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‘The ghost of W.B.’: W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney


Admission requirements

A relevant BA degree, AND an interest in poetry.


When Seamus Heaney died on 30 August 2013, many obituaries mentioned that he often was seen by many as the greatest Irish poet since William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), not surprising as he was one of, if not the most widely read poet of the English language. Heaney’s place in Irish culture – not just in Irish poetry – was often compared to that of Yeats, particularly after he followed Yeats in winning the Nobel prize in 1995. He possessed what he himself ascribed to Yeats, “the gift of establishing authority within a culture”. In this course we will study the work of both Yeats and Heaney, which in the case of Yeats will also include his plays and his prose fiction. We will place their work in its literary and historical contexts, and see how Heaney, born in the year of Yeats’s death, dealt with the legacy of his famous poetic predecessor.

Course objectives

Based on the assumption that participants have already acquired the basic skills for the analysis of literary texts, especially poetry, this course aims to extend these skills both in terms of textual analysis (close reading) and contextual approach (cultural-historical as well as theoretical). Students will be encouraged to share analytical and theoretical views on the texts ascribed in class discussion, and to focus research skills on a relevant subject of their own choice within the parameters of the course in the form of a final research paper.


The timetable will be available by June 1st on the website

Mode of instruction

Three-hour seminar per week

Course Load

The course load is 280 hours:

  • 39 hours of tutorial

  • 90 hours of reading primary and secondary material

  • 151 hours for research and writing of the research papers.

The hours above are an approximate calculation only. Some students read fast and write slow and vice versa.

Assessment method

Participation in class discussion (10% of final mark)
1 mid-term paper (2500 words; 40% of final mark)
1 final paper (4000 words; 50% of final mark))

In order to pass the course, students should obtain at least a 6.0 for each essay.
In case of a fail, you are entitled to rewrite the mid-term and/or final paper.


Blackboard will be used to provide students with an overview of current affairs, as well as specific information about (components of) the course.

Reading list

  • Finneran, Richard J., ed. The Yeats Reader, Palgrave Macmillan, 2002

  • Howes, Marjorie, and John Kelly, eds. The Cambridge Companion to W.B. Yeats, Cambridge UP, 2006

  • Heaney, Seamus. Opened Ground: Poems 1966-1996, London: Faber, 2013

  • Heaney, Seamus. District and Circle. London: Faber, 2006

  • Heaney, Seamus. The Human Chain. London: Faber, 2010

  • O’Donoghue, Bernard. The Cambridge Companion to Seamus Heaney, Cambridge UP, 2009

  • Texts in Blackboard


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory. If you have any questions, please contact the departmental office, tel. 071 527 2251 or mail:

When registering students of the MA Literary studies take priority. The deadline for registration is January 15. All other students should contact the coordinator of studies: Ms S.J. de Kok, MA.

Contact details

Literary Studies student administration Van Wijkplaats 3, room 002. Tel. 071 527 2251 of mail

Coordinator of studies: Ms S.J. de Kok, MA, P.N. van Eyckhof 3, room 1.01b.