Community members gathered to honor the late poet Seamus Heaney with a reading of his works in Goodsen Chapel Tuesday afternoon.
Students, professors and administrators alike—including President Richard Brodhead—read selections of Heaney’s work aloud in a relatively simple gathering that celebrated his career as a renowned poet. Heaney died August 30 at the age of 74.
“He may well be remembered as one of the most important poets in English language in the tradition,” said Michael Moses, associate professor of English and one of the organizers of the event.
Poems were chosen from across Heaney’s career, as was a selection from his translation of “Beowulf.” Brodhead noted that although each speaker was able to choose poems independently, no two speakers chose the same poem.
“It’s a simple affair, but I hope an inspiring one,” said Moses, who taught a course on Heaney’s poetry last semester.
Several speakers discussed the relationship between Heaney’s work and his Irish heritage, particularly the ways in which he used poetry to express the violence of The Troubles in Northern Ireland.
A book of Heaney’s poetry is “probably the best guidebook you could have for Northern Ireland,” said Robin Kirk, one of the speakers and the faculty co-chair of the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute.
“Heaney, like all poets, understood that poetry is about the tradition of language,” Brodhead said. “He was one of the great poets of my lifetime.”
In addition to Brodhead, Moses and Kirk, the speakers included Sarah Beckwith, professor of English and professor of theater studies; Gregson Davis, professor of classics and comparative literature; Joseph Donahue, professor of the practice of English; Tong Xiang, Trinity ’13 and junior Shannon Potter.
The reading concluded with a surprise for the audience—rather than reading the poem “Field of Vision” as was written on the program, Moses instead played a recording of Heaney himself reading his poem “Funeral Rites.”
“There’s something about the sound of spoken poetry,” Brodhead said.