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Yeats and Heaney: A Terrible Beauty

58 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 05 October 2013

Fintan O'Toole addresses and explores the careers of the two "smiling public men" who have embodied the different political traditions of Ireland and stood at the same podium in Stockholm, seven decades apart, to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.

With the sad loss of Seamus Heaney this year, this Archive on Four looks at the journeys of Yeats and Heaney, from being an Irish Poet to becoming a "world poet". How did their lives and work mirror each other and what kind of parallels, deliberate or otherwise, can we see in their poetry and their careers?

Yeats, as the recorded archive of his interviews and readings demonstrates, was acutely aware of his position as a poet who gave voice to the different traditions in Irish politics. Heaney wrote of his admiration for Yeats as a person who "took the strain of both the major ideologies that were exacerbating Irish political life."

As well as admiring Yeats, Heaney consciously emulated him. As early as Wintering Out (1972), a collection which Heaney published after he left Belfast and moved to Dublin, reviewers were noting the influence of Yeats on his writing. But arguably it was in Heaney's public persona that the influence of Yeats can most clearly be seen. Heaney was a poet from Northern Ireland who moved to Dublin and became a powerful poetic voice for the whole island. Also like Yeats he joined an elite band of English Language poets globally known, and who was as likely to be found lecturing at Harvard as at a literary festival in County Sligo or Serbia.

Fintan O'Toole looks back at the reputations of two of Ireland's greatest poets and most important public figures.

Producer Mark Rickards.


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