“Even if the hopes you started out with are dashed, hope has to be maintained.” –Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney published his first poetry book in 1966, Death of a Naturalist, creating vivid portraits of rural life. Later work looked at his homeland’s civil war, and he won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature for his globally acclaimed oeuvre, with its focus on love, nature and memory. A professor and speaker, Heaney died on August 30, 2013.
Seamus Justin Heaney was the first of nine children in a Catholic family. He received a scholarship to attend the boarding school St. Columb’s College in Derry and went on to Queens University in Belfast, studying English and graduating in 1961.
Heaney worked as a schoolteacher for a time before becoming a college lecturer and eventually working as a freelance scribe by the early ’70s. In 1965, he married Marie Devlin, a fellow writer who would figure prominently in Heaney’s work. The couple went on to have three children.
Seamus Heaney had his poetry collection debut in 1966 with Death of a Naturalist, and went on to publish many more lauded books of poems that included North (1974), Station Island (1984), The Spirit Level (1996) and District and Circle (2006). Over the years, he also became known for his prose writing and work as an editor, as well as serving as a professor at Harvard and Oxford universities.
Heaney published “Requiem for the Croppies”, a poem that commemorates the Irish rebels of 1798, on the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. He read the poem to both Catholic and Protestant audiences in Ireland. He commented, “To read ‘Requiem for the Croppies’ wasn’t to say ‘up the IRA’ or anything. It was silence-breaking rather than rabble-rousing.” He stated, “You don’t have to love it. You just have to permit it.”
A much-quoted statement was when he objected to being included in The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry, his response was delivered in his poem “An Open Letter”:
“Don’t be surprised if I demur, for, be advised
My passport’s green.
No glass of ours was ever raised
To toast The Queen.”