Seeing Things and Celebrating Friendships in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney is a Burns Library Exhibit, now on display in the Margaret Ford Tower. This exhibit is available for viewing whenever the Burns Library is open from February 14 – March 24, 2014.
Seamus Heaney (1939 – 2013) was an Irish poet, playwright, translator, scholar, and lecturer, and the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995 “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.” One of the 20th century’s major poets, Heaney authored over 20 volumes of poetry and criticism covering a wide range of themes. A late-winter exhibit at the Burns Library, Seeing Things and Celebrating Friendships in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney, displays a few of the Heaney materials available for research in the Boston College Libraries. Heaney’s 1991 collection Seeing Things inspired the title for this exhibit, inviting us to share Heaney’s unique insights into the people and the environment around us.
The exhibit highlights two aspects of Heaney’s life and work: references to nature in his poems, and his friendships and connections with the worldwide Boston College community. Offsetting a bleak New England winter, the exhibit draws the eye to selected fine press books and limited edition broadsides, each beautifully created for an individual poem. With references to nature and the seasons, these editions enhance the visual aspect of what Malcolm Jones of Newsweek described as “Heaney’s own poetic vernacular – muscular language so rich with the tones and smell of earth that you almost expect to find a few crumbs of dirt clinging to his lines …” The Burns Library holds 40 Heaney broadsides in a variety of formats and sizes, from letter-sized to super-sized, and a few representative items are on display.
The exhibit also explores the theme of friendship, with a brief glance at some of Heaney’s Boston College connections. Over the years, Heaney made a number of visits to Boston College, including seven Humanities Series appearances. Two of Heaney’s letters to Francis Sweeney, S.J., are on view from the Humanities Series Director’s Records. A letter from 1982 introduces Richard Kearney, now the Charles B. Seelig Professor in Philosophy at Boston College, as a “young dazzler from Dublin.” A 1998 photograph shows Irish Studies graduate students beaming during a celebration with Heaney. One of Heaney’s poems, “A Brigid’s Girdle,” was written for Dr. Adele Dalsimer, co-founder of the Irish Studies Program. The exhibit also connects with three of the Burns Library Visiting Scholars, Terence Brown (spring 2014), Peter Fallon (2012-2013), and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill (1998-1999), and with Charles Donovan, S.J., Boston College’s first University Historian. Finally, the exhibit includes two portraits of Heaney by renowned Northern Ireland photojournalist Bobbie Hanvey, selected from the Burns Library’s Bobbie Hanvey Photographic Archives.
Born on the Heaney family farm in County Derry, Northern Ireland, Heaney was the eldest of nine children. At the age of twelve, he left to attend St. Columb’s College, a boarding school in Londonderry/ Derry. He attended Queen’s University Belfast, completing an English degree in 1961. He then spent a year earning a teaching certificate at St. Joseph’s College in Belfast before starting as a lecturer there in 1963. During the early 1960s, Heaney was part of a weekly poetry discussion group organized by Philip Hobsbaum, a lecturer at Queen’s University. In Belfast, Heaney met writers such as Michael Longley and Derek Mahon who would become noted poets of the North of Ireland. Heaney’s first collection, Eleven Poems, was published in conjunction with the Belfast Festival in 1965. He married Marie Devlin that same year, and in the following year he began a position as lecturer of Modern English Literature at Queen’s.
Heaney and his family lived in California from 1970 to 1971 while Heaney was a visiting lecturer at University of California, Berkeley. In 1972, the Heaney family settled in Sandymount, Dublin. For many years afterward, Heaney spent part of each year teaching in the United States. At Harvard University, he was the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory from 1985 to 1997, and was Ralph Waldo Emerson Poet in Residence from 1998 to 2006. He was elected Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford in 1989 for a five-year term, an arrangement that allowed him to continue dividing his time between Ireland and the United States.
The exhibit, Seeing Things and Celebrating Friendships in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney, is on view through March 24, 2014 during the Burns Library’s open hours. If you happen to miss seeing this exhibit, the Bobbie Hanvey Photographic Archives is available online and contains many beautiful images of Heaney. Instructions on how to view and use the Bobbie Hanvey photos are available here. Additional Heaney resources at the Burns Library include the Seamus Heaney collection and Seamus Heaney broadsides. The O’Neill Library at Boston College also has extensive holdings of Seamus Heaney materials, including audio, video, digital, and print materials. For more information on Burns Library collections, please contact the Burns Library Reading Room at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-552-4861.
- Elizabeth Sweeney, Irish Music Librarian
- Kathleen Williams, Senior Reference Librarian/Bibliographer