World Poets - Seamus Heaney
With 30 August 2019 approaching, the sixth anniversary of Seamus Heaney’s death (he would have been 80 this year), Graham Fawcett reflects on the exhilarating range of Heaney’s achievement over nearly fifty years, from his momentous poetic début in 1966 with Death of A Naturalist, poems about his early life in rural Northern Ireland in which he sings with passion, craft and clarity about the world within a world around him.
Nobel Prize laureate in 1995, and outstanding translator of Beowulf and other poems and plays from the ancient and medieval worlds, Heaney wrote more than twenty books of poetry and criticism. Hailed since his death and before it as the finest Irish poet since Yeats, Heaney’s stirring legacy is that of a man whose abiding concern was to sing simply and wonderfully of Ireland, her language and history, and the crafts and customs of a rural heritage past and present, and who did not flinch from making the suffering of modern Ireland his poet’s business.
After Heaney’s death in 2013, the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, said that for his "brothers and sisters in poetry … he came to be the poet we all measured ourselves against and he demonstrated the true vocational nature of his art for every moment of his life. He is irreplaceable."
Many poets spoke too of his enduring generosity towards others and the unassuming manner and lightness of touch with which he welcomed all who came across him. When Graham Fawcett met Seamus Heaney at Little Gidding in 2009 and happened to mention to him that the first reading course he gave to Poetry School audiences in London from 1998 was called Heaney to Homer and Back, Heaney said, ‘I’m glad you came back’.