AMHERST, Mass. - The University of Massachusetts English department is sponsoring a reading by Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney, April 5 at 5 p.m. in the Campus Center Auditorium. The reading is part of the annual Troy Lecture series and is free and open to the public. Previous speakers in the series have included Nobel laureates Nadine Gordimer and Wole Soyinka.
A foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a professor of poetry at Oxford University from 1989-1994, Heaney recently retired from the Boylston Chair at Harvard University, though he still continues to teach there on a part-time basis. In addition to the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature, Heaney is the recipient of numerous other literary awards. His most recent volume of poetry, "The Spirit Level," won Britain''s prestigious Whitbread Book of the Year in 1995.
This year, his translation of the Anglo-Saxon poem "Beowulf" also won the Whitbread. Heaney was born in 1939 in the village of Mossbawn, County Derry in Northern Ireland. He received his secondary education at St. Columb''s College in Derry City, then went on to Queens University, Belfast, where he later became a lecturer in English literature. At Queens, Heaney helped foster a younger generation of Northern Irish poets, among them Medbh McGuckian and Paul Muldoon, the latter of whom was a UMass professor during the early 1990s.
In 1972, Heaney left Belfast, moving south into the Republic of Ireland, first to County Wicklow and later to Dublin. He has been a resident of Dublin since then, living abroad only during the semesters he teaches at Harvard. Heaney''s first collection, "Death of a Naturalist," was published in 1966 to critical acclaim. Consisting largely of poems about his rural Derry childhood, it presented Northern Irish society as sectarian, but relatively peaceful.
With the coming "troubles" - the civic unrest and terrorism that dominated Northern Ireland for more than 25 years - Heaney''s vision became increasingly complex. "Like W.B.Yeats, the only other Irish poet to receive a Nobel Prize, Heaney''s work has gone through many changes in style and vision," says English department chair Stephen Clingman. "During the ''troubles,'' he moved from a concentration on lyrical explorations of place and family, to a focus on ever greater metaphysical questions. Moreover, like Yeats, he conducted a sustained meditation on the relationship between poetry and politics."
Heaney has published nine volumes of poetry including: "Death of a Naturalist," "Door into the Dark," "Wintering Out," "North," "Field Work," "Station Island," "The Haw Lantern," "Seeing Things," and "The Spirit Level." In addition, he has published three books of essays, a play "The Cure at Troy," and numerous translations, including the old Irish epic "Sweeney Astray," portions of Dante''s "Divine Comedy," and most recently "Beowulf."