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Seamus Heaney
Nobel Prize for Literature (1995)

Heaney was born in Mossbawn, County Derry, Northern Ireland, the eldest of nine children. His father was a Catholic farmer and cattle-dealer. He won scholarships, first to a boarding school, in 1951, and then to Queen's University, Belfast. In 1965 he married Marie Devlin, and the following year published his first volume of poetry, Death of a Naturalist, which brought him immediate recognition. Having worked as both schoolteacher and university lecturer, he became a full-time writer in 1972, settling first in County Wicklow, and then in Dublin.

In 1984 he was appointed Professor of Rhetoric and Poetry at Harvard, and in 1989 he took the position of Professor of Poetry at Oxford. Heaney's personal joviality and his evident decency as a person in the frequently nasty world of literary and academic politics have helped his reputation.

Heaney began to write under the tutelage of Philip Hobsbaum, an English poet whose work was marked by an interest on natural imagery, with occasional violent incursions. Heaney echoed these concerns in his own work, providing vivid pictures of rural life in a sensuous language owing much to Robert Lowell. His personal friendship with English Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, was paralleled in a similar focus on the physical, and an apparent suspicion of intellect, as such.

As the Ulster 'Troubles' developed in the 1970s, Heaney looked for "images and symbols adequate to his predicament". His poetry incorporated lessons from Patrick Kavanagh: a care for the small, the local incident, the traditions of the community. This preoccupation with continuities from the past was registered in his interest in the 'Bog People' of northern Europe, who figure in Wintering Out and in North.

His later work has tried to broaden further from this focus on the local, to accomodate his growing stature as the 'Greatest Living Poet' in the English language, and the strain shows at times in the wooden language and portentous tone. He has looked to the work of other 'International' poets, such as Brodsky and Milosz, and his latest work too often echoes their grandiose abstraction.

Death of a Naturalist (1966)
Door into the Dark (1969)
Wintering Out (1972)
North (1975)
Field Work (1979)
Sweeney Astray (1983)
Station Island (1984)
The Haw Lantern (1987)
Seeing Things (1991)
The Spirit Level (1997)
Essays & Lectures:
Preoccupations (1980)
The Government of the Tongue (1988)

Beowulf (1999)