A Tribute to Seamus Heaney

THE CANADIAN PRESS / HO-Griffin Poetry Prize

THE CANADIAN PRESS / HO-Griffin Poetry Prize


He was the most famous poet in the world. Like few poets before him, Seamus Heaney transcended the world of quarterlies, chapbooks and academic analysis to become an international phenomenon - even among people who don't know a sonnet from a villanelle. He was that rare thing - a serious writer who was also a celebrity.

When Seamus Heaney died in August, at the age of seventy-four, he was grieved as a major literary figure - but also as a national hero in Ireland and far beyond the borders of his homeland. As fellow poet Paul Muldoon said in his eulogy, "He had, after all, a signal ability to make each of us feel connected not only to him but to one another."   

In a poem called Terminus, from his 1987 collection The Haw Lantern, Seamus Heaney wrote: "Two buckets were easier carried than one / I grew up in between." Those two lines, like the rest of his work, contain multitudes. For one thing, when he says he grew up between buckets, he's not just speaking metaphorically.

Seamus Heaney was born in 1939, and grew up on a farm in County Derry, in Northern Ireland. He was the first of nine children - all of whom, no doubt, spent a lot of time carrying buckets around.

In his Nobel speech, he spoke of gathering in the kitchen with his family. "We were as susceptible and impressionable as the drinking water that stood in a bucket in our scullery: every time a passing train made the earth shake, the surface of that water used to ripple delicately, concentrically, and in utter silence."

In those two lines from Terminus, one also gets a sense of the exquisite balance Seamus Heaney struck - the balance between respect for poetic tradition and the urge to innovate; between fame and privacy; and, most delicately, between the warring sides of the once seemingly intractable Troubles in Northern Ireland.

And by most accounts, he maintained that balance. He was a great poet and - in the eyes of his followers around the world - a great man.   

To celebrate the Nobel Prize winner for literature, Michael spoke to Dr. Ray Bassett, the Irish ambassador to Canada, poetry critic Helen Vendler, and Scott Griffin, founder of the Griffin Prize for poetry,

An extended version of Michael's interview with Helen Vendler is also available by clicking on the Listen button.

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