Seamus Heaney, an Irish poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, died today at the age of 74.
Heaney was the eldest of nine children from County Derry, Northern Ireland, and his rural upbringing was reflected in much of his poetry. While he was put by admirers on the level of Irish literary greats such as Yeats and Shaw, he said he was just the son of the farmer who was trying to write.
He moved to the Irish Republic and also taught at Harvard and the University of Oxford. His best-known books include “Field Work” and “North,” published in the 1970s.
Heaney had been ill for some time and had canceled some recent engagements. He died in a Dublin hospital this morning, according to an e-mailed statement by his publisher Faber & Faber.
Heaney’s “contribution to the republics of letters, conscience, and humanity was immense,” Irish President Michael D. Higgins said in an e-mailed release. “His careful delving, translation and attention to the work of other poets in different languages and often in conditions of unfreedom, meant that he provided them with an audience of a global kind.”
The Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995 was awarded to Heaney “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past,” according to the citation on Nobelprize.org, the official website of the prize.
Born in April 1939, he went on to study at Queen’s University, Belfast. In 1989 he was elected professor of poetry at Oxford University for a five-year period.
Heaney, who also wrote plays, had three children with his wife Marie, whom he met early in his career.
“As an activist he was the quietest storm that ever blew into town,” U2 singer Bono said in an e-mailed statement. “In so many things he was a gentle genius, whose words challenged us with the grit and beauty of life as much as they gave us solace.”
“He was a huge figure internationally,” Irish Minister for Arts Jimmy Deenihan said in an interview with state broadcaster RTE. “He was such a great ambassador for literature but also for Ireland.”
“Seamus Heaney was the voice of this community, a man of the people who knew his community well and reflected the history and cultural richness of that community,” said Patsy McGlone, a member of Northern Ireland’s Assembly. “I remember him calling into my father’s business when I was younger and being struck by his humility.”
Heaney stressed his Irish heritage and responded to being included in a book of British poetry by writing: “My passport’s green/ No glass of ours was ever raised/ to toast the Queen.”
He will be best remembered for his country poems such as “Song”:
“A rowan like a lipsticked girl.
Between the by-road and the main road
Alder trees at a wet and dripping distance
Stand off among the rushes.”
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Dara Doyle is the Dublin Bureau Chief for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)
Muse highlights include Richard Vines on food, the New York and London weekend guides, Lewis Lapham on history, Jeremy Gerard on U.S. theater and Greg Evans and Craig Seligman on film.