Death of a lyricist: What Seamus Heaney teaches us about copywriting

As obituaries go, The Independent wrote a moving piece about revered author and 1995 Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney. On the day of his death, let’s use this celebrated and world famous poet to show us lessons to create excellent copy.

Be believable.

One of the signs of good writing is the ability to create believable characters. From the voice of the non gender specific honeymooner in The Underground to the autobiographical young Heaney in Mid-Term Break; the characters are very human. Similarly, the copy you write has to be believable. This will prove to potential customers that your company, or your client’s company is the right fit for the job. One way of doing this is by providing specific profiles for customer testimonies. This humanises the existing customers to potential customers.


Use appropriate language.

In his New York Time review, Brad Leithauser refers to Heaney’s “gift of saying something extraordinary while […] conveying a sense that this is something an ordinary person might actually say.” This very skill is exactly one a strong copywriter must demonstrate. It begins with understanding your audience. Once you know who they are, select language that is accessible to them. If your target audience are gardening enthusiasts, metaphors about the changing of the seasons will be more relevant than molecular structure!



Heaney lived and wrote throughout the troubled times of Ireland. In his writing, he addressed this conflict only through a wider historical lens. A good piece of copy will refer to something relevant in a natural and organic way. It’s of high importance to engage the reader by using a hook. This hook could be a recent event that strikes a chord with the target audience. If your target audience are wedding planners; then a high-profile wedding would provide a decent hook for readers.

Innovate, ring the changes.

Even in his 70s, Heaney was diversifying and changing. He responded to recent discussions about the teaching of poetry in schools by proclaiming his love for language. In 2006, Heaney wrote his poignant Circle and District collection in response to the London bombings. The farming relics of his early works were replaced by a mobile phone, a CD. As writers, we need to keep our finger-on-the-pulse of changes both in content and SEO.


Like all great writers, Heaney was influenced by many of his predecessors. The key most important lesson for any copywriter to learn: read! Whilst your writing voice will always be your own, reading other people’s copy provides examples for tackling your own.


Some excellent blogs about blogging and copywriting can be found at:


Read them and see how your style improves.


Which writers influence you? Or are there terrible writers who’ve taught you what not to do? Comment below with your own writer stories.