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||Seamus (Justin) Heaney (1939-)|
Irish poet who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. According to Heaney, poetry balances the "scales of reality towards some transcendent equilibrium." From the early collections, Heaney have combined in his work personal memories with images of Irish heritage and the landscape of Northern Ireland. There is also references to English-Irish and Catholic-Protestant conflict. However, Heaney's view is much more visionary and allegorical than bound to contemporary issues.
"Only the very stupid or the very deprived can any longer help knowing that the documents of civilization have been written in blood and tears, blood and tears no less real for being very remote. And when this intellectual predisposition co-exists with the actualities of Ulster and Israel and Bosnia and Rwanda and a host of other wounded spots on the face of the earth, the inclination is not only not to credit human nature with much constructive potential but not to credit anything too positive in the work of art." (from Nobel Lecture, 1995)
Seamus Heaney was born near Castledawson, County Derry, and grew up on his father's cattle farm. He was the eldest in a Catholic family of nine children. Heaney attended St. Columb's College, Derry, and moved in 1957 to Belfast to continued his studies. In 1961 Heaney graduated from Queen's University, Belfast, and was then trained as teacher at St. Joseph's College of Education. After one year as a secondary school teacher, Heaney returned to St. Josephs, where he was a lecturer for three years. In 1966 he became a lecturer at Queen University.
In 1972 Heaney gave up his work at Queen's. Partly to escape the violence of Belfast, he moved from to County Wicklow, where he was a freelance writer for three years. He then taught at Carysfort College of Education until 1981. Next year, after spending frequent periods as a guest professor at American universities, he was appointed visiting professor at Harvard. Since 1985 he has been there as Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory. Between the years 1989 and 1994 he held Professorship of Poetry at Oxford. In 1997 he was appointed Ralph Waldo Emerson Poet in Residence at Harvard.
Much of Heaney's early work informed the everyday life of his childhood, from digging potatoes to cutting turf. His first book, Eleven Poems, came out in 1965. At the age of 27 he won in 1966 the Eric Gregory Award with Death of a Naturalist. With these works Heaney established his reputation as a poet. In 1969, Heaney was in Belfast at the outbreakof what has become known as 'The Troubles'. In 1968-69 arouse serious disturbances from Protestant political dominance and discrimination against the Roman Catholic minority in employment and housing. Catholic students arranged civil rights marches, that had much similarities with protest movements in elsewhere in Europe and in the United States. British troops were sent to restore peace in Belfast and Londonderry. Heaney left Belfats at the height of this conflict, but his work reflects his experiences of that time.
I can see her drowned
After North (1975),
in which Heaney addressed the ongoing civil strife in Northern Ireland,
he was considered the finest Irish poet since W.B.
Yeats, and with Ted Hughes among the
leading poets in the English-speaking world. Among its much
anthologized poems is 'Punishment', in which the poet depicts a tribal
revenge of adultery, but confesses his own powerlessness in front of
ancient, violent forces. "I almost love
you / but would have cast, I know, / the stones of silence. I am the
artful voyeur / your brain's exposed and darkened combs..." Heaney's works are rooted in Northern Irish
rural life, and draw on myth and unique aspects of the Irish
experience. Reflections on his childhood have given way to darker
commentaries on the social and political problems in Northern Ireland.
The Government of the Tongue (1988) questioned the role of poetry in modern society. The central symbol in is the bog, the wide unfenced county, that reaches back millions of years. It is the starting point for the exploration of the past, and in several works Heaney has returned to the "bog people", bodies preserved in the soil of Denmark and Ireland.
The political situation in Northern Ireland and the sectarian gashes that divide the country is dealt in North and Field Work (1979), from the standpoint of Heaney's Catholic background. However, Heaney has been consistent in his refusal to reduce complex political and social issues to simple slogans. When the editors of The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry included him in their collection, he made explicit his desire not to be called a "British" poet: "Be advised! My passport's green. / No glass of ours was ever raised! To toast The Queen". In a lecture in 1995 Heaney explained that he wrote about the color of the passport "to maintain the right to diversity within the border".
Strong individualistic, meditative mood, marks his later
works, including Station Island
(1984), The Haw Lantern
(1987), and Seeing Things
(1991). The Haw Lantern contains poems in memory of Heaney's
mother, who died in 1984. In Electric
Light (2001) Heaney's childhood memories mix with his sense of
fleeting time and death: "The room I came from and the rest of us all
came from / Stays pure reality where I stand alone, / Standing the
passage of time, and she's asleep / In sheets put on for the doctor,
wedding presents / That showed up again and again, bridal / And usual
and useful at births and deaths."
Heaney's poems have often been allegorical. Like Derek Walcott, and a numer of other diverse contemporary writers, ranging from Amiri Baraka to Joseph Brodsky and Gloria Naylor, he has drawn on the Divine Comedy of Dante. Heaney's interest in Dante dates from the 1970s; his poetry, in the context of Ireland's tragedy, has been referred as a "poetry from hell". Heaney once said that his reading of Dante "coincided with a desire to come to the whole subject of Northern Ireland by some other route." In his Nobel lecture in 1995 Heaney defended poetry "as the ship and the anchor" of our spirit within an ocean of violent, divisive world politics.
Heaney's work as translator includes Sweeney Astray (1983), from the mediaeval Irish poem about an Irish king, who went mad during a battle and was turned into a bird; The Cure at Troy (1991), Heaney's rendering into English of Sophocles' Philoctetes, and the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf (1999), which was composed towards the end of the first millennium. The translation won the Whitebread Award as the best book of 1999. In 2003 Heaney won the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism in Memory of Newton Arvin. The award is the largest annual cash prize for literary criticism in the English language. Heaney's 11th collection, District and Circle (2006), won the TS Eliot prize. In 2009 he received the David Cohen prize which is awarded biennially for a lifetime's excellence in literature.
"You have won renown: you are known to all men
The epic records the great deed of the heroic warrior Beowulf in his youth and maturity. The hero kills three monsters: a maneater called Grendel, Grendel's mother in her underwater dwelling, and 50 years later a fire-breathing dragon, which is stirred by the theft of a goblet. It mortally wounds Beowulf before expiring. The poem ends with Beowulf's funeral pyre. Central theme is the workings of fate (wyrd) in human lives. It is generally accepted that originally Beowulf was the work of a single poet, who has recounted legends, that were passed down orally from several centuries earlier. Heaney's retelling makes the hero's tragic stature prophetic: when he dies his people wait of the disaster that will descend on them. Also the Finnish national epic Kalevala ends in resignation with the decline of paganism, when Väinämöinen, the central character of the epic, departs the land of heroes.
For further reading: Seamus Heaney: The Crisis of Identity by Floyd Collins (2003); Seamus Heaney: Creating Irelands of the Mind by Eugene O'Brien (2003); Seamus Heaney: In Conversation with Karl Miller by Karl Miller and Seamus Heaney (2002); The Flight of the Vernacular: Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott and the Impress of Dante by Maria Cristina Fumagalli (2001); Passage to the Center by Daniel Tobin (1999); Seamus Heaney by Helen Hennessy Vendler (1998); Passage to the Center by Daniel Tobin (1998); Critical Essays on Seamus Heaney, ed. by Robert F. Garratt (1995); The Art of Seamus Heaney, ed. by T. Curtis (1994); Seamus Heaney: Poet and Critic by Arthur E. McGuinness (1994); Seamus Heaney: A Reference Guide by Rand Brandes and Michael J. Durkan (1994); Seamus Heaney: The Making of the Poet by Michael Parker (1993); Seamus Heaney, ed. by H. Bloom (1993) - Suom. Jyrki Vainonen on valikoinut ja suomentanut Seamus Heaneylta runoja kokoelmiin Ojanpiennarten kuningas (1995), Ukkosvaloa (1997) ja Soran ääniä (2007).