Poet Biographies

Biography of Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney Portrait

Seamus Heaney is one of the best-loved poets of all time. He is remembered for his many volumes of poetry including Death of a Naturalistand ‘Field Work’.  After he passed away in 2013, the world went into grieving. During his lifetime, he was often referred to as the most famous living poet.

Seamus Heaney

Life Facts

  • Seamus Heaney was born in April of 1939 in Castledawson, Northern Ireland.
  • He was the oldest of nine children.
  • He worked as a school teacher.
  • Heaney published his first collection of poetry in 1965, ‘Death of a Naturalist.’
  • Seamus Heaney died in August of 2013.

Interesting Facts

  • One of his most popular volumes of poetry is ‘Field Work’.
  • Heaney taught as a visiting professor in the United States.
  • He was awarded the Ambassador of Conscience Award after writing ‘From the Republic of Conscience,’ for United Nations Day.
  • Heaney was a member of the Irish Academy of Arts and Writers.
  • He won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Famous Poems

  • ‘The Tollund Man’ is titled after and based around a prehistoric man found in Denmark. He died, supposedly, as part of a sacrifice. The speaker describes how he wants to visit the body and then moves into relating this man’s death to the deaths of those from his home country, Ireland. They too died in order to protect the futures of those they loved.
  • ‘Death of a Naturalist’ is the title poem of Heaney’s most famous collection. It was published in 1966 and is filled with swamp related images. The speaker takes the reader through creatures, big and small, and a final encounter with a frog-filled landscape. He runs from this, suddenly terrified of what he has seen and the memories it brings back.
  • ‘Requiem for the Croppies’ was published on the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. Heaney describes the fighters, what they had at stake, and the importance of Ireland. The “Croppies,” for whom the poem is named, did everything they could to assert their independence, something that should touch the reader immediately and clearly.
  • ‘Summer 1969’ like many of Heaney’s poems is about Ireland, specifically the violence that the country has seen. He looks at Ireland from a distance, comparing it to Spain and the Spanish Civil war. In this poem, the speaker is in Spain and begins to worry about what he’s not doing to help those he cares about and his home.
  • ‘Digging’ takes place in a daydream. The speaker thinks about his family and the men who have come before him. He considers the hard work they put into their lives and juxtaposes this against his own life. Reality is reintroduced as the speaker turns back to his desk and writing.

Explore 10 of the best Seamus Heaney poems.

Early Life

Seamus Heaney was born in April of 1939 in Castledawson, Northern Ireland. He was the oldest of nine children, born to parents Patrick and Margaret. His father was a farmer and cattle dealer who was also born into a large family. His mother’s family were also of the laboring lower class and came from a line of linen and mill workers. These two created a dichotomy in Heaney’s life that he was well aware of as he grew up. He was a child of Ireland’s past and future.

As a young boy, he attended Anahorish Primary school and later when he was twelve, St. Columb’s College. This institution was a Roman Catholic boring school in Derry, Ireland. It was during this time period that Heaney’s younger brother, Christopher, died in a tragic road accident. This incident would spawn a number of poems dedicated to his brother’s life and death. Heaney would go on to continue his education at Queens University in Belfast. While there, he first became truly interested in writing poetry, this would lead to a First Class Honours degree in English and his graduation in 1961.

After leaving university, Heaney went on to work as a school teacher at St Thomas’ Secondary Intermediate School in West Belfast. He would begin to publish poetry, under the tutelage of Michael McLaverty, a schoolmaster from County Monaghan, in 1962. McLaverty was greatly influential in the life of the young poet, serving as a kind of father figure and mentor. Heaney would eventually dedicate a piece of poetry, ‘Singing School,’ to McLaverty.

Heaney went on to find work as a lecturer at Queens University and to marry in 1965 to a school teacher, Marie Devlin. She was a writer in her own right, (publishing a collection of traditional Irish myths during her lifetime).

Literary Career

Heaney published his first collection of poetry, ‘Death of a Naturalist’, in 1965. The work was received quite well and won a number of awards including the Gregory Award for Young Writers. The following year he was appointed as a lecturer in Modern English at Queens University, and his first son was born. He then embarked on a reading tour which was called, Room to Rhyme. 

In 1969, Heaney’s second volume, Door into the Dark, was published. Three years later, Heaney moved to Wicklow, in the Republic of Ireland and published Wintering Out. His reputation was now well established and he traveled throughout Ireland, Great Britain, and the United States. His fourth volume was released in 1975, and the following year he was appointed as Head of English at Carysfort College, in Dublin. Four years later, Field Work, was released and two more collections followed the next year.

Around this same period, Heaney traveled to the US to teach as a visiting professor at Harvard University. While there he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Fordham University. After teaching in the United States for a time he received a tenure position and became Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard. His career was going well, but his personal life took a hit when both his parents died within two years. This loss made its way into the poems he wrote soon after.

Writing Career and Relationships

In the mid-1980s, he was awarded the Ambassador of Conscience Award after writing ‘From the Republic of Conscience,’ for United Nations Day. He also published his volume, Station Island.

More recently, he was made a member of the Irish Academy of Arts and Writers, as well as a Foreign Member of The American Academy of Arts and Letters. These awards were followed by the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. His career continued into the 2000s and he was awarded two more honorary doctorates. In August of 2006, Heaney suffered a stroke. He recovered quickly though and was soon to return to what was almost his normal state.


It was in 2010 that Heaney published his final book, Human Chain. The volume won the Forward Poetry Prize for Best Collection. At the time of his death, he was compiling an anticipated collection, Selected Poems 1988-2013. Heaney passed away in Dublin, Ireland in August of 2013. He is buried in his home village of Bellaghy alongside his other family members.

Influence from other Poets

Seamus Heaney was notably influenced by writers such as W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Ted Hughes, and William Wordsworth.

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