Born on this Day

Born on this Day

Date: 27/07/2020 10:52

Michael Longley was born on 27th July 1939, in Belfast, to English parents. Longley went to school at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, and went on to read Classics at Trinity College, Dublin. Later in life (from 2007-10), he was the Ireland Professor of Poetry, a cross-border academic post set up in 1998.

His work is noted for its quiet beauty and meditative lyrics which has led to his collections such as ‘The Weather in Japan’ (2000) winning the Irish Literature Prize for Poetry. In 2001, he was then awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. Longley’s poetry is marked by sharp observation of the natural work and deeply felt emotion, especially for the subject of the Troubles where he uses classical allusions to cast a light on the subject matter. 

On the public and political responsibilities of being a Northern Irish poet, he has commented, “Though the poet’s first duty must be to his imagination, he has other obligations—and not just as a citizen. He would be inhuman if he did not respond to tragic events in his own community, and a poor artist if he did not seek to endorse that response imaginatively.” Such an instance of responding to tragic circumstances is from the grief of his own daughter, when the local ice-cream man was murdered. In the Digital Film Archive, Longley is seen reading aloud this poem and explaining its circumstances.

Another topic during the Longley episode of Irish Writers, is the impact that being a twin has had on him. He speaks of how it “took until I was 40 really for me to realise that from the moment of conception, right through birth and babyhood and through to the age of 16 or 17, I never spent a night on my own. I always had this other human being, my twin, sleeping in the twin bed next to me in the front room”. His subsequent work ‘The Stairwell' (2014) commemorates his late twin brother, Peter.

To watch more from the Irish Writers series, click here