The Board of Trustees of the Kenyon Review is pleased to honor Seamus Heaney as the 2004 recipient of the Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement. A citizen of the world and an ambassador for literature, Heaney insists that poetry can be meaningful in the face of human barbarity. This courageous vision, a hallmark of his life’s work, had led Heaney to be recognized as one of the world’s most important poets and translators of our time.
About Seamus Heaney
Heaney, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, is among the world’s best known poets and translators. His work is notable for its lyric power, its melding of the personal with the social. It joins the particular place and moment with the longer sweep of historical vision. As Michiko Kakutani wrote in The New York Times, his is “an art that commemorates the endurance of the private in the face of history and public grief.”
Raised on a small cattle farm called Mossbawn in Northern Ireland, Heaney left at the age of twelve, first for school in Derry 40 miles away, and then to Belfast. In 1972 he moved to the Irish Republic where he has lived since, along with regular teaching visits to the United States. Yet rural County Derry has remained “the country of the mind” where much of Heaney’s poetry is still grounded. Another critic wrote, “Heaney’s people have a primitive material persistence too, rooted in race and the land.”
Yet Seamus Heaney has also become very much a citizen of the world and an ambassador at large for literature. His struggle has always been to insist that poetry can be meaningful in the face of human barbarity, whether in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, or Rwanda. In his Nobel lecture he stated this with typical clarity, bluntness, beauty: “There are times when a deeper need enters, when we want the poem to be not only pleasurably right but compellingly wise, not only a surprising variation played upon the world, but a re-tuning of the world itself.”