Exhibit Displays Heaney’s Legacy

The Manuscript, Archives and Rare Books Library (MARBL) debuted an exhibition commemorating the late Irish poet and Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney this past weekend in the Schatten Gallery of the Robert W. Woodruff Library.

Heaney died Aug. 30, 2013, a few months after his last visit to the University in March.

The exhibit, titled “Seamus Heaney: The Music of What Happens,” chronicles Heaney’s life as a poet and his relationship with Emory. According to an article written by the Director of Irish Studies Geraldine Higgins in the spring 2014 MARBL catalog, the title originates from an old legend that Heaney quoted in his poem “Song.”

The gallery displays pictures of Heaney with various Emory faculty members, his visit to the grave of Irish poet W.B. Yeats and some individual portraits of him.

The exhibit also demonstrates that the impact of Heaney’s death reverberated across the world, displays clippings from global newspapers when the story of his death broke and provides an explanation of his poetry’s impact.

“[Heaney’s] loss was mourned by scholars, writers, friends, rock stars, political activists and poetry lovers in myriad texts, tweets, blog posts, articles, obituaries and speeches,” the exhibit states.

MARBL is home to some of the only early drafts of Heaney’s poetry, a few of which are handwritten and show Heaney’s edits. For example, a draft of the poem “Strange Fruit” has phrases crossed out and arrows indicating the rearrangement of stanzas.

The exhibit also contains personal correspondence between Heaney and American poet Ted Hughes as well as handwritten letters and poems to contemporary Irish poets Michael Longley, Paul Muldoon and Medbh McGuckian.

“The exhibition follows the trajectory of Heaney’s poetry from the earth-bound bog poems of his early work to the airiness and uplift of crediting marvels in his later career,” Higgins wrote in the MARBL catalog.

The exhibit also has a video media section that plays clips of Heaney and other writers reading his poems aloud.

Heaney first forged a relationship with Emory’s Irish Studies department in 1981 during his first visit for the inaugural Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature, Higgins wrote. He donated his papers to MARBL in 2003 in honor of former University President Bill Chace.

Heaney’s relationship with Emory is presented in the gallery through pictures and a copy of his 2003 address at Emory’s Commencement ceremony.

“Still, today’s conferral has raised us all a step above ourselves, and for the rest of our lives we’re going to remember this morning with pride and pleasure,” he said in the speech.

Much of Heaney’s poetry delves into his own past. One of his most widely known poems, “Digging,” which explores Heaney’s family and integrates elements of the Irish landscape, is displayed in large print in the exhibit.

In addition to his own past, Heaney also addressed Irish history in his poetry, specifically the violence during the Irish War of Independence. A section of the exhibit documents some of the propaganda, posters and media paraphernalia related to Irish nationalism and displays Heaney’s poem about the Easter Rising of 1916 entitled “Requiem of the Croppies.”

The gallery is open to students, faculty and members of the Atlanta community.

Exhibit attendee Peggy Ann McCann described her experience as a native of Ireland experiencing the exhibit.

“I kept forgetting I was in America because it feels so relevant to where I’m from,” she said.

She added that seeing the exhibit was also emotional for her because she grew up in Northern Ireland and the history of the War of Independence stirs up the difficult feelings of that time.

—By Rupsha Basu 

at rupsha.basu@emory.edu