I first encountered Heaney's work four years ago whilst studying for my English Literature A Level. The first poem I read by him was Mid-Term Break and I can honestly say I was blown away. I cannot read that poem without feeling very emotional. The descriptions given by the narrator seem very self contained yet the glimpses of other people's reactions reveal the rawness of emotion that lingers beneath the surface. We also focused on Punishment, another incredibly powerful poem. Just from these two poems, I thought Heaney was a brilliant poet and I was determined to read more of his work.
As often happens, I didn't get around to it until last year when I studied his translation of Beowulf. Which is incredible. Beowulf is a poem best enjoyed read aloud and I would highly recommend you take the time to listen to it. Over exam period I would listen to it whenever I was walking places and it really made me appreciate what a good translation it is. Other translations, such as Michael Alexander's, retain more of the alliterative style that is a trade mark of Old English poetry. Heaney's lacks this but does not suffer for doing so. There is something about the translation that really reminds me of what little poetry of his I have read. The poem still retains the core Old English values but almost seems a bit more modern than other translations, like Heaney has brought it up to the modern age. I enjoyed studying it so much that it is actually one of my texts I will be doing my dissertation on. After this I read a little of his collection North but had to return the book to the library as I was travelling home. Now I feel sad that I did not take the time to read more of his work while he was alive, but his poetry does still live on so generations to come can appreciate what an amazing poet he was.
I know this isn't the most in depth appreciation of his work as I have read very little, but I just wanted to get a few thoughts down as I have found myself genuinely saddened. Let me know in the comments if any of you have been particularly effected by Heaney's work. For now, I leave you with Beowulf: