On Seamus Heaney - R. F. Foster



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On Seamus Heaney
R. F. Foster
Princeton University Press
UK Publication Date

A vivid and original account of one of Ireland's greatest poets by an acclaimed Irish historian and literary biographer

The most important Irish poet of the postwar era, Seamus Heaney rose to prominence as his native Northern Ireland descended into sectarian violence. A national figure at a time when nationality was deeply contested, Heaney also won international acclaim, culminating in the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. In On Seamus Heaney, leading Irish historian and literary critic R. F. Foster gives an incisive and eloquent account of the poet and his work against the background of a changing Ireland.

Drawing on unpublished drafts and correspondence, Foster provides illuminating and personal interpretations of Heaney's work. Though a deeply charismatic figure, Heaney refused to don the mantle of public spokesperson, and Foster identifies a deliberate evasiveness and creative ambiguity in his poetry. In this, and in Heaney's evocation of a disappearing rural Ireland haunted by political violence, Foster finds parallels with the other towering figure of Irish poetry, W. B. Yeats. Foster also discusses Heaney's cosmopolitanism, his support for dissident poets abroad, and his increasing focus in his later work on death and spiritual transcendence. Above all, Foster examines how Heaney created an extraordinary connection with an exceptionally wide readership, giving him an authority and power unique among contemporary writers.

Combining a vivid account of Heaney's life and a compelling reading of his entire oeuvre, On Seamus Heaney extends our understanding of the man as it enriches our appreciation of his poetry.

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R. F. Foster is Professor of Irish History and Literature at Queen Mary University of London and Emeritus Professor of Irish History at the University of Oxford. His many books include Modern Ireland: 1600-1972, the two-volume W. B. Yeats: A Life, and, most recently, Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890-1923. Foster's writing has appeared in the Guardian, the New York Review of Books, the Irish Times, and many other publications. He lives in London.

"Roy Foster's insightful and accessible study of Seamus Heaney deftly intertwines a fluent account of the poet's life with illuminating analyses of his work."---Cliona Ni Riordain, Irish Times

"One of the Financial Times' Best Books of 2020: Critics' Picks"

"Roy Foster brings long-felt passion and measured scholarship to his welcome analysis of the poetry of Seamus Heaney in this neat hardback."

"[From] a biographer of the first rank . . . [On Seamus Heaney] is a dutiful book as well as a labour of love and in it the great biographer shows his reverence both for the accomplishment of Heaney's work and its deep sanity and suavity . . . [A] careful and attentive poetic biography."---Peter Craven, Sydney Morning Herald

"[A] succinct but insightful critical biography that puts the poetry of Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) firmly in the context of his life and times . . . This reflective and incisive study works both as an academic research aid and as an accessible primer for general poetry readers."
Publishers Weekly

"Foster colours in around the Heaney-shaped effigy that we all know [making] this work engrossing. . . . [Foster's] attention to detail and that ability to give a full picture of the man parallel to charting the punctuation points of his writing achievements are undeniably impressive."---Hilary A. White, Irish Independent

"[An] excellent new study."---James Parker, The Atlantic

"Writing with the restraint of the professional academic but with all the vim of a youthful enthusiast, R. F. Foster has published On Seamus Heaney, his take on the life and writings of one of Ireland's famous poets . . . Foster has captured the young Heaney in a manner that readers can grasp fully, and the description is written in elevated language that is appropriate to the status of its subject. . . . I recommend this book very highly indeed."---Ian Lipke, Queensland Reviewers Collective

"A concise, meticulously researched account of Heaney's publishing career. . . . Foster couples forensic attention to detail with engaging prose."---Tara McEvoy, Times Literary Supplement

"As one would expect of Foster, the suavest Irish historian of his generation, the handling of Irish contexts . . . is impeccable."---David Wheatley, Literary Review

"RF Foster's painstakingly researched and affectionately penned On Seamus Heaney offers an illuminating bite-sized refresher course on one of our greatest literary talents."---David Roy, Irish News

"More than any other writing on Heaney you actually get a sense of Heaney's own personality, his charisma, his friendliness, his warmth, his humour and it's a hugely respectful biography in that way because you get the sense of Heaney's own words about himself that have not been made public before and you've got the impression, at least, of being in his company and that's one of the things I was hoping for in the book and it certainly comes across."---Peter Mackay, BBC Radio 3 'Free Thinking'

"A very good 'short book essay' on one of my favorite poets."---Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

"If a book on poetry can teach, Roy Foster's new book about Ireland's Nobel Prize poet Seamus Heaney shares it all."---Ronn Hartviksen, Chronicle Journal

"A brief and brilliant study that weaves together the life and work of the Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet."---Sunil Khilnani, Open Magazine

"A timely perspective on the Northern Irish troubles as experienced and responded to in Heaney's work."---Fiona O'Connor, Morning Star

Country of Publication
New Jersey
Number of Pages

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