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Seamus Heaney, Irish poet and Nobel winner, dies at 74

Considered Ireland's greatest poet since William Butler Yeats, Heaney won the 1995 Nobel Prize for literature.

August 30, 2013|By Henry Chu
  • Seamus Heaney stands before a glass panel listing benfactors before the July 2010 opening of Queens Unversity's McClay Library in Belfast.
Seamus Heaney stands before a glass panel listing benfactors before the… (Paul McErlane, AFP/Getty…)

LONDON -- Seamus Heaney, the Nobel Prize-winning poet whose crystalline, descriptive verse led many to consider him the best Irish poet since Yeats, died Thursday. He was 74.

His death was confirmed by his publishers, Faber and Faber, which said that it could not "adequately express our profound sorrow at the loss of one of the world's greatest writers. His impact on literary culture is immeasurable."

The publishing house said in a statement issued on behalf of his family that Heaney died in a Dublin hospital after a short illness.

The white-haired writer was praised for evocative poems that frequently reflected his Irish upbringing and addressed the “Troubles,” the bloody conflict in his native Northern Ireland. His works were often meditations on the intersection of personal choice and loss with the larger forces of history and politics.

Well-known volumes included “Wintering Out,” “Station Island,” “The Spirit Level,” “District and Circle” and a lyrical translation of the epic poem “Beowulf.”

Heaney taught for many years at Harvard. After winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, he made speaking appearances around the world, delighting audiences with a disarming, gentle wit.

"The platform here feels more like a space station than a stepping stone, so that is why, for once in my life, I am permitting myself the luxury of walking on air," Heaney said in his Nobel acceptance speech in Stockholm. "I credit poetry for making this space-walk possible."

He suffered a stroke several years ago, which he later described as a terrifying experience.

“Yes, I cried. I cried, and I wanted my daddy, funnily enough. I did. I felt babyish,” he said.

Among his fans was President Clinton, who visited him during his convalescence and also named his dog Seamus.

Heaney is survived by his wife, Marie, and three children.

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