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Nobel laureate reads at 4th International Dante Seminar

Justin Tardiff | Monday, September 29, 2003

The McKenna Hall auditorium exceeded capacity Friday night as faculty and students gathered to hear Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney read from his acclaimed body of poetry.

The reading was a highly anticipated component of the 4th International Dante Seminar, held this year at Notre Dame.

“Seamus Heaney is easily the most important Irish writer alive today, and his visit to campus is a major cultural event,” said English professor Mary Burgess.

The Irish poet said he chose his readings for the seminar, entitled “Dante’s Cultures,” “with a sense of Dantesque.” He described his relationship to Dante as “reverent.”

Heaney’s “Dantesque” poems included a selection from his Lightenings, two elegies for assassinated Irishmen, two sonnets for his deceased parents, and “St. Kevin and the Blackbird,” a “vision” about which he spoke in his 1995 Nobel Prize lecture.

Heaney’s poems have explored “in depth the pain of Ireland’s political situation in the recent Troubles – what Heaney called in his Nobel acceptance speech ‘the history of the harrowing of the heart in Northern Ireland,'” said Christopher Fox, director of the Keough Institute for Irish Studies.

Notre Dame’s Keough Institute for Irish Studies and the Devers Program in Dante Studies sponsored Heaney’s reading. Heaney played an instrumental role in the establishment of the Irish Studies program at Notre Dame, Fox said in his introductory speech on Friday.

The reading came at a particularly apt time, for “the Dante Studies program at Notre Dame has been establishing an international reputation,” Fox said.

The Nobel Laureate visited Notre Dame in 1995, shortly after he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

“Heaney’s return trip here this September in some sense echoes the two visits by another Irish Nobel Laureate to Notre Dame, William Butler Yeats at the beginning of the twentieth century and again in the 1930s,” Fox said.

Burgess said of Heaney’s prior visit in 1995, “The last time Heaney was here was shortly

after he was awarded the Nobel Prize, and people drove from Chicago, Nebraska and Detroit to hear him.”

The seminar and Heaney’s second visit drew an international crowd of scholars to the University.