In 1979, Faber published Field Work; Charlotte Press in Newcastle upon Tyne published Gravities: a Collection of Poems and Drawings; and C. Seluzichi in Salem, Oregon published Hedge School: Sonnets from Glanmore. The next year, Faber published Selected Poems 1965-1975.
Also in 1980, Faber published his second collection of essays, Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978. His four collections of essays solidified his reputation as a critic.
When Taoiseach (Premier) Charles Haughey (1925-2006) formed the Aosdána (“people of the arts”), the Irish National Arts Council in 1981 Heaney was one of the first members elected.
He left Carysfort College in 1981 to teach at Harvard University as a visiting professor. This was the beginning of a long association with Harvard, where he served as Boylston Professor of Rhetoric from 1985 to 1997 and as Ralph Waldo Emerson Poet in Residence from 1998 to 2006.
From 1989 to 1994, he concurrently served as Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford. Sometimes, he would bring Marie with him, but often he depended on her to stay at home during his annual trips abroad to take care of their home and their children.
In 1981, Heaney became a director of the Field Day Theatre Company, founded in 1980 by the playwright Brian Friel and the actor Stephen Rea best known to American audiences for his performances in The Crying Game (1992), Interview with the Vampire (1994), Michael Collins (1996), The End of the Affair (1999), and V for Vendetta (2005). The other directors were Seamus Deane, David Hammond, Thomas Kilroy and Tom Paulin.
Heaney translated two plays from ancient Greece: The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles' Philoctetes, published in 1990, and The Burial at Thebes: A Version of Sophocles' Antigone, published in 2005.
Field Day staged the first play as The Cure at Troy at the Guildhall in Derry in 1990. The Burial at Thebes premiered at the Abbey Theatre in 2004.
He recorded multiple albums for Claddagh Records, founded to produce albums of traditional Irish music by Garech de Brun (also known as Garech Brown and Garech a Brún), an Irish aristocrat and heir to the Guinness fortune. He collaborated on one with fellow poet John Montague and on another with the uilleann piper Liam O’Flynn.
In 1982, Queen’s University, Belfast gave him an honorary doctorate. That same year, Fordham University, a Jesuit school in New York City, awarded him a second honorary doctorate.
In 1984, Faber published his first translation, Sweeney Astray: a Version From the Irish by Seamus Heaney. He co-edited two selections of poetry with Ted Hughes, The Rattle Bag, published in 1982, and The School Bag, published in 1997.
In this period, Faber published three poetry collections: Station Island in 1984, The Haw Lantern in 1987, New Selected Poems 1966-1987 in 1990, and Seeing Things in 1991. Further, Faber published his third collection of essays, The Government of the Tongue in 1988 and Scholarly Press in Atlanta published The Place of Writing in 1989.
In the early 1990s, two publishing houses other than Faber published his poetry collections. Linen Hall Library in Belfast published The Tree Clock in 1990. Bow and Arrow Press in Concord, New Hampshire published Keeping Going in 1993.
In 1993, Gallery Books in Oldcastle, County Meath, Ireland published The Midnight Verdict. This was Heaney’s translation of "C irt an Mhe n O che" (Irish Gaelic for “The Midnight Verdict”), a poem by the 18th Century Irish mathematician Brian Merriman. Ten years later, Gallery published a second edition of The Midnight Verdict that included Heaney’s translation of Merriman’s poem along with Heaney’s translations of the ancient Roman poet Ovid "Orpheus and Eurydice" and "The Death of Orpheus," excerpts from Ovid’s Metamorphosis that had previously appeared in After Ovid.
Gallery also published Laments in 1994, with a second edition in 2009. Heaney and his Harvard colleague Stanislaw Baranczak translated this work by Jan Kochanowski (1530-1584), a testament to the Polish Renaissance poet's grief over the death of his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter.
In 1995, Seamus Heaney won the Nobel Prize for Literature. As recounted by James F. Clarity in The New York Times, Seamus & Marie Heaney was on vacation in Greece at the time the Swedish Academy announced he had won the Nobel Prize in Literature and initially neither his children nor reporters could reach him. Upon finding out about the honor, he cut the vacation short and flew back to Dublin.
Taoiseach John Bruton greeted them at the airport and asked him to sign a book of his collected lectures. Asked how he felt about joining the ranks of previous Irish Nobel laureates William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), who had won in 1923, George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), who had won in 1925, and Samuel Beckett (1906-1989), who won in 1969, he said "It's like being a little foothill at the bottom of a mountain range.” Then they were taken to the Áras an Uachtaráin (formerly the Vice Regal Lodge) to meet President Mary Robinson.
In 1995, Faber published The Redress of Poetry and Crediting Poetry: The Nobel Lecture. The next year, Faber published The Spirit Level, which won the Whitbread Poetry Award and the Whitbread Book of the Year Award. That same year, 1996, he was elected a Member of the Royal Irish Academy and the French Ministry of Culture made him a Commandeur de L’Ordre des Arts et Lettres.
In 1997, he was elected a Saoi (wise one) of the Aosdána. This is a great honor. There are only seven Saoithe at a time and the President of the Republic of Ireland bestows a gold Torc on each Saoi.