When Seamus Heaney won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, he had already been writing poems since the 1960s. Born in Northern Ireland in 1939, Heaney grew up in a politically divisive world as WWII was beginning. He excelled at school and became a teacher and poet, often spending time in the United States to educate pupils there. Heaney also wrote plays and spent time traveling as a professor; however, he is most remembered for his poetry.
Heaney’s poetry contains themes of nature, relationships, working life, and Irish culture. Take his poem “Blackberry Picking” as an example:
For Philip HobsbaumLate August, given heavy rain and sunFor a full week, the blackberries would ripen.At first, just one, a glossy purple clotAmong others, red, green, hard as a knot.You ate that first one and its flesh was sweetLike thickened wine: summer’s blood was in itLeaving stains upon the tongue and lust forPicking. Then red ones inked up and that hungerSent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-potsWhere briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drillsWe trekked and picked until the cans were full,Until the tinkling bottom had been coveredWith green ones, and on top big dark blobs burnedLike a plate of eyes. Our hands were pepperedWith thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.But when the bath was filled we found a fur,A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.The juice was stinking too. Once off the bushThe fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fairThat all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.