Seamus Heaney (1939 - 2013)
The Nobel laureate, Seamus Heaney, had the great good fortune to be born in a place that values poetry in a way that most Americans cannot imagine. He was an honest-to-goodness celebrity in his native Ireland, not perhaps on a Bieberian scale, but solidly, unostentatiously famous nonetheless. Right around the time he accepted the Nobel laurels, he became something beyond the poet and teacher he started out to be. He became a sage, a go-to quote-maker on the Big Questions of the day, and I think to some extent he relished those extracurricular roles. I know he was awfully good at them.
It's always tempting to see a softening in the work when someone in any profession has reached that level of success, and perhaps the poems became bigger, more aware of their place in his country's sociopolitical discourse, and his own legacy, but they were still masterful. For me, there will always be something in his early work when all that talent was balling up into a fist and he was finding new ways to say what had to be said, when he hadn't quite become the master (though so much better, more naturally gifted than anyone working at the time). Those are the poems I suspect I'll return to most.
Works by Seamus Heaney @ HCPL