Finders Keepers Selected Prose 1971-2001

Seamus Heaney

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

464 Pages


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Winner of the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism

Finders Keepers collects Seamus Heaney's best prose of the last three decades. Whether autobiographical, topical, or specifically literary, these writings circle the preoccupying questions of Heaney's long and important career: "How should a poet properly live and write? What is his relationship to be to his own voice, his own place, his literary heritage, and the contemporary world?"

Along with a selection from the poet's three previous collections of prose (Preoccupations, The Government of the Tongue, and The Redress of Poetry), this volume includes Heaney's finest lectures and a rich variety of pieces not previously collected in book form, from short newspaper articles to radio commentaries. In its clear and challenging soundings on a wide range of poets and poetics—Irish and British, American and Eastern European, predecessors and contemporaries—Finders Keepers is, as its title heralds, "an announcement of both excitement and possession."


Praise for Finders Keepers

"[Heaney's essays exhibit] a brimming metaphoric energy [and] a buoyant vivacity of description . . . reflective humor . . . and imaginative penetration [that are] unequalled in contemporary critical prose."—Helen Vendler, The New Yorker

"Heaney gives us appreciations of poets ranging from Robert Burns to Sylvia Plath, as well as autobiographical pieces that suggest the tension between 'Place and Displacement'—to borrow the title of his essay on recent poetry from Northern Ireland—that characterizes Heaney's own poetry . . . To read poems with Heaney, whose critical prose can be as impassioned and musical as the verse he's explicating, is to confront what they can do. 'None of us wants fake consolation in the face of real problems,' he says. 'None of us wants Disney when what we need is Dante.' Heaney takes us to those places where we can find the genuine consolation that literature can provide."—Charles Matthews, The Seattle Times

"Finders Keepers [is] a collection of Heaney's biographical reminiscences and frequently rhapsodic but meticulous critical essays. Heaney's is a lifelong romance with words . . . The delight in words that draws the poet to his vocation may be ethically neutral, Heaney seems to acknowledge, but with the vocation he inherits a responsibility that is not."—Christina Cho, The New York Times Book Review

"The common thread [in Heaney's Finders Keepers] is a spontaneous, insistent relating of poetry to his own experience. His profoundest initiations are fed back through his reading and writing. As the anthology's title suggests, the glee of discovery, the flush of pride in staking a claim, is balanced by the steadier pleasures of taking possession, of quilting another's wisdom into one's own . . . [Heaney] remains confident that 'a good poem allows you to have your feet on the ground and your head in the air simultaneously.' No other commentator has so clearly tracked the see-saw of these conflicting demands in post-war poetry."—Clair Wills, The Times Literary Supplement
"[The] much-lauded, much-published poet [provides] cogent literary and political commentary . . . Brining his gift [for] the sound, cadence, and meaning of words to bear on the burning issues of Northern Ireland is one area where [his] passion shines through."—Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Poetry has been marginalized in our culture. But there are a few masters who rise to its defense so stirringly that they can send us back to the shelves to renew our acquaintance with the poems we were once force-fed in lit classes. Seamus Heaney is one of them . . . [In] Finders Keepers: Selected Prose 1971-2001, Heaney gives us appreciations of poets ranging from Robert Burns to Sylvia Plath, as well as autobiographical pieces . . . Heaney takes us to those places where we can find the genuine consolation that literature can provide."—Charles Matthews, The Sun Herald (Biloxi, MS)

"A better all-in-one guide through the realms of the poetical, the personal, and the political, you couldn't hope for, and a more sure-footed traveller through the territories of language, you'd be hard-pressed to find close at hand . . . By ducking out of the typical journal's miasma of self-consciously erudite pontification and holding fast to his mind's own solid ground, he cuts to the bone of the work of such architects of verse as Robert Burns, Zbigniew Herbert, Sylvia Plath, William Butler Yeats, Philip Larkin, Joseph Brodsky, and T.S. Eliot with remarkably revealing results."—Jeremy Spencer, The Memphis Flyer

"Ever adept with le mot juste, and awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995 for his poems 'of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past,' Seamus Heaney has proven an elegant and engaging prose stylist as well . . . Ranging from autobiographical remembrances and reflections on the provenance of certain of his own poems to explications of poems by poets he holds in particularly high esteem, [these] writings parallel the life of letters he records so evocatively in his poem 'Alphabets,' in which the artist as pre-literate young boy in rural Northern Ireland becomes the erudite Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory . . . The relationship between life and letters emerges as the common denominator for Heaney's readings of a wonderfully eclectic medley of poets: Dylan Thomas, W. H. Auden, Philip Larkin, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Robert Burns, Hugh MacDiarmid, Norman MacCaig, Joseph Brodsky, Czeslaw Milosz, Patrick Kavanagh, W. B. Yeats, 0 Thomas Kinsella, Paul Muldoon. Never perfunctory, always alert to the ambiguities and the idiosyncracies of the poems and the poets, Heaney consistently fulfils the desire 'to profess the surprise of poetry as well as its reliability' . . . Presented with a unassailable integrity of vision and execution, in their discovery and preservation of what Heaney refers to as 'the unlooked for' in art and in life, the pieces collected in Finders Keepers read as a compelling complement to the wealth of poems that he has produced over a career now spanning almost four decades."—Thomas O'Grady, Harvard Review

"Heaney's central preoccupation is with the truth-telling capacity of poetry, or a poet's ability to grapple with social reality without felling vindictive or overly triumphant about his or her art. Although catastrophes such as the Holocaust, Heaney writes, have led people to wonder 'if it is a delusion and a danger to expect poetry and music to do much, it is a diminishment of them and a derogation to ignore what they can do.' In the work of the poets he highly prizes—Zbigniew Herbert, W. H. Auden, Paul Muldoon, Czeslaw Milosz and even Yeats, in his unhaughty moments—Heaney detects a fluent, unresolved dialectic between lyric as pure lyric and lyric as moral conscience, between a language of expressionist exuberance and one of reasonable engagement . . . What one admires in much of Finders Keepers is the same tenacious curiosity that Heaney admires in the poetry of Herbert: the desire 'to discover whether the inner citadel of a human being is a selfish bolt-hole or an attentive listening-post.'"—John Palattella, Los Angeles Times

"[A] large, handsome book . . . There is much to be enjoyed in this ranging selection of Heaney's prose, but its final effect is to offer us the intellectual autobiography of a poet more canny, self-aware, and strange than we may have expected. What also emerges is the portrait of a decent, conscientious, scrupulous man whose artistic swervings have never betrayed his integrity."—Lachlan MacKinnon, The Observer (London)

"[Heaney's literary criticism is] as life-enhancing . . . as the poems it celebrates."—Andrew Motion

In the Press

Celebrating the Life and Work of Seamus Heaney | Work in Progress
Seamus Heaney's death last week left a rift in our lives, and in poetry, that won't easily be mended. A Nobel Laureate, a devoted husband, a sharp translator, a beloved friend, and the big-hearted leader of the "Government of the Tongue," Seamus was a poet of conscience...

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. His poems, plays, translations, and essays include Opened Ground, Electric Light, Beowulf, The Spirit Level, District and Circle, and Finders Keepers. Robert Lowell praised Heaney as the "most important Irish poet since Yeats."

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  • Seamus Heaney

  • Seamus Heaney received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. His many books of poetry include Opened Ground, Electric Light, The Spirit Level, Seeing Things, Station Island, The Haw Lantern, and Field Work, as well as translations of Beowulf and Diary of One Who Vanished. A resident of Dublin, he has taught poetry at Oxford University and Harvard University. In 2004, Heaney was presented with the Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement.
  • Seamus Heaney Keith Barnes