Seamus Heaney, Considered Ireland's Greatest Poet Since Yeats, Dead at 74

Download Audio
Irish poet Seamus Heaney is pictured in 1991. (Joe Wrinn/Harvard University via AP)
Irish poet Seamus Heaney is pictured in 1991. (Joe Wrinn/Harvard University via AP)

Irish poet Seamus Heaney won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 and penned 13 collections of poetry, two plays and four books on the process of writing poetry.

He was widely considered the country's greatest poet since William Butler Yeats.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said, "There are no words to describe adequately our nation's and poetry's grief."

Heaney's early work surrounded the rural experience, but later writings took on the political and cultural struggles in Ireland.

He had been recuperating from a stroke since 1996 and died in a Dublin hospital. He was 74.

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jorie Graham sent us these thoughts on Heaney's death:

When death takes one of their great poets, an event which happens only a few times in a century to any given people, in any given language, there is always a terrifying silence that follows. Who will sing our soil, our inner secrets, our history, our transactions between those two, our loves? One lives to feel the passing of a such a voice rarely, maybe once in a lifetime, and today is one of those days for so many humans on this earth. Heaney was necessary to people speaking his language — a language which he, more than anyone, traced back to its living roots in Gaelic, Anglo-Saxon, Latin, Greek, though never losing its local inflection. That he was also necessary to people speaking so many other languages, on this beautiful and war-torn and lonely planet, is a testament to the universality of his soul's singing. Today many will pick up his books to hear him momentarily again. He will give them back the depth of their being, awaken their sprits. quicken their hearts. He will awaken them to the complexity of existence, the mystery of mortality, and help them take the measure of the heartbreaking conflicts and confusions of history without ever losing the sense of the horizon at which history and poetry may rhyme. And then he will be read down the centuries as long as there are readers. As for the man, so many people will miss him desperately in what they will feel is an intimate way, as he was an astonishing friend. Rare indeed is the man about whom it can be said that the greatness of his soul is matched by its goodness. It is a sad day indeed when his early words "between my finger and my thumb, the squat pen rests" take on their late meaning. His words will not rest. His breath is in them, even now.


  • Robert Pinsky, American poet, literary critic and translator. He served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 1997 to 2000. He tweets @RobertPinsky.

This segment aired on August 30, 2013.


More from Here & Now

Listen Live