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Preoccupations: Selected Prose, 1968-1978 (1980) is a collection of memoirs, lectures, reviews, and essays in which Seamus Heaney (HEE-nee) accounts for his development as a poet. The Government of the Tongue: The T. S. Eliot Memorial Lectures, and Other Critical Writings (1988) similarly gathers reviews and lectures that elaborate on his views on the relationship between society and poetry.

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Seamus Heaney’s work has been recognized with some of the most prestigious honors in literary circles. Perhaps his most impressive award came in 1995, when he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. For Death of a Naturalist, he won the Eric Gregory Award in 1966, the Cholomondeley Award in 1967, and both the Somerset Maugham Award and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize in 1968. He also won the Poetry Book Society Choice citation for Door into the Dark in 1969, the Irish Academy of Letters award in 1971, the Writer in Residence Award from the American Irish Foundation and the Denis Devlin Award (both for Wintering Out) in 1973, the E. M. Forster Award, election to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1975, and the W. H. Smith Award, the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize, and a Poetry Book Society Choice citation, all in 1976 for North.

In 1982, Heaney was awarded honorary degrees by Fordham University and Queen’s University of Belfast; the two universities noted particularly that his reflection of the troubles of Northern Ireland in his poetry had universal application. He then received a Los Angeles Times Book Prize nomination in 1984, as well as the PEN Translation Prize for Poetry in 1985, both for Sweeney Astray. He won the Whitbread Award in 1987 for The Haw Lantern, the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry in 1990, a Premio Internazionale Mondello in 1993, the Whitbread Award in 1996 for The Spirit Level, and the Irish Times Award in 1999 for Opened Ground. In 1999, he won the Whitbread Award for poetry and book of the year for his translation of the epic Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, which was considered groundbreaking in its use of the modern idiom. He received the Truman Capote Literary Award in 2003, the T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry in 2006 for District and Circle, and the David Cohen Prize in 2009.

Discussion Topics

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What role do Seamus Heaney’s rural upbringing and the landscape of his childhood play in his poetry?

How do bogs function in Heaney’s poetry as representations of the life and culture of the Irish people?

In “Digging,” what connections does Heaney make between the craft of writing and the labor of cutting turf?

How does communication between the living and the dead function as a motif in “Station Island”?

Describe the relationship between poet and mother in “Clearances” and poet and father in “The Sharping Stone.”

How does Heaney’s poetry address the historical conflicts between unionist Protestants and nationalist Catholics in Northern Ireland?


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Brandes, Rand, and Michael J. Durkan, eds. Seamus Heaney: A Bibliography, 1959-2003. London: Faber and Faber, 2008. Bibliography of the poet’s works provides a good starting point for research.

Cavanagh, Michael. Professing Poetry: Seamus Heaney’s Poetics . Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2009. Provides extensive analysis of the critical essays written by Heaney to discern...

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Critical Essays