A Tribute to Seamus Heaney

September 3, 2013
Seamus Heaney

In tribute to Seamus Heaney (1939–2013), who passed away Friday in Dublin, Ireland, World Literature Today opened its archives to pay its respects to the lauded poet. Heaney was nominated for the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1994, and awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. His 1975 collection, North, is considered one of the greatest works of modern poetry. Heaney’s last collection, Human Chain, was published in 2010 by Faber & Faber.

In his nomination of Heaney for the 1994 Neustadt International Prize for Literature—dated 13 July 1993—Australian poet Chris Wallace-Crabbe wrote:

There is no poet in the English language whose reputation stands so high, not only among the cognoscenti but among all manner of readers. . . . [Heaney’s] verse is quaveringly alive with the unsuspected resources of words, and with tellingly unexpected words, even. He enriches the English language as no other living poet has done. His range is remarkable, his lyrical authority incomparable. He is one of the most magisterial writers alive as well as being that rare creature: a poet who still aligns the modern and the popular. I cannot think of any living writer whose claim on the Neustadt International Prize is as strong as that of Seamus Heaney. 

And in his essay “The Great Irish Elk: Seamus Heaney’s Personal Helicon,” William Pratt comments:

I remember it was at a Yeats International Summer School in Sligo that I first heard Seamus Heaney read his poems, and it was a moving experience because he reads so well, in a soft Ulster accent freighted with gravity but lightened by wry humor. Few poets have written so eloquently as Heaney in recent years. . . . Heaney has come as near to being the epic poet of the later twentieth century as any poet in the English language after Robert Lowell. No, Seamus Heaney’s work is not an act of vanity, but an act of humanity, for which we can all feel grateful, whether we are Irish or not. (WLT 70, no. 2 [Spring 1996], 261–266)

See also Kieran Quinlan’s essays “Tracing Seamus Heaney” and “Unearthing a Terrible Beauty: Seamus Heaney’s Victims of Violence” from past issues of WLT. 

And here is Kenneth McRobbie’s review of Heaney’s North, also from the WLT archives. 

Tony Beaulieu (@tonybe787) is a WLT intern, writer for the OU Daily, and an undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma.