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Keri Thomas

on 4 October 2014

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The greatest poet of our age?
Born in the family farmhouse in 1939, the eldest of nine children, Heaney's parents came from agricultural and industrial backgrounds: his father was a farmer and cattle-dealer, whilst his mother's family worked in the local linen mill. Heaney felt that the tensions between the agricultural and industrial backgrounds of his parents was a significant feature of his childhood.
Mid-Term Break
Heaney's life in Belfast
In 1957 Heaney travelled to Belfast to study English Language and Literature at Queen's University, Belfast, and it was here that he found a copy of Ted Hughes' second collection of poetry, entitled Lupercal, which spurred Heaney to begin writing his own poetry. He graduated from university with a First Class Honours degree, became a member of the Belfast Group (a group of local Belfast poets) and married his wife, Marie Devlin.

During this year he had his first son, Michael, and became a lecturer in Modern English Literature at Queen's University, Belfast.
Death of a Naturalist (1967)
The next few decades were major periods for Heaney. In 1967 his first major collection, entitled
Death of a Naturalist
, was published. His second son, Christopher, was born in 1968 and his second collection,
Door Into the Dark,
followed in 1969.

Heaney's parents died within a few years of each other: his mother in 1984 and his father in 1987, the same year as his work
The Haw Lantern
was published. The death of his parents "left a colossal space, one which he...struggled to fill through poetry." [Parker, 1993]
Nobel Prizewinner
In 1995, Heaney won the Nobel Prize for Literature, "For works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past." [Nobel Prize website]

In the awards speech, a Nobel Academy member said that for Heaney "Poetry, like the soil, is evidently something to be ploughed and turned over...he conjures forth, brutally and movingly, a culture that is both alien and familiar...[you] defend...poetic creativity as a free, natural, biological process." [Nobel Prize website]
His final years
In 2006 he suffered a stroke, from which he recovered, and published his final work,
Human Chain
, for which he won several awards. His death in 2013 was unexpected: Heaney suffered a fall outside a restaurant in Dublin, and was admitted to hospital for a medical procedure. It was never undertaken as, during the early hours of the morning of 30 August, 2013, Seamus Heaney died, aged 74.

His final words to his wife Marie, to whom he had been married for 48 years, were
"Noli Timere"
- Latin for "Don't be afraid."
Having been a pupil of Anahorish Primary School, where the students were both Catholic and Protestant, at the age of 12 he won a scholarship to St. Columb's College, a Roman Catholic boarding school many miles away from his childhood home. The contrast between the life of a farm labourer and his education characterises much of his work.
Early education
In 1953 Heaney's brother Christopher was killed in a car accident: he was four years old.

Heaney's poems Mid-Term Break and The Blackbird of Glamore focus on his brother's death.
Heaney in the exams: LT1
, in fact, was the name of the first poem I wrote where I thought my feelings had got into words, or to put it more accurately, where I thought my feel had got into the words. Its rhythms and noises still please me."

Seamus Heaney,
, p.41
We're going to look at one of Heaney's poems from his first collection, entitled

We will read through the poem, annotate our copy, and do an analysis of the content.

At the end of the session we will ask a question based on the poem.
Full transcript