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Seamus Heaney born 1939

Biography

Ireland's most celebrated living poet, Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past".

Seamus Heaney was born in County Derry, Northern Ireland in 1939. At the age of 12, he won a scholarship to a Catholic boarding school, and it was there he received news of the death of his young brother - an incident remembered in his poems The Blackbird of Glanmore and Mid-Term Break: 'A four foot box, a foot for every year.' Heaney went on to study English at Queen's University Belfast before training as a teacher.

Heaney's first book, Death of a Naturalist (1966), contained rich depictions of his rural upbringing but by the 1970s, as Ireland's troubles increased, his work took a more political turn. Heaney's poems are often triggered by small, intimate memories. The Shipping Forecast, also known as Glanmore Sonnet VII, typifies his love of place names, and joy of the sound of words. Fascinated by folklore, he also published an award-winning translation of Beowulf.

Heaney has held Professorships at Harvard, and was Oxford Professor of Poetry. Despite having a foot both sides of the border, Heaney has resolutely identified himself as Irish, famously protesting against his inclusion in the Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry with the lines, 'Be advised, my passport's green/ No glass of ours was ever raised/ To toast the Queen.'

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Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.

Seamus Heaney

Digging

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Slideshow of Seamus Heaney's poem Digging

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BBC Arts: Poetry Out Loud

Heaney recites Bogland (requires RealPlayer)

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