Seamus Heaney, poetry's 'modest' Nobel laureate, dies
Described as the best Irish poet since Yeats, Heaney was a prolific bestseller who made 'Beowulf' cool
SEAMUS HEANEY, the man described as Ireland's finest poet since W.B Yeats, died this morning at the age of 74. Born in County Derry, he published his first book of poems, Death of a Naturalist, in 1966. Here are five things you might not know about the man who won the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature for his "lyrical beauty and ethical depth".
The Irish countryside shaped his writing: Heaney was the eldest of nine children and grew up on a 50-acre farm in County Derry. His father was stoic, his mother loquacious. Heaney believed the battle between speech and silence he observed as a child was "fundamental to the ‘quarrel with himself' out of which his poetry arises". Although he travelled the world as a celebrated poet, rural Derry was the "country of the mind" where much of his work is grounded, says Nobel.org.
He was that rare thing: a bestselling poet: Heaney's books make up two-thirds of the sales of living poets in the UK. That success was partly due to the fact his work is a staple of GCSE and A-level syllabuses. Heaney passed on his love of poetry to younger readers, notably with the 1985 anthology, The Rattle Bag. A collection of poems by luminaries ranging from Shakespeare to Walt Whitman and Sylvia Plath, it was co-edited by Heaney and Ted Hughes.
He made Beowulf popular again: Prior to Heaney's 1999 translation, the Anglo-Saxon epic poem was read mostly (and often reluctantly) by students of English Literature. Heaney's "plain-speaking" Beowulf: A New Translation changed that by unlocking the poem's power for non-academic readers. It won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and laid the groundwork for a series of film adaptations. "Beowulf, a poem both subtle and savage, is thus an obvious target for his [Heaney's] talents," wrote Terry Eagleton in The Guardian.
He gave his last reading two days ago: Although he was suffering from ill-health, Heaney gave his final reading just two days ago in Dublin at the opening of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists conference. He read a selection of his translations of Old English and Irish poetry as well as poems on medieval topics.
One line of his poetry dominated tributes on social media: Tributes to Heaney flooded social media today, with many quoting the opening lines from one of his most celebrated works, Digging: "Between my finger and my thumb/The squat pen rests; snug as a gun." Ireland's arts minister, Jimmy Deenihan, described Heaney as the island's "great ambassador". He told The Independent: "He was just a very humble, modest man. He was very accessible. Anywhere I have ever travelled in the world and you mention poetry and literature and the name of Seamus Heaney comes up immediately." ·