Celebrated for his vivid imagery, sensory detail, and poignant explorations of identity, history, and the natural world, Seamus Heaney was one of the preeminent poets of the late 20th century. Born to a farming family in Northern Ireland in 1939, his work is infused with the tensions, traditions and deep-rooted rural life of his homeland.

Heaney garnered international acclaim for his 1966 debut, Death of a Naturalist, and continued to interweave personal memory with broader cultural and political themes throughout his four-decade oeuvre. He received the Whitbread Book of the Year for 1996’s The Spirit Level and 1999’s Beowolf, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995, for “works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.”

Before his death in 2013, Heaney had discussed the literature of his life in a reading list for The Week. From Robert Louis Stevenson’s entrancing tale of boyhood adventure to the enlivening poetry of Ted Hughes, explore his favorite books below.

Seamus Heaney’s Reading List

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

“One of the first books I owned, brought by Santa Claus. The story of David Balfour’s adventures after he ‘took the key from his father’s house for the last time’ still entrances.” -SH

Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence (also rec’d by Gabriel García Márquez)

“Lawrence’s early masterpiece overwhelmed me in my late teens: the novel as a book of life, an introduction to the son and lover in oneself and an interrogation of them.” -SH

Lupercal by Ted Hughes

“When I took it off the shelf in a public library at the age of 23, I came alive to poetry and my experience came alive to me as if I were a battery being charged.” -SH

The Bog People by P.V. Glob

“Glob was an archaeologist with the imagination of a poet. In this account of bodies found in the bogs of northern Europe, the dead walk out of their museums into the mystery of their Iron Age lives and sacrificial deaths. My Christmas present to myself in 1969.” -SH

Hope Against Hope by Nadezhda Mandelstam

“One of the greatest books about the vocation of poetry: a fierce computing of what it cost the author and her husband, the doomed Osip Mandelstam, to maintain ‘inner freedom’ in the terror world of Stalin’s Soviet Union. Dantesque in its readiness to mete out punishment and praise.” -SH

New and Collected Poems by Czeslaw Milosz

“Lithuanian-born, Polish speaking, orchestral in his language, stretched—as he once said—’between politics and transcendence,’ Milosz was one of the great poets of the 20th century.” -SH

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

“This was my first encounter with Mankell’s faintly depressive fast-foodie detective, Kurt Wallander. I went immediately on a binge read.” -SH

(via The Week; photo by Murdo Macleod)

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Categories: Writers