Seamus (Justin) Heaney 1939–
Irish poet and essayist.
Critics are divided over Heaney's position in Irish poetry, some even casting him as the greatest Irish poet since W. B. Yeats. Most would agree, however, that he is poet of "sustained achievement," who has become a spokesperson for Ireland. Heaney provides in his poetry a remarkable balance of the personal, the topical, and the universal which has made his work read and respected by a large audience in Great Britain and America. His search for continuity, as he "digs with his pen" through Irish history and culture and into the "troubles" in contemporary Northern Ireland is described in a concrete, sensuous language that has developed in resonance, density, and fineness of tone. Images of the Irish land and the Irish bog, prominent in his work, serve as important symbols: the land as the subject of the historical-contemporary struggle for possession and the bog as the metaphor for the dark unconscious of Ireland and the self.
Death of a Naturalist, Door into the Dark, and Wintering Out, his earlier works, are in the pastoral tradition, evoking the atmosphere of rural life. His later works, North and Field Work, are called his major accomplishments. In North, his most political poetry, the pastoral element is diminished. Here, Heaney links the grim Irish past with the Irish present, suggesting that love is the redeeming quality—the quality of survival. Field Work is a restrained balance between poetry and politics, Heaney having personally left the violent north to settle in Dublin. His recent Preoccupations is a collection of lectures and reviews in which Heaney examines the history of language, the poetic tradition, and the work of other poets.
(See also CLC, Vols. 5, 7, 14 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 85-88.)