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Summary Article: HEANEY, SEAMUS
from Profiles in Excellence Nobel Laureates All: 1901-2015

Nationality: Irish

b. 13 April 1939, Casteldàwson, Northern Ireland;

d. 30 August 2013, Dublin, Ireland

“For works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past”

Seamus Heaney was born in April 1939, the eldest member of a family of nine children in Northern Ireland. His father, Patric Heaney had a cattle farm and his commitment was to cattledealing and his way of life had a tremendous influence on Seamus Heaney. His mother came from the family of industrial workers and the poet has commented on the fact that his parentage contained both the Ireland of the cattle-herding Gaelic past and the Ulster of the Industrial Revolution. As a young boy Heaney watched American Soldiers on maneuvers in the local fields, in preparation for the Normandy invasion of 1944. His family left the farm in 1953, when he was 14 and his life since then has been a series of moves farther and farther away from his birthplace. These furtherences and departures, however, have only been more geographical than psychological and his Country of the Mind, where is poetry is still grounded has always been his rural country Derry.

Heaney won a scholarship to St. Columb's College, a Catholic boarding school situated in Derry, forty miles away from the home farm in Mossbaun, when he was twelve years of age and his first departure had a great and decisive influence on him. He shifted to Belfast and lived there between 1957 and 1972 and further moved to the Irish Republic where he made his home at Dublin since 1976. He was Visiting Professor in rhetoric at Harvard since 1982, and from 1989 to 1994, was the Professor of Poetry at Oxford.Heaney is a poet, essayist and translator.

Heaney has concerned himself, as an Irish Catholic, with the analysis of the violence of Northern Ireland. The unwillingness on both sides to speak out even about manifest injustices, he opines has been of great importance in the explosive development. He also opposes the defeatism of the Catholics, as in the poem From the Canton of expectation. One point of departure for Heaney is what he calls, is one of the poems in his collection North (1975), northern reticence. He sympathises with this stance but is aware of the risks it involves for a writer. He feels the assertion of generations of rural ancestors who were neither literate nor illiterate and speaks with warmth of the rich experience his parents have communicated. He also, however, expresses his impatience with their reticence. In this poem Alphabets (in The Haw Lantern, 1987) has the lines “The poets dream stole over him like sunlight/ And passed into the tenebrous thickets”.

Experience from the lives of 20th century writers led him to the conclusion that the task of the poet is to ensure survival of beauty, especially in times when tyrannical regimes threaten to destroy it. He discusses the role of poetry and the poet, a theme he often returns to, in his collection of essays such as The Government of the Tongue (1988) and The Place of Writing (1989) his play The Cure at Troy (1990), a translation of Sophocles’. Philoctetes can be seen as one element of Heaney's continual endeavour to find poetic expression for complex ethical issues.

Seeing Things (1991) includes the very interesting section Squarings. The poems here consist of twelve lines, their fixed, restrained from matching only superficially the concert of the poems with their breadth of variation. Much of Heaney's imaginative world has been crystallised in a poem like Lightenings viii, on the miracle at clonmac noise. It brings out the mastery of Heaney's sense of history and sensuality, myths and the day-to-day- all articulated in his rich language and rendering.

© 2016 P.T. Rajasekharan. All Rights Reserved.

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