August 30, 2013

Seamus Heaney, Irish poet who won Nobel Prize, dies at 74

Considered Ireland's greatest poet since Yeats, he produced work that was complex yet popular.

The Associated Press

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This 1995 photo shows Irish poet Seamus Heaney, center, displaying his Nobel literature prize medal, surrounded by his family.

AP

"We cannot adequately express our profound sorrow at the loss of one of the world's greatest writers," said Heaney's London publisher, Faber & Faber. "His impact on literary culture is immeasurable. As his publisher we could not have been prouder to publish his poetry over nearly 50 years. He was nothing short of an inspiration to the company, and his friendship over many years is a great loss."

The eldest of nine children from a farming village, Heaney went to Catholic boarding school in Northern Ireland's second-largest city, Londonderry, a bitterly divided community that soon became the crucible of "the troubles," the quaint local euphemism for a four-decade conflict over the British territory that has claimed more than 3,700 lives.

His early work was rooted in vivid description of rural experience, such as in 1966's collection "Death of a Naturalist," when his poem "Digging" describes his father's labor cutting turf bricks from a bog -- and concludes with his own decision to work with a pen, not a shovel.

"Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I'll dig with it."

As Northern Ireland's sectarian divisions exploded into civil war in the early 1970s, Heaney's writing grew more sociological and political as he dug into the slippery psychology of his homeland.

Heaney was the fourth Irishman to win the Nobel Prize in literature, joining Yeats, Samuel Beckett and George Bernard Shaw.

Heaney is survived by his wife, Marie, and children Christopher, Michael and Catherine.

Funeral arrangements were not announced.

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