Telegraph.co.uk wrote:In a rare interview, Seamus Heaney talks to Jenny McCartney about the crises - both personal and political - that still fire his work.
Dublin may be a brasher city than of yore, jammed tight with traffic and frantic shoppers, but the old courtesy still clings to Seamus Heaney, standing in the sunlit kitchen of his house poised on a sweep of beach at the city's Sandymount Strand. He hands me a cup of tea, with the milk placed in a small jug next to it. Then he looks at the plate beside the cup, and notes its uncomfortable blankness.
'Would you like some … bread?' Heaney asks, tentatively. I tell him that I have already eaten. 'A monastic biscuit then!' he says, and goes off to dig out the tin of digestives from the cupboard. It is, perhaps, the casual exactness of that word 'monastic' that might betray Heaney's profession to one who didn't know.
But then almost no one can be unaware, either, of Heaney's profession, or his stature within it. Irish wags refer to him as 'Famous Seamus' in a sly but proud acknowledgement of his international celebrity, crowned with his Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995.
Although Heaney was born into a Catholic, nationalist family in Northern Ireland - and once objected to inclusion in a book of British poets with the warning lines: 'Be advised, my passport's green/ No glass of ours was ever raised/ To toast the Queen' - British readers can't get enough of him: it is an oft-cited statistic that his books account for two-thirds of the sales of living poets in Britain.
All that might be expected, perhaps, to puff a man up and render him a little prickly with self-importance. With Heaney, quite the opposite has occurred: he only rests easy in the gentle understatement of his achievement. That derives, I think, from the small, superstitious voice that echoes within the Northern Irish psyche, greeting success with the words: 'Be grateful: don't get cocky and blow it.'
The word 'lucky' thus chimes like a tiny warning-bell throughout his descriptions of past successes, be they his First Class honours degree from Queen's University, Belfast, or the rapturous critical reception for his debut book of poems, Death of a Naturalist, in 1966. And yet it is evident that Heaney has been a powerhouse of literary labour throughout, regularly turning out poems and translations, essays and lectures, taking up professorships at Harvard and Oxford, and winning the Whitbread Prize twice.
I am reminded of that old quote from the movie mogul Sam Goldwyn: 'The harder I work, the luckier I get.'
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