I Could Listen to Seamus Heaney Reading “Beowulf” For Hours (Requiescat In Pace) UPDATES

I shared what follows last summer. I’m sharing it with you again because this morning I learned that Seamus Heany has crossed over from death into eternity. Here’s a snippet from the obituary posted by the BBC.

Born in Northern Ireland, he was a Catholic and nationalist who chose to live in the South. “Be advised, my passport’s green / No glass of ours was ever raised / To toast the Queen,” he once wrote.

He came under pressure to take sides during the 25 years of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and faced criticism for his perceived ambivalence to republican violence, but he never allowed himself to be co-opted as a spokesman for violent extremism.

Read more

Have a listen to him read the first 98 lines of the “earliest extant poem in modern European language,” and you may agree with what I wrote in the title above.


Head to the library and check out Heaney’s translation of Beowulf. Or pick up a copy yourself at audible.com.

Having owned Burton Raffel’s translation of Beowulf since I was in high school, I was excited to learn of Heaney’s new translation. Upon discovering the video above, and learning that the Irish bard, himself a Nobel laureate, has translated this epic classic too? Let’s just say that this news has made me happy beyond words.

To show you how up to date I am on information like this, note that he published his translation in 2001 (yes, I live under a rock). And there is an illustrated version published in 2007? *whistling sound* To the bookstore, and then to the mead hall!

Here’s a taste of the Catholic world-formed words that flowed directly through his pen from his mind,

In Ille Tempore

The big missal splayed
and dangled silky ribbons
of emerald and purple and watery white.
Intransitively we would assist
confess, receive. The verbs
assumed us. We adored.
And we lifted our eyes to the nouns.
Altar-stone was dawn and monstrance noon,
the word ‘rubric’ itself a bloodshot sunset.
Now I live by a famous strand
where seabirds cry in the small hours
like incredible souls
And even the range wall of the promenade
that I press down on for conviction
hardly tempts me to credit it.

Joseph Bottum reviewed his latest book of poems, Human Chain, which was published in 2010. Check it out. You may also enjoy this interview he gave that was published in The Paris Revue.

Trivia Question: What poet did Seamus Heaney claim, “first formed my ear?”

Answer ==>> Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. Requiescat in pace.

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2 Responses to I Could Listen to Seamus Heaney Reading “Beowulf” For Hours (Requiescat In Pace) UPDATES

  1. BarbaraKB says:

    aaaaand YouTube takes down for copyright infringement. Time to buy an audiobook at audible.com!


  2. Manny says:

    I have not read an extensive amount of Heaney’s poetry, but what I read I think of highly. I know he was Catholic but I have not seen an extensive amount of Catholic allusions in his work. Could be that I’ve not seen a lot of his work. Does anyone know if he was a practicing Catholic?


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