" . . . a wild, post-Shakespearean streel of gallowglass hair."
From "A Coat" - Seamus Heaney



In a rare public reading from his works, Seamus Heaney, who received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1995, honored William M. Chace upon his retirement from the presidency of Emory University, Atlanta.

Chace, a scholar of the Irish poet and author James Joyce, served nine years as the university's 18th president.

Heaney, who was born in County Derry in Northern Ireland in 1939, is widely regarded as one of the finest English language contemporary poets. His critically acclaimed first book, "Death of a Naturalist," marked the arrival of a major new poetic voice. During his distinguished career he has published numerous collections of poems, translations and works of literary criticism.

This past May Heaney gave the keynote address at Emory's commencement ceremony and received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree. His ties to Emory go back many years, dating to his selection as the inaugural Richard Ellmann Lecturer in Modern Literature in 1988. These lectures were published as "The Place of Writing," and his notes for the series were deposited in Emory's special collections, a seed that has grown into what many scholars consider the finest archive of contemporary Irish poetry anywhere.

In 1984 Heaney was named Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Poetry at Harvard University, and in 1989 he was named to the prestigious Chair of Poetry at Oxford University. The year after receiving the Nobel Prize for literature, his collection of poems "The Spirit Level" was selected as the Whitbread Book of the Year. His 1999 verse translation of "Beowulf" was an international bestseller, the same year that his collected poems "Opened Ground" were published. In 1995 he was named Nobel Laureate in Literature "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past." More recently, Heaney was awarded the 2003 Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism for "Finders Keepers: Selected Prose 1971-2001."

 

Read "Three-Piece", below, a set of three of Seamus Heaney's poems:

(Volume CLXXI, Number 1, Eighty-Fifth Anniversary Special Double Issue, October-November 1997 Copyright © 1997 by the Modern Poetry Association. All rights reserved):

 

A Suit

"I'll make you one," he said, "and balance it
Perfectly on you." And I could almost feel
The plumb line of the creased tweed hit my heel,

My shoulders like a spar or a riding scale
Under the jacket, my whole shape realigned
In ways that suited me down to the ground.

So although a suit was the last thing that I needed
I wore his words and told him that I'd take it
And told myself it was going for a song. 

 

 

 

A Coat

"We're not a mile off it," I heard him say, with an ought
Dragging and lengthening out the sound of that "not" —
For Mr Simpson, though he worked in Magherafelt,
Was from Antrim and glottal and more of a Pict than a Celt.

But an Ulsterman. An Ulsterman for sure,
Calling a spade a spade and the door the dure
And any child he was fitting with clothes the wean.
My father poked his cattle-dealer's cane

Into the coats on the coatrack for the only one
That took his fancy and when I had put it on,
"We're not a mile off it," Mr Simpson said again,
Uneager and sure of the sale; and confidentially then,

"Ulster, you know, is the name for an overcoat.
The Oxford English Dictionary even gives it.
Ulster." He paused and he mused. "All over the world
Good cloth and good wear and the whole of your money's worth."

I hear him still when I reach deep into the long
Cold draught of the sleeve of some ulster I'm fitting on
And wish my hand would come through and beyond all that
Deep glottal purchase and worth, like the virtual flight

Of The Red Hand of Ulster beyond the beyond of its myth,
Back to its unbloodied cuff at its unsevered wrist,
Flexing its fingers again and combing the air
And a wild, post-Shakespearean streel of gallowglass hair.

A Tie                           

She made
me one
of hard
silk thread,
string-thin,
tight skein
crocheted
by hand,
close-knit
and strict
as cyng-
hanedd,
all a-
glitter
like rain
on fern
or em-
erald ems
or fine
ground jade,
my thin
green line
for which
I grat-
ias
ago
in Lat-
in quotes
(with gen-
der change
in sub-
ject and
tense change
in verb):
nihil
tegit
quod non
ornat,
and trans-
late thus
(to tie
the knot),
"She puts
a shine
on all
she puts
her hand
to." Love
and thanks
again
to her.

EMORY UNIVERSITY ACQUIRES SEAMUS HEANEY LETTERS

The Robert W. Woodruff Library of Emory University has acquired a major portion of the archive of the Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney.The collection of personal and literary papers includes thousands of letters spanning Heaney's entire career as well as printed materials, tape recordings and photographs. Heaney made the announcement Tuesday, Sept. 23 prior to a reading at Emory in honor of the university's recently retired president, William M. Chace.

This acquisition, the latest in a long series of major Irish literary acquisitions by Emory, establishes at the university the largest and most complete archive anywhere for the study of Heaney's life and work, according to Stephen Enniss, the university's director of special collections and archives. "The Seamus Heaney papers join the archives of Ted Hughes, Paul Muldoon, Anthony Hecht and other major figures, and create at Emory a leading research center for the study of contemporary poetry," says Enniss.

The Seamus Heaney papers which Emory has acquired span Heaney's career from 1964 to the present and include correspondence with a wide literary circle including such writers as Brian Friel, Anthony Hecht, Ted Hughes, Michael Longley, Robert Lowell, Paul Muldoon and Robert Pinsky, to name only a few. The archive will cast light on the creative lives of a wide literary circle, while at the same time serving as the primary resource for future studies of Heaney's own work, according to Enniss. Once processing of the collection is completed, the archive will be available for research use by students and scholars.

"We are honored by the recognition accorded Emory by Seamus, and we receive his papers with profound gratitude," says Ronald Schuchard, Goodrich C. White Professor of English at Emory and an expert in contemporary Irish literature. "Seamus Heaney's full literary life and his citizenship in what he calls 'the republic of conscience' have placed his voice and writings at the center of intellectual culture for many years. His correspondence comes to us through a tremendous personal act of trust and confidence built up over 20 years as a friend of Emory. These papers will bring scores of students and scholars from many countries to Emory every year, and we hope to prove worthy of the great and welcome responsibility that it brings."

Emory University is a highly selective, comprehensive research university known for its academically demanding undergraduate college, highly ranked professional schools and world-class research facilities. For more than a decade, Emory has been named one of the country's top 25 national universities by U.S. News & World Report. In addition to its nine schools, the university encompasses The Carter Center, Yerkes National Primate Research Center and Emory Healthcare, a comprehensive metropolitan health care system.

 

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