Seamus Heaney in His Own Words

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Trying to write something to mark the passing of Seamus Heaney at the age of 74 is a task few would want to take up, as he was Ireland’s greatest living poet, which would by default make him one of the finest poets the English language has known since the publication of his 1966 collection Death of a Naturalist. News of the beloved 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature winner’s death spread across the internet quickly this morning, with obituaries to 140-character tributes and lines of his work tweeted by those who admired him.

Since there aren’t many words I can write that would do the life or work of Heaney justice, sharing Heaney’s words might be the most fitting tribute we can offer to him.

“Digging”

“I don’t think that there is one true bearer of Irishness. There are different versions, different narratives, as we say, and you start out in possession of one of these. Maybe righteously in possession, as one of Yeats’s Anglo-Irish, say,—“no petty people”—or as one of my own “big-voiced scullions.” But surely you have to grow into an awareness of the others and attempt to find a way of imagining a whole thing.”

Heaney to The Paris Review, “The Art of Poetry No. 75”

“When all the others were away at Mass”

And raise a weathered thumb Towards the high shelf, Calling another rum And blackcurrant, without Having to raise his voice

From his poem “Causality,” which is available in full at the Poetry Foundation’s website.

Seamus Heaney’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech.