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Poet Seamus Heaney, 74, Explored the ‘Wideness of Language’

World-renowned poet and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney died at age 74 in his native Ireland after a brief illness. Jeffrey Brown looks back on an interview he did with the poet two years ago where he reflected on his life and work. He shares an excerpt of Heaney reading a section from his poem, "Album."

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  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And finally tonight, we remember the world-renowned poet and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney. He died earlier today after a short illness in his native Ireland.

    Two years ago, I sat down with him in New York, as he looked back on his life and work. Here's an excerpt. It starts with Heaney reading a section from his poem "Album" about his parents.

  • SEAMUS HEANEY, poet:

    "Now the oil-fired heating boiler comes to life abruptly, drowsily, like the time collapse of a sawn-down tree. I imagine them in summer season, as it must have been. And the place it dawns on me could have been Grove Hill before the oaks were cut, where I would often stand with them on airy Sundays, shin-deep in hilltop bluebells, looking out at Magherafelt's four spires in the distance. Too late, alas, now for the apt quotation about a love that's proved by steady gazing, not at each other, but in the same direction."

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Heaney grew up in a rural family farmhouse called Mossbawn in Northern Ireland. He was the first of nine children who lived a life very grounded in the soil.

    His famous early poem titled "Digging" portrays his father working the earth with a spade and ends with an announcement to the world that he, the young poet, will use a different tool.

    "Between my finger and my thumb, the squat pen rests. I will dig with it."

    In his Nobel address, he spoke of making a life journey into — quote — "the wideness of language."

  • SEAMUS HEANEY:

    The first poetry a writer feels he can trust and come to a point that you think that is a poem, that is a life-changing experience.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Do you remember that?

  • SEAMUS HEANEY:

    I do, yes.

    It was certainly when I wrote "Digging." You know, I felt — when you're beginning, you're not sure. I mean, is this a poem? Or is it just a shot at a poem? Or is it kind of a dead thing?

    But when it comes alive in a way to feel that's your own utterance, then I think you're in business.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Seamus Heaney was 74 years old.

    And, online, you can find our complete profile of the poet, and you can watch him read one of his best-known works, "Death of a Naturalist."

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Remarkable talent.

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