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Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2007, 17:14 GMT
Faces of the week
Faces of the Week

Our regular look at some of the names which have made the news this week. Above are SEAMUS HEANEY (main picture), with SHILPA SHETTY, BARACK OBAMA, DAVID BECKHAM and DAME BUTLER-SLOSS.


Poet Seamus Heaney was named this week as winner of the prestigious 2006 TS Eliot Prize. He won it for District and Circle, his 12th collection of poems, sonnets in fact, which hark back to his days when he travelled to work in the 1960s on the London Tube.

The award is yet more confirmation, as if it was needed, of Heaney's reputation as, arguably, the English language's greatest living bard, whom author Malcolm Bradbury once described as "the poet of poets".

Heaney's volumes make up two-thirds of the sales of living poets in Britain.

In 1995, he received the greatest accolade when awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Sixty-seven years ago, when Seamus Heaney was born the eldest of nine children on a 45-acre farm in County Derry, there was little to suggest that his career would take him in the direction it did.

Neither of his parents was bookish: his poetry came through the lyricism he found in the language of the radio, from the Catholic litany and his mother's love of grammar that she remembered from her schooldays.

The contrast between his diffident father and his loquacious mother provoked a "quarrel within himself" from which his poetry arose.

Seamus Heaney posing by field gate
Seamus Heaney's rural roots inspired his poetry
He won a scholarship to a Catholic boarding school where he learned Latin and Irish, and later studied English at Queen's University, Belfast in 1958 from where he graduated with a first-class honours degree.

It was the discovery of Ted Hughes's Lupercal, in Belfast public library, that convinced him to be a poet. "Suddenly, the matter of contemporary poetry was the material of my own life," he said.

Then he became influenced by the Irish writer, Patrick Kavanagh.

In the first poem of his first collection entitled Death of a Naturalist, he wrote:
"Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it."

The poems are a vivid depiction of the rural life of his upbringing, full of the slap and slither of clammy clay and sodden turf. He has kept digging for more than four decades.

Inevitably, since the first murmurs of Northern Ireland's Troubles began as his career did, there was pressure on Heaney to write for the nationalist cause.


However, he resisted, preferring to describe in poetry collections such as North in 1975, the struggles within himself that the Troubles invoked.

The work is full of references to tales from history, both modern and ancient. It's laced with images of the "bog people", those corpses preserved in Danish peat bogs, victims of violent deaths like their modern Ulster contemporaries.

British reviewers in particular praised the absence of polemic. "He confronts the issue with propriety and dignity," said one.

By now, Seamus Heaney had moved to the Irish republic and later accepted a teaching post at Harvard. He also became Professor of Poetry at Oxford. As well as teaching, he embarked upon lecture and reading tours.

Heaney with Whitbread judge Jerry Hall
Heaney won the 2000 Whitbread Prize for his translation of Beowolf
In 1991, his book Seeing Things saw a return to more introspective themes. Four years later, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize, the committee described his oeuvre as "works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past".

His love of Anglo-Saxon English and imagery led him to translate the epic poem Beowulf, written at around 900AD. It won him the 2000 Whitbread Prize; the judges described it as "quite an extraordinary piece of writing".

The newly-honoured District and Circle is very much of the post 9/11 era and the title poem recalls the 7/7 bombing on the London underground.

The book is full of references to the deaths of people he was close to. They include his friends Ted Hughes and the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz. At one point Heaney describes himself as:
"A shadow on raked gravel
In front of my house of life."

Seamus Heaney lives with his wife of 40 years Marie in their house in County Wicklow, south of Dublin. Marie is a writer herself; the couple have three children.

Last August he suffered a minor stroke from which he has now recovered.

English poet, Craig Raine was Seamus Heaney's editor at Faber and Faber and is just one of many who believe Heaney to be the most pre-eminent poet alive.

He told the BBC News website: "Seamus has an absolute completeness in his poetic equipment; a marvellous ear for cadence, a terrific image bank and a total mastery of tone. What's more, he's a wonderful guy."

As winner of the TS Eliot Prize, Seamus Heaney himself quotes Eliot when assessing the power of poetry - to draw the mind "to afterthought and forethought".

Shilpa Shetty

The treatment given to Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty by her housemates in TV reality show, Celebrity Big Brother, has drawn an unprecedented number of complaints. Viewers took exception to what they regard as bullying and racism towards Ms Shetty, although the producers deny the racist allegation, putting it down to a clash of culture and class. Effigies of the show's organisers were burnt in India. The programme has opened a debate in Britain as to what constitutes racism.

Barack Obama

Senator Barack Obama has taken the first steps towards his goal of securing the Democratic nomination in the 2008 race to become US president. He announced he was setting up an exploratory committee to raise funds and build a campaign team. He will make an official announcement of his candidacy next month. If successful, Obama will become America's first black president. His main rival will be Hilary Clinton, aiming to become America's first woman leader.

David Beckham

David Beckham is said to have vented his fury at Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon following an outspoken attack on him following his decision to join American club LA Galaxy. Beckham allegedly yelled at Calderon, "You told the fans I had already got a house in Los Angeles. That is not true. That's a lie." Calderon had accused Beckham of betraying the club over his decision to move to America on a lucrative $128m contract over five years.

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss

Judge and deputy royal coroner, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, announced this week that the inquests into the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi al Fayed will not be heard by a jury. She said that intense media interest meant a "reasoned decision" from a coroner was preferable and rejected the counter arguments by Dodi's father, Mohammed al Fayed. The decision has been described by his camp as more evidence of an establishment cover-up.

Written by BBC News Profiles Unit's Bob Chaundy

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