Seamus Heaney

THE LAUREATE: Seamus Heaney was born in 1939 in Northern Ireland. His father owned a farm. In the 50s, he moved the family to a town a few miles away, where he (he being Seamus’ father) continued work on the farm and bought and sold cattle. Seamus learned Irish and Latin in school. His writing career goes back to the 1960s and deals with the Troubles in Ireland in a moving and sympathetic, apolitical way. Heaney is also a professor at Harvard and Oxford.

WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THIS GUY?: I read a few of Heaney’s poems in high school, as I’m pretty sure everyone educated in an American public school does at one point or another. I’ve also read his Beowulf, which is amazing, and I have the audiobook of him reading it, which is somehow even better. I think my college had a copy of The Cure at Troy, Heaney’s translation/adaptation of Sophocles’ Philoctetes, which I am sure I read.

WHAT ARE YOU READING: All of Electric Light and a few poems from each of the books excerpted in Opened Ground.

REVIEW: I really like Heaney. He has an amazing mixture of modern observation and classical myth that always makes me happy. I’ve realized lately that what makes the classical tradition important in the modern world is that you can articulate many things in a mythical context that you might not be able to say openly. For instance, did you know that there are groups that gather veterans with PTSD and, say, talk about Agamemnon? Yup. That’s one thing that is great about Heaney’s work. Another is that he always finds a way to universalize the otherwise intensely parochial. I grew up in a suburb in Jersey, but I know how it feels to have summer treasures rot just the way Heaney describes them in “Blackberry Picking.” I dunno, I don’t have a whole lot to say. Both collections are excellent and yes, you should read everything by Heaney you can get your hands on.

WHAT’S NEXT?: Apparently Seamus Heaney is the most important Irish poet since Yeats. I have a book with everything by Yeats in it. Do the math (Spoiler alert: I’m going to read a bunch of Yeats)

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