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Literature

Seamus Heaney’s impressive body of published work spans over 50 years, from his first major work, Death of a Naturalist in 1966 to Aeneid Book VI published posthumously in 2016.

The Seamus Heaney canon shows the growth of the poet and the man, with his life, his literary knowledge and his inspiration woven through the material. In many of his volumes, the final poem suggests something of what may be expected in the next, as themes and strands interconnect and repeat.

Seamus Heaney HomePlace programming for 2016 is rooted in the twelve volumes of poetry produced from 1966 to 2010.


Death of a Naturalist

Published in 1966 by Faber and Faber, Heaney’s first major work, Death of a Naturalist, in common with Door into the Dark, derives its material from the poet’s own origins, memories of his rural childhood and young adulthood.

With rich linguistic imagery, it recreates life on the page in all its glorious detail. In many ways, it is about the end of childhood innocence, but also, about the beginnings of the poet and those whom inspired him – Hughes, Kavanagh, Wordsworth, - into the creativity of his art.
 

Door into the Dark

Published in 1969 (Faber and Faber), the themes of family and place still resonate strongly in this transitional volume that points the way ahead to the explorations of sexuality and history in Wintering Out. Heaney explores the landscape of his own artistic creation, as well as that of the Irish landscape and its history.

The concluding ‘Bogland’ can be seen as the origin of some of the major sequences including ‘The Tolland Man’ in Wintering Out.
 

Wintering Out

Published in 1972 (Faber and Faber) the third collection of poetry confirms a poet of distinction coming into possession of his own unique identity. Place is paramount and there are the beginnings of commentary on the realities of contemporary history happening at that moment.

Many of the poems in the volume are about language itself, and saying and listening to the language of a place – Anahorish, Toome, Broagh – the feel of words on the tongue and in the ears.
 

North

Published in 1975 (Faber and Faber), North confronts the Northern Ireland situation in a more rigorous way, reflecting on events of the time. The initial Viking mythology introduced in Wintering Out is more apparent in Heaney’s writing, here heavily influenced by W.B. Yeats.

The poet matures as integral and organic references to other literary, historical and political writing abound. Feelings are made into words using analogies, painterly images and effects. The analogy between the violence of the Vikings and the violence of contemporary Northern Ireland is a strong theme within the collection.
 

Field Work

Published in 1979 (Faber and Faber), Field Work represents a shift as Heaney strives to bring a sense of his ordinary social self into his poetry. Elegies for friends, inspirational artists, political, pastoral and love poems have natural imagery at their core.

There is poetry of ordinary, domestic happiness, and the contentment and realities of married love and companionship.
 

Station Island

Published 1984 (Faber and Faber), represents the further growth of Heaney as a poet, and the pilgrimage thus far.

The title poem, ‘Station Island’ is set on Lough Derg, an island that has been a site of pilgrimage for over a thousand years. Using the voice of the legendary King Sweeney, it is a self-critical, reviewing autobiographical quest for moving forward, continuing to push artistic boundaries.

 

The Haw Lantern

Published in 1987 (Faber and Faber), The Haw Lantern contains some of the poet’s most moving pieces of work as he focuses on the impact of the death of his Father and Mother. It also features a new writerly self-consciousness that displays a learned poet in a very classical sense. Indeed, writing is a key motif throughout the poetry as Heaney explores what it is to write and be a writer.
 

Seeing Things

Published 1991 (Faber), this collection of work shows he is ready to re-imagine experience and "to credit marvels". The title poem, "Seeing Things", is typical of the whole book. It begins with memories of an actual event, then moves towards the visionary while never relinquishing its feel for the textures and sensations of the world.

Translations of Virgil and Homer provide a prelude and a coda where motifs implicit in the earlier lyrics are given direct expression in extended narratives. Journeys to underworlds and otherworlds correspond to the journeys made by poetic language itself.
 

The Spirit Level

Published in 1996 (Faber), the continuing situation in Northern Ireland is addressed, with the possibilities of a new beginning in all kinds of subjects and circumstances eloquently and fluidly introduced.

Memories and humble domestic objects are given significance and meaning as the Spirit Level balances across the physical, spiritual and political.
 

Electric Light

Published in 2001 (Faber), Heaney’s tenth collection of poetry is a wide ranging one, that visits the sites of the classical world, recalls the poet’ childhood. This is a book about origins – of words, of memory, of being – and oracles; the places where things start from – whether in Arcadia or Anahorish, Delphi or the Bann Valley in County Derry.
 

District and Circle

Published in 2006 (Faber and Faber), this volume reaffirmed his ability to write some of the most serious, rewarding and most tender poetry of which the English language is capable.

Images of a childhood sheltered from the horrors of World War II are coloured by a strongly contemporary sense of the unexpected, how everyday realities are tinged with anxieties and danger. The memorial turns into the recollected and the poetry examines the mysteries of everyday renewal which is at the heart of the human psyche.
 

Human Chain

Published 2010 (Faber and Faber), this last collection of poems from Heaney examines the realities of humanity – what it means to be husband and wife, child and parent, with memories of then and now, the weight of what is carried and passed hand to hand. Thoughts turn to friends, neighbours and family of the past which we can relate and empathise with in our own lives.

He continues to play with rhythm and rhyme, pushing words and images to their limits with the skill of a master craftsman.
 

Other Publications

Poetry

Eleven Poems, Festival Publications, Queens University, 1965
A Lough Neagh Sequence. Didsbury, Manchester: Phoenix Pamphlets Poets Press, 1969
Boy Driving His Father to Confession. Farnham, Surrey: Sceptre Press, 1970 (150 numbered copies)
Night Drive. Crediton, Devon: Richard Gilbertson, 1970
Servant Boy. Detroit: Red Hanrahan Press, 1971
Stations. Belfast: Ulsterman Publications, 1975
Bog Poems: London: Rainbow Press, 1975
After Summer. Old Deerfield, Mass.: Deerfield Press / Dublin: Gallery Press, 1978
Gravities: a Collection of Poems and Drawings. Newcastle upon Tyne : Charlotte Press, 1979
Hedge School: Sonnets from Glanmore. Salem, Ore.: C. Seluzichi, 1979
Selected Poems 1965-1975 Published 1980 (Faber and Faber)
An Open Letter. Derry: Field Day, 1983
Hailstones. Dublin: Gallery Press, 1984
The Tree Clock. Belfast: Linen Hall Library, 1990
New Selected Poems 1966-1987: Faber and Faber, 1990
Keeping Going. Concord, N.H.: Bow and Arrow Press, 1993
Opened Ground: poems, 1966-1996: Faber and Faber, 1998
Finders Keepers: Selected Prose, 1971 – 2001, Faber and Faber, 2003
The Rattle Bag: An Anthology of Poetry, Edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes, Faber and Faber 2005
The School Bag. Edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes, Faber and Faber, 2005
W.B. Yeats: Poems selected by Seamus Heaney, Faber and Faber, 2009
New Selected Poems: 1988 – 2013, Faber and Faber, 2014
Aeneid Book VI, Faber and Faber, 2016

Prose, essays (a selection)

The Fire i' the Flint: Reflections on the Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. London: Oxford University Press, 1975
Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978. London: Faber 1980
The Government of the Tongue. London: Faber 1988 Critical Essays
The Place of Writing. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989
The Redress of Poetry: Oxford lectures. London: Faber 1995
Crediting Poetry: the Nobel lecture. London: Faber, 1995
Finders Keepers: Selected Prose, 1971-2001. London: Faber, 2002

Translations

Sweeney Astray: a Version from the Irish by Seamus Heaney. London: Faber, 1984
The Cure at Troy: a version of Sophocles' Philoctetes. Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1991
The Midnight Verdict. Old Castle: Gallery Books, 1993
Beowulf: a New Translation. London: Faber, 1999
The Burial at Thebes: Sophocles' Antigone. New York: Farrar, Straus, 2004; Faber and Faber, 2005
The Testament of Cresseid & Seven Fables. Translated by Seamus Heaney, 2010. Faber and Faber