which is sustained and intensified in North (1975). His sense of personal implication in Ulster's upheaval was explored at this time through the recollections of childhood in the prose poems of Stations (1975). A more private and lyrically meditative manner is resumed in Field Work (1979); the volume contains several memorable elegies for victims of sectarian killings, anticipating some of the Dantean dialogues with the dead in the title sequence of Station Island (1984). The collection contains a wide range of material amounting to a thorough survey of all his principal concerns; the twelve poems of ‘Station Island’ involve him in an ordeal of confronting his origins and obligations, repeatedly through dramatically imagined encounters with the dead, who include the ghosts of Kavanagh and James Joyce. The book concludes with a new assertion of artistic freedom which is maintained in the liberating imaginative scope and heightened technical virtuosity of The Haw Lantern (1987) and Seeing Things (1991). His New Selected Poems, 1966–1987 appeared in 1990. Other works by Heaney include Sweeney Astray (1983), a version of the medieval Irish Buile Suibhne, of which a revised illustrated version appeared as Sweeney's Flight (1993). He has also gained a high reputation as a critic, showing a wide knowledge of European and American, as well as English and Irish, poetries in the collected essays of Preoccupations (1980) and The Government of the Tongue (1988). Heaney won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: William Hart-Smith Biography to Sir John [Frederick William] Herschel Biography