Seamus Justin Heaney (HEE-nee) is widely regarded as the greatest Irish poet since William Butler Yeats, and indeed as one of the foremost contemporary poets in the English language. In 1995 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
He was born in 1939 to a farming family in rural County Derry, Northern Ireland, a background which dominates his early poetry and which continues to inform both his poetry and his critical sensibility. He was schooled in nearby Anahorish and at a boarding school, St. Columb’s College, in Derry. In 1961 he earned his B.A. in English at Queens University, Belfast, and did postgraduate work at Belfast’s St. Joseph’s College of Education, where he also lectured from 1963 to 1966.
Since his undergraduate years, when Heaney began publishing poems and stories in university magazines, his poetic and academic careers have followed parallel courses in honor and achievement. A year after he published the pamphlet 11 Poems in Belfast, his first full collection, Death of a Naturalist, appeared to general critical acclaim, and Heaney began a six-year term as lecturer at Queen’s University in Belfast. He was guest lecturer in English literature at the University of California at Berkeley for 1971-1972, and by the time his fifth volume, Field Work, was published in 1979, he had been appointed poet-in-residence at Harvard University. In 1989 he was elected to the post of professor of poetry at Oxford University. He is a member of the Irish Academy of Letters.
Heaney’s early poetry relies on his rural Irish upbringing and the tension between familial tradition and intellectual independence, between the competing demands of the local and the cosmopolitan. As the titles of his books suggest, the dominant sources of his poetic language are landscape and the figures of an archaic rural Irish culture. Death of a Naturalist offers visions of the poet’s farm...
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