Today, readers across the world mourn the loss of Irish literary giant and 1995 Nobel Prize recipient Seamus Heaney, who died Friday at age 74, according to media reports. He had been recovering from a stroke since 2006.
Heaney was best known for 13 collections of poetry, although he also wrote plays and other works of prose. His pieces often incisively explored bloody sectarian conflict. Ireland Prime Minister Enda Kenny compared him to William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, and Samuel Beckett in a statement today.
Heaney contributed immensely to educational pursuits in his country. He famously said, after transitioning from a small farm town in Northern Ireland to attaining a scholarship at a boarding school, that he went “from the earth of farm labor to the heaven of education.”
Sheila Nunan of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said in a statement to Ireland’s RTÉ News that Heaney “will be fondly remembered not only as a poet and a scholar but as a great teacher and teacher educator.”
The poet held teaching posts in Ireland at Queen’s University in Belfast and Carysfort College in Dublin, and retained his links to academia throughout his career. He also began teaching at Harvard University as a visiting professor in 1979, later holding the position of Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory. He would end his career at Harvard in 2006 as Ralph Waldo Emerson Poet-in-Residence. Heaney frequently spoke as a guest lecturer at universities across the world after his Nobel win.
According to the Nobel website, Heaney also served for five years on The Arts Council in the Republic of Ireland, and acted as judge and lecturer for countless poetry competitions and literary conferences. He was also the recipient of several honorary degrees.
American high school readers may recognize Heaney’s name from the Norton Anthology of English Literature, which has included several of his poems.
A version of this news article first appeared in the BookMarks blog.