Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)
By Ariana L.
There is something compelling about the Irish literary sensibility that transcends the canon of English Literature. It rebukes the cultural prison of authority and validity by creating a dynamic literature distinctly apart. This sensibility is elaborated by a collective voice that measures equal parts strength to strife, and balances hefty doses of intellectualism with an extraordinary specificity to articulate the quotidian and the commonplace. Indeed for a country of only 32,000 square miles, there has been a disproportionate amount of suffering resulting from social and geopolitical injustices. And yet, despite all of the hardships and indignities, somehow a disproportionate profusion of talent —of greatness— has emerged.
Seamus Heaney was amongst the greatest of Irish literary heroes (including Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Patrick Kavanagh and Brain Coffey). Renowned poet, critical thinker, humourist and literary professor (most notably at Oxford and Harvard), Seamus Heaney has served as one of the key figures not only of Anglo-Irish writing, but indeed of contemporary world literature. In his lifetime, he published over 20 volumes of poetry, numerous anthologies, and achieved success in his definitive translation of the Old English heroic poem, Beowulf. In 1995, he was awarded the Noble Prize for Literature for "works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past."
Heaney reminded us that literature does not have to exist within confines to be meaningful. Rather, he challenged the boundaries by investigating his own fears and uncertainties. He drew upon the visceral interplay between the past and the future, and in his inimitable fashion, refused to eulogize it.
"It is always better/to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning./ For every one of us, living in this world/ means waiting for our end./ Let whoever can/ win glory before death. When a warrior is gone,/ that will be his best and only bulwark."
—Seamus Heaney, Beowulf: A New Verse Translation
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