Guidebooks, memoirs, biography, novels contemporary and historical — there are many ways to experience, reflect upon, and learn about travel through the written word. One of those ways is through poetry.
Before you say ah, I don’t like poetry, or I don’t understand what poets do, or poetry is just not for me, wait a bit. There is an exhibit in Dublin about the life and work of one of Ireland’s most important and best loved poets with much which you will enjoy, whether you care about poetry or not.
Seamus Heaney is the man whose life and work is the subject of this exhibit, which is in the newly opened Bank of Ireland Cultural and Heritage Centre. The location is easy to find (though the entrance is around the corner from the main bank, not at all imposing), near Trinity College.
Land, landscape, and history are lasting building blocks of Heaney’s writing. When he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, it was “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.”
That description may make you think, still, that poetry isn’t exactly your thing. The exhibit in Dublin, though, brings together the life of a working artist, the background of a man of rural roots who went on to become a professor at Queen’s Belfast, Harvard, and Oxford, and the reflective creator who went on to win that Nobel prize.
The displays themselves are somewhat spare and economical, yet with concentrated power, as Heaney’s work itself is.
Seamus Heaney was born in 1939 in County Derry, in Northern Ireland’s northwest. He lived there, and also in Dublin, as well as in the places to which his teaching took him. The landscapes of Ireland’s northwest offered images which stayed with Heaney even when he was not writing about them directly.
Photographs of some of those lands are part of the story told in the exhibit. So are things which inspired some of his ideas, from photographs of bog bodies to grains of wheat, to Ireland’s historic coinage, to the musical instrument known as the rainstick, to the title page of the Good Friday Agreement. That last, signed in 1998, helped bring peace to the conflicts of the Troubles in Ireland. As a man from Derry in Northern Ireland who lived in Dublin in the Republic, Heaney considered the Troubles in his work, too.
There are images and stories of Heaney’s early years, as well as from times when he had become well known. There are manuscripts and notebooks in his own hand, from across his career. From these you see the poet at work, the artist thinking of the stories he has to tell.
As a Nobel laureate, a professor, and the author of more than twenty books, Seamus Heaney knew some archive would want his papers. He wanted to be sure that the records of his work would stay in Ireland. So he packed up many of them — boxes and boxes — and brought them to the National Library of Ireland. Seamus Heaney died in 2013. This exhibition at the Bank of Ireland Cultural and Heritage Centre is one way his work lives on.
Whether you know Heaney’s work or not, whether you care about poetry or not, whatever you may know about Ireland or not, Seamus Heaney: Listen Now Again (that’s the full name of the project) is a story of creativity. In whatever ways creativity touches your life, it is worth your time to visit.
Entry to the exhibit, which is a project of the National Library of Ireland, is free. For details of opening hours and location, as well as further information about the exhibit and the library’s Heaney materials, visit National Library of Ireland web site.
Has all this got you thinking about reading Seamus Heaney’s poetry? Two places to start: Spirit Level, though one of his later works, could be good introduction. For a wider selection, 100 Poems comprises poems selected by Heaney’s family from across his career, published to coincide with this exhibition.
You may also like to learn about books about Ireland. In the story you’ll find through that link, one of the books is about Dublin as seen through the eyes of poets.
Is poetry part of your travel reading? Consider ideas on that by following the link.
Photographs by Kerry Dexter
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