Biography of Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney is widely known as one of the most significant and influential poets of the 20th century. He was the first of nine children, born ‎on the 13th of April, 1939, in County Derry in Northern Ireland. His father was a farmer and a cattle dealer, while his mother's side of the family mostly worked in a local linen mill. As an eleven-year-old, Heaney won a scholarship to St. Columb's College. During his time at that school, one of his younger brothers was killed in an automobile accident. In 1957 he traveled to Belfast to study English at Queen's University Belfast, where he wrote poems that appeared in the school's literary magazines. He earned a teacher's certificate in English at St. Joseph's College in Belfast, and later he took a position as an English lecturer there.

While at St. Joseph’s he began to write, joining a poetry workshop with Derek Mahon, Michael Longley, and others under the guidance of Philip Hobsbaum. In 1965 he married Marie Devlin, and the following year he published Death of a Naturalist, his first work, which focused on the rural lifestyle of Northern Ireland. His later works, Wintering Out (1972) and North (1975), dealt with more contemporary topics. His final book, The Human Chain (2010), deals with themes such as loss, regret, and death.

Heaney died in August 2013. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 and the Whitbread prize twice; he was made a Commandeur de L'Ordre des Arts et Lettres in 1996. His poems mimic natural speech, but their colloquial nature is balanced by Heaney's close attention to sound and his knowledge of formal poetry.


Study Guides on Works by Seamus Heaney