“Even if the hopes you started out with are dashed, hope has to be maintained. ” This quote was once said by famous Northern Irish poet Seamus Heaney at a book signing, it is also what has motivated many young poets today to continue writing even when there is “no hope”. Heaney is not only a poet but a playwright, translator, lecturer and recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. He is most famous for his work translating the epic Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf. It was considered monumental because in his translation he successfully revamped a medieval work, which the literary world had grown tired of.
Heaney is a naturalist poet who is inspired first by the great modernist poets of his age, the workshop of poets dubbed “The Belfast Group” , and breaks of solitude in his native Northern Ireland. While enrolled in university Heaney began exploring his love for poetry. He discovered the earthy naturalistic poems he loved so much actually had a genre of its own full of expert poets, which he later joined. In a 1979 interview he said “it was poetry with a thrilling physical texture I loved.
I remember the first time I read John Webster’s plays responding to them with enormous pleasure, and there is in Webster that very dark brooding violence in the imagery, very physical, scalding, foul images. I took great pleasure from that. ” He then went on do discover Patrick Kavanagh who is known primarily for accounts of Irish life through everyday references and experiences. His most famous work The Great Hunger, which was relatively new described the hardship of the rural life, which resonated deeply with Heaney who grew up on an Irish farm.
He was then introduced to Ted Hughes poems at a Library in Belfast. Reading Hughes Lupercal inspired him to find the medium about which to write; “there was again a poem called “View of a Pig” and in my childhood we’d killed pigs on the farm, and I’d seen pigs shaved, hung up, and so on. So again, suddenly, the matter of contemporary poetry was the material of my own life. I had had some notion that modern poetry was far beyond the likes of me–there was Eliot and so on–so I got this thrill out of trusting my own background, and I started about a year later, I think. (Randall, 175)
British Professor, poet, and vicious critic, Philip Hobsbaum’s influence however, directly helped shaped a large number of Heaney’s poems. Heaney met Philip Hobsbaum at the University of Belfast, where he began one of his legendary groups, The Belfast Group. This was essentially a group of poets including Micheal Longley, and Derek Mahon who met and discussed their writings. The meetings would start with an open session where the members would read any work they wanted and the rest (most vicious being Hobsbaum himself) critiqued the poems.
The meeting commenced with the discussion of a single poets work. Seven of the poems in Heaney’s Eleven Poems were taken from his Belfast ‘group sheets’. For Heaney and Longley these sessions, which they enthusiastically attended each week, gave their work the encouragement and depth it was lacking. Heaney has said that “Hobsbaum was really the one who gave me the trust in what I was doing and he urged me to send poems out–and it’s easy to forget how callow and unknowing you are about these things in the beginning… e [Hobsbaum] was a strong believer in the bleeding hunk of experience. ” (175)
Hobsbaum was a motivator and critic constantly pushing Heaney to explore his deeper side and really put vivid detail and emotions into his writing. Heaney is said to take long breaks of time where he would immerse himself into country life before writing anything new, he needed time to think and plan his next writing in the open air. “His poetry shows a powerful devotion to the earth, particularly to the landscape and soil of his native Northern Ireland. But Heaney is equally dedicated to language. (175).
After writing three books, a period of teaching in Belfast, then a one year stint at University of California, Bearkley, Heaney decided he needed a break to refocus and rediscover his passion. “I found the whole question of what was the status of art within my own life and the question of what is an artist to do in a political situation very urgent matters. I found that my life, most of my time, was being spent in classrooms, with friends, at various social events, and I didn’t feel that my work was sufficiently the center of my life, so I decided I would resign…
I was going through a sort of rite of passage, I suppose. I wanted to leave Belfast because I wanted to step out of the rhythms I had established; I wanted to be alone with myself. ” (175) He moved to Northern Ireland and began teaching in Dublin, several short years later he published his next book North. It was the first of his works that dealt with the troubles and tribulations gripping his country through the 1960s and 70s. He focused particularly on showing the problems with Irish society at that time through comparisons with past events.
Today Heaney is knows for his emotional, naturalistic and political poems. He is considered one of the greatest poets of our time and the greatest Irish poet since William Butler Yeats. His emotions his openness made him famous with lines like “A four foot box, a foot for every year. ” This poem “Mid-Term Break” was about Heaney’s own brother Christopher who died after being hit by a car. This vulnerability transcends time, making him still widely popular even 47 years after his very first published poem.