Nobel guest

Seamus Heaney, the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature recipient, reads poetry and talks about his life as a writer and poet at Hendricks Chapel.

Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet and writer Seamus Heaney gave a lecture at Syracuse University Tuesday evening, April 13, 2010. SU and Le Moyne College students sat impatiently and eager to hear what Heaney had to say.

“I love poetry. He’s the only poet I have come to see here,” said Samantha Kharasch, a freshman modern foreign language major at SU. “As a reader, I understand his works easily. It [his poetry] makes you listen.”  

Photo: Jamie De Pould
Heaney is known not only for his poetry, but also for his new translation of the classic tale "Beowulf."

Heaney's works include poetry collections such Seeing Things from 1991, District and Circle from 2006, The Haw Lantern from 1987, and a translation of Beowulf published in 1999. His body of work earned him a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. 

The lecture started with an uproar of applause that filled the room, and a poem reading by Heaney about the wind and how it came suddenly to him one late evening. His lasting words and quick jokes about history, writing, and people created a wonderfully personal and sensual relationship between the listeners and Heaney. 

“Every now and then you would hear a line that means the world to you,” said Beverly Allen, professor of French, Italian and comparative literature at SU. “Poetry is sensual.”

Heaney spent a large portion of the lecture reading poems from his book, District and Circle. He read his poem titled “Digging,” which he called a hefty piece about generations, and the movement from a grandfather to a father to a son. The audience was especially pleased with hearing some of his more autobiographical poems like “Digging.”

“I think he’s one that benefits from hearing it,” SU professor Bruce Smith said. “He’s always interested in the acoustic and phonic qualities of a poem.” 

Heaney also talked about his love and appreciation for pen work, and how the physical act of writing is important. Heaney said that a lot of the poems he wrote were him trying to bring together the world where writing wasn’t work.  It was a kind of indulgence. He read one of his famous poems, “Midterm Break,” which is about the life of Heaney as a young boy, coping with the death of his brother and the everyday. 

“I liked hearing it from the author,” said SU student Samantha Kharasch. “I like hearing the pauses that he felt were necessary to let the message sink in, so that each line like brought the reader in more and more.”  

Heaney read “Mossbawn,” a poem about the farm where he and his family grew up in Ireland. He also read a sonnet called “A Drink of Water.”

Heaney discussed the stroke he had back in 2006, and read a new manuscript called “Miracle,” which represented the people that helped him in his struggles. He also ended the lecture with a poem that he wrote for his granddaughter called a “Kite for Avian.” The lecture ended with an intense clapping ovation and a questioning and answer session for the audience. 

Seamus HeaneyVideo: Watch The NewsHouse exclusive interview with Seamus Heaney, Striking a balance.

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