Though his death came as a “complete shock,” Emory University‘s planned exhibition next year on famed Irish poet Seamus Heaney will go on, recast as a memorial to the Nobel laureate.
Mr. Heaney, whose relationship with Emory spanned more than 30 years, died Aug. 30, 2013, at 74.
“We are deeply saddened by his death, but it will still be a celebration of his life and work,” Geraldine Higgins, director of Irish Studies at Emory and curator of the Seamus Heaney exhibit, told Global Atlanta.
“Seamus Heaney: The Music of What Happens,” is set to open the first week of February. It is to include one of his desks, a selection of his correspondence and his first publication written while he was studying at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
After his first reading at Emory in 1981, Mr. returned several times over the next three decades for readings and classroom visits. His first donation came when he passed on lecture notes after a talk at Emory in 1988. In 2003, Emory’s Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library gained a large collection of his papers, much of which will be featured in the upcoming exhibition.
Mr. Heaney became famous for an earthy style that draws heavily on pastoral themes and deals with moral dilemmas, most famously in his writings about the Troubles, a 30-year conflict over Northern Ireland’s political status in the last 20th century.
He had been back to Emory in March to read his poetry, and he had planned to attend the opening of the Emory exhibition in February, according to an Emory news article.
About 100 of Mr. Heaney’s friends from Emory gathered in the campus library Tuesday, Sept. 10, to share their memories of his generosity and goodwill, Ms. Higgins said.
“Everyone commented on his warmth, and it was true,” she added.
Mr. Heaney was born one of nine children on a farm called Mossbawn in County Derry in 1939. His childhood remained a rich source for many of his poems. He wrote of simple things like his father cultivating potatoes in the boggy Irish peat or forays to the fields to pick blackberries, but deep meaning was woven into his treatment of seemingly mundane topics.
During the Troubles, Mr. Heaney spoke out about the injustices suffered by his own community in the Unionist-dominated state. He also advocated tolerance and of what he called in one poem “the other side.”
Some of his most famous lines were quoted by former President Bill Clinton during the peace negotiations in the 1990s:
History says don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.
Among many literary prizes, Mr. Heaney won a 1996 l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, a 1999 Whitbread prize for his translation of the Old English epic “Beowulf” and the 2006 T.S. Eliot prize in poetry.
He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995.
Mr. Heaney’s death struck a deep chord within Ireland itself. Irish President Michael D. Higgins and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny both offered public eulogies to the late poet, and the people of Ireland echoed their tribute.
“The whole of Ireland came to a halt for a moment of silence,” Ms. Higgins said, referring to the opening of the semi-final Gaelic football match between Kerry and Dublin, where Mr. Heaney lived out his last years.
After a pause, “80,000 people got to their feet and gave a thunderous roar of applause. It’s really amazing to think about a tribute like that for a poet,” Ms. Higgins said.
“Seamus Heaney: The Music of What Happens” will run for 10 months at Emory’s Schatten Gallery in the Woodruff Library.
More information on the Seamus Heaney papers at Emory can be found here.