Seamus Heaney’s healing words a sound investment
Nobel Prize-winning poet’s books have steadily increased in value
Seamus Heaney on his 70th birthday at his home in Sandymount, Dublin in 2009. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
The latest catalogue from De Burca Rare Books in Blackrock lists some highly collectable works by the late Irish bard and writer Seamus Heaney. While collectors are often advised to “buy what you like”, Will de Burca suggests concentrating on higher end books when focusing on a collection: “Heaney has seen a steady increase in prices in recent years, making him a very popular author in rare book catalogues and at auction.”
Amid the chaos and violent protests occurring across the United States, on August 20th, Joe Biden in his acceptance speech as Democratic presidential nominee quoted Seamus Heaney. In what, even the most conservative pundits described as “an enormously effective speech”, Biden towards the end of his address quoted the Nobel laureate: “History says, Don’t hope/ On this side of the grave/ But then, once in a lifetime/ The longed-for tidal wave/ Of justice can rise up/ And hope and history rhyme.”
The verse, taken from The Cure at Troy (Heaney’s free translation of Sophocles’ Philoctetes, which was first performed in 409 BC), was used by Biden as a reconciliatory metaphor in sharp contrast to the crass words used by Donald Trump aimed to divide the nation: liar, lowlife, human scum, savages.
Biden – who as a child suffered from a stutter – admitted reciting the works of Irish poets while alone in his bedroom to help him overcome his impediment. He is not the first politician to quote the Irish bard, with the quote itself synonymous today with the Belfast Agreement.
Former US president Bill Clinton also told how Heaney – who died in 2013 – wrote out the lines of a poem for him, which Clinton later hung on the wall of his study in the White House.
A recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 for “works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth which exalt everyday miracles and the living past”, Heaney has been described as “the most important Irish poet since Yeats” and the “greatest poet of our age”. Further accolades include the Whitbread Book of the Year Award, which he won twice, and the Griffin Prize Lifetime Recognition Achievement Award. He was also conferred the title Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.
In 2015, Heaney’s Clearances 3 (When all the others were away at Mass) was voted Ireland’s favourite poem of the past 100 years, and Scaffolding is one of the most popular poems to be read at Irish weddings. Heaney held posts at Harvard and Oxford universities, and his works are used extensively on school syllabuses worldwide.
Listed in the De Burca Rare Books catalogue is a selection of signed limited and first editions of his works. Most rare is Columcille the Scribe, a translation of a late 11th-century Irish poem by Heaney, with calligraphy on vellum by Tim O’Neill. The poem is framed in a linen-covered portfolio, which is easily detached for mounting purposes. The signed poem is from a limited edition of 150, of which only 125 were offered for sale (€1,250).
Among the signed limited editions are The Riverbank Field (€475) and Electric Light (€950), along with signed first editions of District and Circle and Electric Light (both €475). A fine copy of The Testament of Cresseid and Seven Fables – which was limited to 110 copies – sits in a slipcase and is listed for €950. Poems and a Memoir, a signed limited edition, is also €950.
The words of our Nobel laureate still resonate today, and not only to soothe chaos and confusion in the United States. “If we winter this one out, we can summer anywhere”, which he cited during an interview in 1972 referring to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, is so relevant today with what lies in the dark nights ahead under the veil of this pandemic.