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Seamus Heaney
Photo: Mario Carlini - Iguana Press/Getty Images

Seamus Heaney

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Seamus Heaney was a renowned Irish poet and professor who won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Who Was Seamus Heaney?

Seamus Heaney published his first poetry book in 1966, Death of a Naturalist, creating vivid portraits of rural life. Later work looked at his homeland's civil war, and he won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature for his globally acclaimed oeuvre, with its focus on love, nature and memory. A professor and speaker, Heaney died on August 30, 2013.

Background and Early Career

Seamus Justin Heaney was born on April 13, 1939, on a farm in the Castledàwson, County Londonderry region of Northern Ireland, the first of nine children in a Catholic family. He received a scholarship to attend the boarding school St. Columb's College in Derry and went on to Queens University in Belfast, studying English and graduating in 1961.

Heaney worked as a schoolteacher for a time before becoming a college lecturer and eventually working as a freelance scribe by the early 1970s. In 1965, he married Marie Devlin, a fellow writer who would figure prominently in Heaney's work. The couple went on to have three children.

Acclaimed Poet

Heaney had his first poetry collection debut in 1966 with Death of a Naturalist and went on to publish many more lauded books of poems that included North (1974), Station Island (1984), The Spirit Level (1996) and District and Circle (2006). Over the years, he also became known for his prose writing and work as an editor, as well as serving as a professor at Harvard and Oxford universities.

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Representative Deb Haaland, a Democrat from New Mexico, speaks during a House Natural Resources Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, June 29, 2020. The hearing is titled "U.S. Park Police Attack on Peaceful Protesters at Lafayette Square Park." Photographer: Bonnie Cash/The Hill/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Deb Haaland

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 09: John Major attends the annual Remembrance Sunday Service at the Cenotaph on Whitehall on November 9, 2014 in London, United Kingdom. People across the UK gather to pay tribute to service personnel who have died in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts, with this year taking on added significance as it is the centenary of the outbreak of World War One. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

John Major

Nature, Love and Memory

Heaney's work is often a paean to the beauty and depth of nature, and he achieved great popularity among both general readers and the literary establishment, garnering a massive following in the United Kingdom. He wrote eloquently about love, mythology, memory (particularly on his own rural upbringing) and various forms of human relationships. Heaney also provided commentary on the sectarian civil war, known as the Troubles, which had beset Northern Ireland in works such as "Whatever You Say, Say Nothing."

Heaney was later applauded for his translation of the epic poem Beowulf (2000), a global best-seller for which he won the Whitbread Prize. He had also crafted translations of Laments, by Jan Kochanowski, Sophocles's Philoctetes and Robert Henryson's The Testament of Cresseid & Seven Fables.

Nobel Prize and Death

Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995 and later received England's T.S. Eliot and David Cohen prizes, among a wide array of accolades. He was known for his speaking engagements as well and traveled across the world to share his art and ideas.

Heaney published his last book of poetry, Human Chain, in 2010. Regarded as a kind, lovely soul, he died in Dublin, Ireland, on August 30, 2013, at the age of 74.

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