He was born in 1939 into a Catholic family in Northern Ireland. As boy he spent most of hi time on a farm in Country Derby. He thus grew up in the midst of the divisions that characterized Irish history, and these later influenced his poetry. He went to Queen’s University in Belfast and then began his career as a poet and essay writer.
Then he moved south, settling in the Irish Republic in 1972. Heaney lived and taught in Dublin. In 1995 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.
Heaney’s first volumes of verse, Death of a Naturalist and Door into the Dark, are concerned with the Irish landscape of his youth, beautifully recreated in poems peopled by farmers, laborers and fishermen.
Heaney explores the close relation of language, race and place in Ireland.
Digging is a poem that links three generations of the poet’s family: by digging he means the process of unearthing the things that matter; like his father and his grandfather digged out potatoes and peat, the poet himself digging and work with his pen.
In his later collections poetry, including Wintering Out, he begins to see Ireland as a complex reality involving wider problems and relations.
In Casuality, a poem about a friend of the poet’s who was shot dead during a curfew, Heaney deals with Northern Ireland’s troubled political situation.
His later works continue his exploration of history and place but also of language as a living entity.
Heaney’s use of language derives from his conviction that words have an energy of their own which must be liberated. His language is rich and simple at the same time, describing real things and people, but also exploiting rhythmical and phonetic possibilities.