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Irish poet Seamus Heaney dies

Noble laureate Seamus Heaney, widely considered to be one of the foremost poets of his era, died today at the age of 74.

From the BBC:

“The poet and Nobel laureate died in hospital in Dublin this morning after a short illness. The family has requested privacy at this time.”

Heaney’s publisher, Faber, said: “We cannot adequately express our profound sorrow at the loss of one of the world’s greatest writers. His impact on literary culture is immeasurable.

“As his publisher we could not have been prouder to publish his work over nearly 50 years. He was nothing short of an inspiration to the company, and his friendship over many years is a great loss.”

The winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature, Heaney was known to many for his popular 1999 translation of Beowulf, although his own poetry “ from collections such as Wintering Out, Station Island, Field Work, and The Spirit Level “ won accolades from critics and readers alike. An obituary in The New York Times states, “By some estimates he was the best-read living poet in the world at in recent decades [sic].”

In 2012, Heaney was presented with a lifetime achievement award from the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry.

A Catholic in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, Heaney did not shy away from politics in his writing or his life, going so far as to recuse himself from consideration as Britain’s Poet Laureate after the death of Ted Hughes in 1999. (The position went to Andrew Motion.) Heaney addressed the incident in a 2009 interview with the Telegraph:

Did he turn down the laureateship 10 years ago for political reasons? Partly, he says, quickly adding that, I’ve nothing against the Queen personally: I had lunch at the Palace once upon a time ¦ it’s just that the basis of my imagination, the basis of the cultural starting point, is off-centre. This is a less forthright response than the one he gave in 1982, after being included in an anthology of British poets: My passport’s green / No glass of ours was ever raised / to toast the Queen. (He has lived in the Republic of Ireland since 1972.) His close friend Ted Hughes could write mythological poems about the Queen Mother because he was an English patriot “ something Heaney could never have been.

In a 1997 interview with The Paris Review, Heaney talked about politics, poetry, and his experience teaching at Harvard. Asked about the way his approach to poetry had changed over the years, Heaney summed things up this way:

I have begun to think of life as a series of ripples widening out from an original center. In a way, no matter how wide the circumference gets, no matter how far you have rippled out from the first point, that original pulse of your being is still traveling in you and through you, so although you can talk about this period of your life and that period of it, your first self and your last self are by no means distinct.