Seamus Heaney: 10 Essential Poems

Human Voices Wake Us

Aug 25 2023 • 1 hr 8 mins

An episode from 8/25/23: Tonight, I read ten essential poems from one of the great and most public poets of the last seventy years, Seamus Heaney (1939-2013). It isn’t hard to come by details of Heaney’s life, but Stepping Stones (where Heaney is interviewed at length in what amounts to an autobiography), is a good place to start. His poems are collected in 100 Poems, and in the individual collections.

There are many ways to look at Heaney’s work, and the ten poems I choose only present one picture: a poet as at home on the farm as he was at Harvard; as interested in literary history as in archaeology and the deep interior of the Irish imagination; as concerned with childhood, memory, and family as with the darkest aspects of human life. In introducing these poems, I reflect on Heaney’s importance in my own life, and the huge impact his death had on me, ten years ago this month.

The poems I read are:

  • Personal Helicon (Death of a Naturalist, 1966)
  • The Forge and Bogland (Door into the Dark, 1969)
  • The Tollund Man (Wintering Out, 1972)
  • The Strand at Lough Beg (Field Work, 1979)
  • Squarings #2, #8, #40 (Seeing Things, 1991)
  • from his translations of Beowulf (1999)
  • Uncoupled (Human Chain, 2010)

The episode ends with Heaney's reading of "The Tollund Man."

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Any comments, or suggestions for readings I should make in later episodes, can be emailed to

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