Books by Seamus Heaney

SEAMUS HEANEY: FIVE FABLES by Robert Henryson
CHILDREN'S
Released: May 22, 2014

"High production values brighten this feature-rich offspring of one of Heaney's last works and a BBC miniseries. (Requires iOS 7.0 and above.) (introduction, bibliography) (iPad folklore app. 10-13, adult)"
Fifteenth-century versions of five fables get lavish makeovers in this star- and feature-studded app. Read full book review >
FINDERS KEEPERS by Seamus Heaney
ESSAYS & ANTHOLOGIES
Released: May 1, 2001

"A must for poets and students of poetry and a good start for initiates seeking to understand the constituent parts of its erudite codes."
A wonderful collection of the great Irish poet and critic's learned yet down-to-earth prose. Read full book review >
THE MIDNIGHT VERDICT by Brian Merriman
Released: April 9, 2001

"Once again, Ireland's preeminent poet balances colloquialism and lyricism with deceptive ease."
Heaney's previous efforts have included "works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past," for which he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. Here he effects an impressive translation of a pair of works in an unstrained style that belies the difficulty of his achievement in maintaining, for the most part, the rhyming couplets of the classical Latin and romantic Gaelic originals. This slim collection includes an abridged version of 18th-century Irish poet Merriman's Cúirt an Mheán Oiche (The Midnight Court) sandwiched between Books X and XI of Ovid's Metamorphoses (which relate the tales of Orpheus's loss of Eurydice and his later slaying by a berserk band of maenads). There's a clear continuity of theme connecting these disparate poems: they both describe mortals pleading before an otherworldly tribunal, and they both feature a male hero who is savaged by a horde of irate females for preferring the company of men. In Merriman's self-deprecating, amusing, and often bawdy poem, the hero ("your average, passable male") is abducted in sleep and taken before a court of women who accuse him (and all Ireland's "recalcitrant, male-bonded men" of that "spunkless generation") of leaving their women "unused, unsoothed, disconsolate." Only waking spares him the judgment of torture the court decrees. In the case of Ovid's hero, however, Orpheus is cruelly flayed and dismembered by a band of "crazed Ciconian women" who see his turning to boys for pleasure after the death of Eurydice and his failure to win her release from Hades as evidence of his misogyny. Read full book review >
ELECTRIC LIGHT by Seamus Heaney
Released: April 1, 2001

"In this vein, Heaney has few equals; he burnishes memory to a fine tawny glow, not sentimentalizing but not shying away from feeling, the potential for bathos held in check by his great formal skills."
Nobel Laureate Heaney (Beowulf, 2000, etc.) has called words tools for digging, and his language usually has the tactility of a good toolkit. Moreover, as in his previous works, the subjects of the poems collected here often are drawn from the world of farming—digging, plowing, and other ways of turning the earth. Heaney manipulates the tools of his craft as wisely as any farmer, and with the certain self-effacing wit of someone who thinks of himself as a sound craftsman first and foremost. He can juggle the parts of speech in a line ("In the everything flows and steady go of the world") or present a more than passable imitation of late Auden in a tribute to Joseph Brodsky, and he is equally at home with Virgilian eclogues (of which there are several in the current volume) and the boozy good will of a drinking song. At the heart of this collection is an elegiac tone, leavened by a certain humor, a sense of the passage of time and the losses it brings. This tone is nowhere more apparent than in the second section (the concluding 30 pages), which consists mostly of poems about and for departed friends (Brodsky, Ted Hughes, Zbigniew Herbert, and others less well-known), and in the title poem (a bittersweet recollection of Heaney's childhood and the electrification of rural Ireland). Read full book review >
DIARY OF ONE WHO VANISHED by Ozef Kalda
Released: Sept. 1, 2000

"A delightful little libretto of love at all costs results, bearing a music all its own."
In a follow-up to his grand translation of Beowulf, Heaney brings to English a tiny cycle of Czech love poems made famous by Janacek, who first set them to music in 1919. A classic tale of forbidden love, the poems relate the experiences of a young farm boy who forsakes house and home to run off with an irresistible Gypsy girl. The boy's sexual epiphany, brought on by the girl's seductive manner and sad plight, comes off the page in tight syllabic verse that effectively captures the earthy qualities of his consuming love. Only the diary remains in the end, sole witness to this carpe diem affair, as Johnny follows his Zefka and their newborn son into the forest with the paradoxical farewell: "To find my life, I lose it." Perhaps it was the timeless drama of these slight lines that appealed to Janacek when he first spotted the 23 anonymous poems titled From the Pen of a Self-Taught Man in his local paper in May 1916 (it was not until 1977 that Kalda's authorship came to light); perhaps, too, the lure of a relationship ultimately relegated to the page intrigued this avid letter writer who saved all of his correspondence. We do know that the then, 63-year-old Janacek identified the poems' "Zefka" as one Kamila Stosslova, the muse of his last and wildly prolific years, who was 38 years his junior at the time of their meeting and who never fully returned his obsessive affection. Heaney highlights the fascinating convolutions of the Diary's compositional history in his introduction, adding that his translation was commissioned by the English National Opera and taken on by him as a sort of "experiment" in wedding a singable English version of the poems with Janacek's folk melodies—no small feat.Read full book review >
BEOWULF by Seamus Heaney
Released: Feb. 1, 2000

" Mr. Heaney does a most creditable job of stripping off the layers of venerable varnish and letting the classic tale resound in the ``big voiced'' style of its mortal heroes."
Written more than a thousand years ago in the Germanic tongue from which the preNorman core of modern English is formed, Beowulf is the epic poem of the warrior hero who survived a succession of fierce trials only to languish for centuries thereafter in the entombing clutches of university scholars. This sacred text of the Old English canon, the bane—or, at least, the emetic—of English literature students for generations, has been dusted off and revived by Irish poet Seamus Heaney, a name familiar to many American readers. Educated at a Catholic school in Ulster, Heaney knows firsthand what it feels like to participate in competing historical, cultural, and linguistic traditions simultaneously—as did the ancient author of the epic, who more than a millennium ago straddled the narrowing gulf between paganism and Christianity in northern Europe. Heaney, who received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1995, began this labor of love in the mid1980s. He draws upon his own considerable skill as a poet and his love of the sound of language to effect this brilliant translation which, despite his predilection for ``weighty distinctness,'' verges on melody. Overall, he has a tendency to avoid Old English's appositional syntax and prefers that a line make sense rather than adhere strictly to alliterative conventions. For the modern reader, these are improvements over earlier translations. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Sept. 1, 1996

A laurel wreath for Frost hoisted by several Nobel laureates whose own poetry is published regularly by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. That said, the pickings are mostly good. Brodsky, Heaney, and Walcott reconsider the poet as a symbolic figure who did much of the work himself in promoting the evolution of his symbolism. As Walcott puts it, Frost seemed, and to some remains, ``the icon of Yankee values,'' suggestive of ``the smell of wood smoke, the sparkle of dew, the reality of farmhouse dung, the jocular honesty of an uncle.'' All three of the essayists complicate or refute this clichÇ through the act of criticism. The late, Russian-born Brodsky's piece, ``On Grief and Reason,'' included in his 1995 essay collection of the same title, is the most precise, unaffected, and clarifying of the lot, discussing two poems in detail to illuminate Frost's great reserves of inner ``terror.'' Irish poet Heaney, like Brodsky, calls on the metaphor of brimming over to observe, in ``Above the Brim,'' how Frost's poetic ``performance succeeded fully only when it launched itself beyond skill and ego into a run of energy.'' His comments on the Frost poem ``To Earthward'' are especially rousing. Walcott's piece, ``The Road Taken,'' is more facile and less scrutinizing. He generalizes about Frost's work as a whole, based on a long acquaintance with it, and tussles briefly with the poet's alleged racism, concluding, ``A great poem is a state of raceless, sexless, timeless grace.'' Perhaps, but won't some readers hold out hope nonetheless for a literary fate less fatuous? Bound together in one book, these accomplished poets and critics give off a strong whiff of cultural conservatism in an era also interesting for the critical adventures of Andrew Ross and bell hooks. A reader or a critic or a poet would be well advised to read more of Brodsky, Heaney, and Walcott—but also to consult and consort with some true icon-smashers. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Nov. 1, 1995

Ten Oxford University lectures on poetry from Heaney, perhaps the best-known Irish poet in America. Think of it as a transcontinental overview of English (Welsh, Irish, Scottish, and American) poetry: George Herbert, Christopher Marlowe, John Clare, Brian Merriman (an 18th century Irish poet relatively unknown to American readers), up through Hugh MacDiarmid, Philip Larkin, and Elizabeth Bishop. Heaney's tendency is to look for the poet's visionary prowess within a repressive social context. This is not a simple political stance, familiar to American readers in the works of Robert Bly or Denise Levertov, but the endurance of the poet's words to envision either a Utopia or a chaotic universe entrapped by its priorities. Moreover, Heaney asserts, these visions can be arrived at through a path of inspired linguistics. ``How the poem sounds is probably more important than what it sees,'' as he says of MacDiarmid's work. Far from being an idealist, he discusses a poet's limitations as well as strengths: preferring the early Wilde, perceptively noting the ``linguistic hype'' in Dylan Thomas's weaker poems. Ultimately, he posits that there is a `` `frontier of writing', the line that divides the actual conditions of our daily lives from the imaginative representation of those conditions in literature, and divides also the world of social speech from the world of poetic language.'' But rather than focusing on the poems in this analysis, Heaney stresses the historical context. Thus, his lectures are as much about sociology as they are about poetry; the biographical persistence necessitated by his theories can try the reader's patience; and his discussion is not of the poem so much as of the poem as it furthers his thesis. General readers beware: Despite Heaney's personal asides and deceptively casual tone, his complex line of thought is indeed that of the highfalutin Oxford lecturer. Read full book review >