Seamus Heaney: Commentary (1)

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

File 1
Richard Kell
John Hewitt
Michael Allen
D.E.S. Maxwell
Terence Brown
Ciaran Carson
Conor C. O’Brien
Andrew Waterman
John Byrne
Eavan Boland
D. George Boyce
Tony Curtis
Edna Longley
Paul Muldoon
David Lloyd
W. J. McCormack
Neil Corcoran
Maureen Waters
Henry Hart
Stan Smith
Robert Welch
John Wilson Foster
Susan Shaw Sailer
James Simmons
Derek Mahon
Michael Parker
Patrick Crotty
Mebdh McGuckian
Peter Levi
Oonagh Warke
P. J. Kavanagh
Nicholas Jenkins
Richard Tillinghast
File 2
Robert Crawford
Catriona Clutterbuck
Liam de Paor
Tom Herron
John Bayley
Karl Miller
John Montague
Fintan O’Toole
The Recorder
Benedict Kiely
John O’Donogue
Maurice Harmon
Daniel G. Donoghue
Seamus Deane
A. N. Wilson
James Shapiro
Hugh Denard
Terry Eagleton
Elmer Kennedy-Andrews
Helen Vendler
Robert O’Byrne
Robert Hass
Michael Dirda
Clair Wills
Megan Rosenfeld
Peter McDonald
Eugene O’Brien
Tom Kilroy
Jenny McCartney
Alan J. Frantzen
Elmer Kennedy-Andrews
Colm Tóibín
Kevin Kiely
See also Michael Longley’s valedictory article in The Irish Times (7 Sept. 2013) - attached.

“Breaking News” - Paul Durcan, commemorates the death of Seamus Heaney.

‘I miss my wife, my children, my grandchildren, most of all my mighty spouse .. otherwise I become the spaceman I’ve always loved, breaking the sound-barrier out in the cosmos ... the aerodrome between the hedgerows has always been my dream ... I am out in the cosmos tramping the Milky Way.’

—Reading on RTÉ FM2; available on Soundcloud online.

“Room to Rhyme” - in memory of Seamus Heaney

 

I
I blew a kiss across the stage to you
When we read our poems in Lisdoonvarna
Two weeks before you died. Arrayed in staw
The Armagh Rhymers turned up at the end.

II
In the middle of a field in Mourne country
Standing side by side, looking straight ahead
We peed against a fragment of stone wall,
St Patrick’s windbreak, the rain’s urinal.

III
On our pilgrimages around the North
In your muddy Volkswagen, we chanted
Great War songs: Hush! Here comes a whizz-bang!
We’re here because we’re here because were ...

IV
Smashed after Room to Rhyme in Cushendall
We waded through the heather-stands to Fair Head
And signed our names in biro on Davy’s shirt
And launched it off the cliff into the wind.

V
We drove after Bloody sunday to join
The Newry March - roads blocked, diversions -
Time enough to decide if we were asked
At gunpoint: And what religion are you?

VI
When Oisín Ferran was burned to death, you
Stood helpless in the morgue and wept and wept.
Awaken from your loamy single-bed:
Kiss me on the lips in Lisdoonvarna.

London Review of Books (24 Sept. 2015).

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RTÉ News announcement of Seamus Heaney’s death


Derek Mahon ‘A Country Kitchen’
 - for Seamus Heaney on his 70th birthday     
 

‘Walking into eternity’
along the breathing strand
there’s that modality
immediately to hand -
spawn, wrack, far-out sea
and Howth Head beyond.

This is how it begins,
devotion to the real things
of a clean-swept morning:
leaf-drip and birdsong,
work sounds, the rich
air of a country kitchen.

We toy with rhythm and rhyme
at a freshly lit hearth;
from under a close blanket

 

of ground fog the earth
opens up to a cloudstream
westwards in the Atlantic.

The world of simple fact
gleams with water, yields
to the plough. A gull-race
follows the working tractor.
Quidditas: the used fields
of Ulster and ancient Greece;

and always the same river,
the oracle and universe
With no circumference,
that infinite resource.
If a thing happens once
it happens once for ever.

 
Source: “Heaney at 70”, The Irish Times (11 April 2009) [12pp. Special Supplement, ed. Gerry Smyth], p.12.
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Richard Kell [q.d.], ‘Heaney still has the gift of finding a new and consummate phrase to evoke physical qualities, and when these take on a symbolic resonance the result is superb … the collection as a whole is a splendid achievement, confirming Heaney’s reputation as one of the best of the younger poets on either side of the Irish Sea.’ (Guardian review [n.d.], cited on dustjacket of Wintering Out, 1972, 1st edn.)

John Hewitt, review of Death of a Naturalist: ‘we confidently expect him to broaden his range and our imaginative estate/’ (c.1966; quoted in Neil Corcoran, Seamus Heaney, Faber & Faber 1986, pp.23-24). Note that Michael Longley reflected contemporaneously that ‘his childlike landscape had acquired the validity of myth.’ (idem.)

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Michael Allen, ‘Provincialism and Recent Irish Poetry: The Importance of Patrick Kavanagh’, in Two Decades of Irish Writing: A Critical Survey, ed. Douglas Dunn (Cheadle Hulme: Carcanet Press 1975), pp.23-36: ‘Kavanagh’s Come Dance with Kitty Stobling was published in 1960, his Collected Poems in 1964. And in 1966 Heaney was widely praised for his first book, Death of a Naturalist about which he said: “I have no need to write a poem to Patrick Kavanagh; I wrote Death of a Naturalist ”. But the possibility of being a “parochial” poet in Kavanagh’s sense was clearly there in Montague’s early poetry too. A selection of his poems appeared in an anthology Six Irish Poets in 1962; and the editor, Robin Skelton, praised in his introduction, the way Irish poetry could still base itself firmly on “natural resources … the sense of belonging” and thereby gain a “real vitality”. […] In Heaney’s earlier poems the imaginative implications of the local society and terrain, viewed often with a childhood intensity, are [36] presented with subtlety and vigour, and with no hint of selfconscious humility. It is probably this essential confidence in the utility oof the re-created internally consistent region of his poems that he was admitting to have inherited from Kavanagh. But this is possibly not the whole of his debt. In his second and third books he too begins to embody in key poems a crucial relationship between poetic development and the motif of the journey away from roots. In “Bogland”, “The Wool Trade”, “Westering” and “The Tollund Man” he shows himself to have learned how to work with specific ironic vantage-points which may seem to illuminate, but are in fact illuminated by the “parochial” materials.’ [Cont.]

Michael Allen (‘Provincialism and recent Irish Poetry: The Importance of Patrick Kavanagh’, 1975) - cont.: ‘We are probably now in a position to see what Kavanagh meant by his injunction that the parochial writer should guard against the bravado that takes the potato patch for the ultimate with “the right kind of sensitive courage and the right kind of sensitive humility”. He did not mean that the writer should avoid technical influence from literary mainstreams; Auden is as important to the making of Kavanagh’s own later rhythms as Roethke and Hughes have been to the growth of Heaney’s poetic idiom. What he was advocating (for a particular kind of writer) was the delicate adjustment of social and poetic strategies to the changing pressures of the poet’s own most authentic experience. The aim was to remain free of the sapping and enervating currents of establishmentarian uniformity (which in Ireland still tended to keep alive the nineteenth-century tradition of genteel cosmopolitanism and its subordinate convention of nAve peasant pastoralism). Kavanagh was an innovator in Ireland as much by what he stood for as by what he wrote: the wastefulness, the false directions, the personal over-assertiveness which sometimes characterize his poetic career, also provide pointers to directions in which his successors need not move because he did. Heaney’s writing to some extent emerges from the same ambiguous concern with provincialism that we find in Kavanagh and Montague. But because of Kavanagh. he could begin from a position of strength. In his work the personal and intellectual underpinnings are entirely hidden, leaving us to respond to the way the local materials emerge into the constantly developing, fluid yet certain poetic point of view.’ (pp.35-36.) [See longer extracts in RICORSO, Library, “Critics”, infra.]

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D. E. S. Maxwell, ‘Contemporary Poetry in Northern Ireland’, in Douglas Dunn, ed., Two Decades of Irish Writing (Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire: Carcanet 1975), pp.166-85; remarks of Heaney’s Wintering Out: ‘If the volume has a central question, it is that of Shakespeare’s MacMorris: “What ish my nation?”, turning for its answers to circumstances of which the present troubles are only one instance. Repeatedly here, Heaney invokes the rights and rites of language, in places whose names, English and non-English, pronounce a domicile… (p.174.)

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Terence Brown, Northern Voices (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1975), pp.172-86 ‘[T]he emotions I detect running underground through Heaney’s work, emotions that have surfaced only once or twice as the subjects of his poems, are feelings of revulsion and attraction to violence, pain and death’. Bibl., Heaney, in a television interview with Patrick Garland, ‘Poets on Poetry’, The Listener, Vol. 90, No. 2,328 (8 Nov. 1973), p.629; interview with Harriet Cooke (Irish Times, 28 Dec. 1973); Andy O’Mahony, interview with Heaney, Northern Ireland BBC Home Service (21 Nov. 1972), rep. in The Listener, Vol. 91, No. 2,356 (23 May 1974), p.663, from which the sentence: ‘now in many ways the fury of Irish republicanism is associated with a religion like this, with a female goddess who has appeared in various guises … it is observed with a kind of civilised tut-tut by Tacitus in the first century a.d.’ Bibl., ‘Editor’s Note’, Soundings (Belfast, Blackstaff Press 1972) [rep. in Preoccupations, 1980]; [q. auth.], ‘Landlocked’ Irish Press (1 [June] 1974) [review of P. V. Glob, The Mound People ]; also John Wilson Foster [q. title], in The Critical Quarterly (Spring 1974), pp.36-47 [attributes elements in Heaney to reading of Estyn Evans].

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Terence Brown, review of Finders Keepers: Selected Prose 1971-2000, in The Irish Times (13 April 2002), Weekend, p.8: Brown Notes that Irish poets in the first half of the century were given to autobiography while the post-war generation has been ‘autobiographically reticent’; of Heaney - noting the autobiographical roots of his poetry and the ‘rapt engagement with the experience of memory’ - ‘[o]ne senses that a proper reserve, a protective instinct for his own deepest well-springs of feeling from which the poetry must flow, has disallowed any such direct attempt at self-revelation.’ Hence the prose has served ‘as a kind of guide to the verse, offering ways of reading which have proved critically fruitful’ and also served ‘in their courtly insistent way, [as] acts of self-definition which tell us much about the poet himself and his aesthetic.’ Remarks that the new collection signals its ‘autobiographical implication’; cites “Mossbawn”, “Belfast”, and “Cessation 1994” as opening pieces that ‘set what follows in the context of the poet’s awareness that the art of poetry he so sedulously celebrates throughout this volume cannot escape interrogation of the kind he admits in a key essay in Part I, “Feeling into Words”: “The questions as ever is, ‘How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea?’”. Brown reads the collection as an ‘extended answer’ in which the poet affirms ‘that poets themselves are “finders and keepers … their vocation is to look after art and life by being discoverers and custodians of the unlooked for”.’ Reminds us of the ending phrases of “Mycenae Lookout”: “finders, keepers, seers of fresh waters/in the bountiful round mouths of iron pumps/and gushing taps.” and further quotes: “Poetry cannot afford to lose its fundamental self-delighting inventiveness, its joy in being a process of language as well as a representation of things in the world”, and: “It’s difficult at times to repress the thought that history is about as instructive as an abattoir”. Heaney admonishes Larkin who gave death the last word in “Aubade”; quotes remarks on Milosz, whom Brown sets with Wordsworth and Yeats as the presiding instructors: ‘that which is existentially urgent and necessary, and yet pondered also, and caught up into the lucid order of poetry itself.’ [End]

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Ciaran Carson, ‘Escaped from the Massacre?’, in The Honest Ulsterman, 50 (Winter 1975): ‘Heaney seems to have moved […] from being a writer with the gift of precision, to become the laureate of violence - a myth maker, an anthropologist of ritual killing, an apologist for the situation, in the last resort, a mystifier.’ (p.183; quoted in quoted in in Daniel McAllister, ‘Subversion in the Poetry of Ciaran Carson’, UG Diss., UUC 2002.). Further, ‘Being killed for adultery is one thing; being tarred and feathered is another … [Heaney] seems to be offering his “understanding” of the situation almost as a consolation … It is as if he is saying, suffering like this is natural; these things have always happened; they happened then, they happen now, and that is sufficient ground for understanding and absolution. It is as if there never were and never will be any political consequences of such acts; they have been removed to the realm of sex, death and inevitability’ (Ibid., pp.184-85; cited in Edna Longley, ‘“Inner Émigré” or “Artful Voyeur”?, Seamus Heaney’s ‘North’, in Tony Curtis, ed., The Art of Seamus Heaney, Brigend 1982, pp.65-95 [as infra.])

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Conor Cruise O’Brien, Preface to Grattan Freyer, Modern Irish Writing (Irish Humanities Centre 1979), 309pp: ‘[…] Heaney, certainly the finest poet on the island, and perhaps the finest also in the sea.’ O’Brien quotes in conclusion a passage in which Heaney describes himself as Christian, Catholic and also pagan, and ends: ‘Yet perhaps the Catholic poet is lucky, because Catholicism managed to preserve part of the old feminine religion in its structure. The Virgin Mary, intercessor, mother of mercy, star of the sea, occupies in the common psychology the place occupied by the Muse in the poetic psychology […]’ (quoting Seamus Heaney; q. source).

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Conor Cruise O’Brien, ‘A Slow North-East Wind’, review of The North, in The Listener (25 September 1975): pp.404-05: ‘I had the uncanny feeling, reading these poems, of listening to the thing itself, the actual substance of historical agony and dissolution, the tragedy of a people in a place: the Catholics of Northern Ireland.’ (‘A Slow North-East Wind’, Listener , 25 Sept. 1975; quoted in Edna Longley, ‘“Inner Émigré” or “Artful Voyeur”?, Seamus Heaney’s North’, in Tony Curtis, ed., The Art of Seamus Heaney , Brigend 1982, p.65 [rep. in Poetry in the Wars, 1986]; see also under Seamus Deane.) [on “Punishment”, as infra]. Further, ‘It is the word “exact” that hurts most: Seamus Heaney has so greatly earned the right to use this word to see him use it as he does here opens up a sort of chasm. But then, of course, that is what he is about. The word “exact” fits the situation as it is felt to be; and it is because it fits, and because other situations, among the rival population, turn on similarly oiled pivots, that hope succumbs. I have read many pessimistic analyses of “Northern Ireland”, but none that has the bleak conclusiveness of these poems.’ (q.p.) ‘Heaney’s writing is modest, often conversational, apparently easy, low-pitched, companionably ironic, ominous, alert, accurate and surprising, an Irish reader is not automatically reminded of Yeats by this cluster of characteristics, yet an English reader may perhaps see resemblances that are there but overlooked by the Irish resemblances coming, perhaps, from certain common rhythms and hesitations of Irish speech 14 and non-speech.’(quoted in Julie-Anne Devine, UG Diss, UUC 2006.)

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Andrew Waterman, Somewhere, Out there, Beyond: The Poetry of Seamus Heaney and Derek Mahon’, in PN Review, 8, 1 (21) [1980], pp.39-47, quotes “Casualty”[: ‘He was blown to bits/Out drinking in a curfew/Others obeyed, three nights/After they shot dead/The thirteen men in Derry […] How culpable was he/That last night they he broke/Our tribe’s complicity?/”Now you’re supposed to be/An educated man,”/I hear him say. “Puzzle me/The right answer to that one.’] - remarking, ‘To understand does not absolve from responsibility to judge; and the Irish, with their Catholic or Protestant cultural solidarities, are apt to be less harsh or condemnatory towards their tribal rites and constraints then the more diversified English can be towards relatively harmless, if unpleasant, equivalents of their own […] The effect is tacitly to glamorise, or sentimentalise, what seen lucidly is, if for example a “tribal revenge”, wholly repellant and should not be “understood”, not in terms suggestive of indulgent sympathy but precisely so as to be comprendingly deplored. In Ulster this issue is present to anyone who thinks and feels in terms starker and less cushioned than in England.’ (p.46).

Further, quotes : ‘[…] As you find a rhythm/Working you, slow mile by mile,/Into your proper haunt/Somewhere, well out, beyond …’ (Idem.), adding: ‘If he is once more taking as analogy for the poet’s enterprise a traditional craft, Heaney is doing so with new and different emphasis; these lines do not imply or affirm solidarity with the generality of the tribe, but in celebrative loyalty to the lonely art and defiance of the dead fisherman enact a spiritual voyage into solitude.’ (p.46.)

Further, ‘If from the start one has felt a lack to Heaney’s poetry, it has been less imaginative failure in rendering what he attempts, but rather a more profound hesitiancey to have quite the courage of his imaginative convictions at the deepest levels of the questing self-questioning spirit. His work has given more impression of a superb talent’s development, and a maturing insight, than of any major pilgrimage of the soul. […] The relative feebleness of Heaney’s poetry of love and personal emotion has perhaps been symptomatic of a certain vitiating disinclination to look really searchingly into his heart before he writes. […]/ Not every writer, even Irish writers, need radically dismantle ties of family, culture and nation as thoroughly as Joyce or Beckett in order to assert a powerful individual vision; […] But Irish writers on the whole, whatever they sometimes like to pretend about a tradition of alienation, […] have been too apt in fact cosily to affirm solidarities.’ (p.46.)

Also quotes “In Mem. Sean O Riada”: ‘the gunwale’s lifting ear - /trusting the gift,/risking gifts’ undertow, remarking that the metaphor ‘cherishes a comparable solitary-boat image for the artist’s patient, perilously open enterprise.’ (p.46.) [See Mahon Archive contributed by Joanna Carson.]

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John Byrne, ‘Derek Mahon, A Commitment to Change’, in Crane Bag, Vol. 6, No.1 (1982), pp.62-72: ‘Heaney staked out the boundaries of his poetic, devoting himself (thus far, at least) to even deeper excavations of his chosen land.’ (p.63.)

Blake Morrison & Andrew Motion, eds., The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1982): ‘[...] Heaney’s strength and cunning are strikingly evident in what have come to be known as his “Bog Poems”, which refract the experience of the contemporary Irish Troubles through the [13] sufferings of a previous Northern civilisation and its sacrificial victims. The Bog People, whose ritually murdered bodies were preserved in peat for centuries, become Heaney’s objective correlative [quotes ‘Gauballe man’ in full, pp.13-14] / This poem restores the exhumed body to our consciousness in two stages. The first, paradoxically, seems only likely to distance and disperse it. As Heaney’s eye ranges over the anatomy it transforms skin and bone to a clutter of inanimate things: the wrist to ‘bog oak’, the heel to ‘a basalt egg’, the mortal wound to a ‘dark elderberry place’, and so on. But this literally objectifying stare is in fact the means towards subjectivity; while asserting the deadness of the corpse by exploring its resemblance to things, Heaney also constructs it again on his own terms. The bog’s victim is delivered to a kind of latter life, existing not only as an extraordinary museum piece but as a living commentary on the world it has rejoined. It is a pathetic prophet of contemporary violence, of present-day victims also ‘slashed and dumped’. Heaney’s process of working in “The Grauballe Man” has, too, this larger emblematic significance: that it demonstrates how the “forces of disintegration” which currently confront us are best approached not nakedly and hysterically but with the “opaque repose” (not to be confused with lack of feeling) that a larger historical framework makes possible. It is a lesson to which a number of his successors have paid attention. / It would be a mistake to think that Heaney has always written in this oblique way. Like a number of other Northern Irish poets, [15] including Derek Mahon and Michael Longley, he served his apprenticeship under Philip Hobsbaum, who taught at Belfast in the early 1960s and whose allegiances were broadly those of the l950s Movement writers. The Movement virtues of common sense, craftsmanship, and explication are evident in all these poets’ early work, and it is only gradually that they have evolved a more symbolic and associative mode. Heaney’s confederacy with Mahon, Longley and others - the presence, that is, of a Belfast “group” - is one of the reasons why he must not be seen in isolation. Though he is the pre-eminent figure, he has not carried out the so-called Northern Irish “Renaissance” single-handed. To understand what has been achieved in Ulster one should also look at poems like Mahon’s “A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford”, Longley’s “Wounds”, Paul Muldoon’s “Immram”, Tom Paulin’s “The Harbour in the Evening” and Medbh McGuckian’s “The Flitting”. (See longer extract under Bibliography > Anthologies - via index or as attached.)

Cf. Blake Morrison, in the Guardian Review (7 Sept. 2013): ‘His later poems make room for everyday miracles and otherworldly wisdom. … For Heaney, there were marvels enough in this world, and never mind the next. Ordinary objects and places - a sofa, a wireless, a satchel, a gust of wind, the sound of rain - were sanctified. His Catholicism ran deep: in his teens he made pilgrimages to Lough Derg and Lourdes, and he thought of writing as a sacred act: “When I sit opposite the desk, it’s like being an altar boy in the sacristy getting ready to go out on to the main altar.” Religion taught him reverence but the gods of the hearth were what he revered – the den-life he had known as a child. He kept coming back to it and finding new things, or seeing the same things in a new light.’ [Quotes “Lightenings, viii” - as given in Quotations, supra; all quoted in That’s How the Light Gets In - blog, 23.09.2013; accessed 24.04.2014.]

Eavan Boland, review of Heaney’s Open Letter [Field Day Pamphlet No. 3] (Derry: Field Day Co. 1983): ‘Poetry is defined by its energies and its eloquence, not by the passpost of the poet or the editor; ot the name of the nationality. That way lie all the categories, the separations, the censorships that poetry exists to dispel.’ (The Irish Times, 1 Oct. 1983; quoted in Edna Longley, ‘Poetry and Politics in Northern Ireland, in The Crane Bag, 9, 1, 1985, pp.26-40, p.33.)

D. George Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland (London: Routledge 1982; 1991 Edn.), ‘The necessity to choose words carefully in the context of Irish politics has been succinctly put by the Ulster poet, Seamus Heaney: “whatever you say, say nothing”.’ (Preface, [p.I].)

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Tony Curtis, Tony Curtis, ed., The Art of Seamus Heaney (1982; rev. edn. 1994), Introduction, and ‘A More Social Voice: Field Work ’, pp.7-10, 97-127: ‘In his recent work the poetry becomes a tough legitimising force for language as the means by which we make sense of the world and ourselves - the world as philosophy and as the light by which to see around us.’ (p.8); Later: ‘Seamus Heaney has been working out his necessary loyalities over the previous four collections and that took an explicit shape in “Singing School”. [102]; more oddly, Curtis later remarks: ‘Heaney is a member of a disadvantaged minority in the North of Ireland: he is a Catholic and a republican. Perhaps he needed to distance himself from Belfast to gain a perspective on the situation there.’ (p.105.) [See further extracts and Table of Contents - attached.]

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Edna Longley, ‘“Inner Émigré” or “Artful Voyeur”?, Seamus Heaney’s ‘North’, in Tony Curtis, ed., The Art of Seamus Heaney, Brigend 1982, pp. 65-95 [rep. in Poetry in the Wars, 1986]: cites Conor Cruise O’Brien, ‘I had the uncanny feeling, reading these poems, of listening to the thing itself, the actual substance of historical agony and dissolution, the tragedy of a people in a place: the Catholics of Northern Ireland.’ (Listener, 25 Sept. 1975; Longley, p.65); quotes Heaney [On ‘Tollund Man’] ‘From that moment the problems of poetry moved from being simply a matter of achieving the satisfactory verbal icon to being a search for images and symbols adequate to our predicament. (Randall, James Randall, Interview with Seamus Heaney, in Ploughshares, 4, No. 3, 1979, p.17; cited in Edna Longley, ‘“Inner Émigré” or “Artful Voyeur”?, Seamus Heaney’s North’, on Tony Curtis, ed., The Art of Seamus Heaney, Brigend 1982, p.68. Further quotes, ‘when I wrote that poem [do.] I had a sense of crossing a line really, that my whole being was involved in a sense of - the root sense - of religion, being bonded to something, being bound to do something. I felt a vow …’ (Randall, op. cit., p.18; cited in Edna Longley, ibid., p.66 [quotations: ‘[I do] not mean liberal lamentation … ’ (Preoccupations, pp.57-58; Longley, op. cit., p.74; further as in Quotations, infra]. Longley also cites Ciaran Carson, ‘Being killed for adultery is one thing; being tarred and feathered is another [… &c.; see infra]; Longley, p.78).

Also cites Blake Morrison, ‘It would be going too far to suggest that ‘Punishment’ in particular and the Bog poems generally offer a defence of Republicanism; but they are a form of ‘explanation’. Indeed the whole procedure of North is such as to give sectarian killing in Ulster a historical respectability which it is not usually given in day-today journalism.’ British Poetry Since 1970, [n.d.; poss. in Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry, 1982], pp.109-10; Longley, p.78 - also quoted under Henry Hart, 1989, infra).

Further: quotes Heaney, ‘I always thought of the political problem - maybe because I am not really a political thinker - as being an internal Northern Ireland division. I thought along sectarian lines. Now I think that the genuine political confrontation is between Ireland and Britain.’ (Interview with Seamus Deane, in Crane Bag, 1997.) [&c.] Note that Edna Longley’s identification of Heaney’s ‘genuinely prelapsarian vision’ in Poetry in the Wars (Bloodaxe 1986), p.206.

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Paul Muldoon, ‘Sweeney Peregrine’, review of Station Island, in London Review of Books (1-4 Nov. 1984): In the unlikely event of a truly uninvited shade being summoned up in some reworking of the “Station Island” sequence, I suspect that its advice to Seamus Heaney would be along the following lines. 1. That he should, indeed, take the advice he gave himself as long ago as 1975 — “Keep your eye clear as the bleb of an icicle” — but take it quietly rather than rehearse it again and again. 2. General Absolution is too much even for a Catholic confessional poet to hope for. 3. That he should resist more firmly the idea that he must be the best Irish poet since Yeats, which arose from rather casual remarks by the power-crazed Robert Lowell and the craze-powered Clive James, who seem to have forgotten both MacNeice and Kavanagh.’ (p.20; quoted in Patricia Horton, ‘“A Truly Uninvited Shade”: Romantic Legacies in the Work of Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon’, in Last Before America - Irish and American Writing: Essays in Honour of Michael Allen, ed. Fran Brearton & Eamonn Hughes, Belfast: Blackstaff Press 2001, pp.27.)

Note: Horton goes on to remark that Muldoon is here attacking Heaney’s tendency to rehearse the same material and arguments; the constant sense of guilt, not least of all sexual, that haunts his writing, and - to quote from Madoc: A Mystery (Faber 1991): ‘We see him reach / into his pantaloons for a small, sea-green vial, / then be overwhelmed by another pang of guilt’ (Madoc, p.21) - ascribing that sense of guilt to ‘masturbation, a guilt that manifests itself in Heaney’s early poetry.’ (Horton, idem.)

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Edna Longley, ‘Poetry and Politics in Northern Ireland, in The Crane Bag, 9, 1 (1985), pp.26-40 [on Heaney’s “The Other Side”]: ‘The point of the poem is Heaney’s imaginative entry into the mind and idiom of the other side, into the “other”, beyond psychic hinterlands, across psychic frontiers. “Rehearse” shows how childhood mimicry […] has nurtured the poet’s ear and negative capability. Although the poem does not minimise difference, its cultural vision, much more humanly sedimented than the copy polarity between Wilde and Emmet, spans two languages to create a third.’ (p.34.)

Further: ‘What is physical in Heaney’s [“genuinely pre-lapsarian vision”] becomes metaphysically problematic in Muldoon’s.’ (Ibid., p.36.) ‘[P]oets make their long-term contribution by refusing to betray ‘semantic scruple’ in a country of unscrupulous rhetoricians, where names break bones, where careless talk costs lives.’ (p.39, end; rep. as Do., in Poetry in the Wars (Bloodaxe 1986), pp.185-210.]

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Edna Longley, ‘Heaney and Homecoming’, in Richard Kearney, ed., Transitions: Narratives in Modern Irish Culture (Dublin: Wolfhound 1988), pp.101-22: ‘By focussing on the central theme of homecoming in Heaney I propose to show how it involves a complex conflict of sensibility which has little or nothing to do with insular notions of parchial pietas … / First, it should be noted that Heaney’s poems are not in fact primarily about place at all: they are about transit, that is about transitions from one place to another.’ (p.102.) ‘His refusal to be fixed, to be placed in any single perspecgtive is no more than a recognition that poetry’s primary [102] fidelity is to language as an interminable metamorphosis of conflicting identities.’ (pp.102-03.) ‘The poet’s commitment to an aesthetic of endless migration is clear.’ (p.103.) Further, ‘But if the bog becomes a symbol of national consciousness, it is not in the manner of an insular, self-righteous nationalism. Heaney is mindful of the fact that the lost homeland is less a territorial locality than an ontological locus whose universal dimensions forever elude the boundaries of a particular nation. The closer we get to home in this sense the more distant it becomes; its very construction is deconstruction. “The wet centre”, as Heaney concedes, is bottomless. The bogholes or receding memory lead back to a fathomless ocean flow which transcends our contemporary grasp.’ (p.106.) In commenting on the phrase ‘images and symbols adequate to our predicament [… &c.]’, Longley remarks: ‘In other words, Heaney sees the contemporary conflict in Northern Ireland as, amongst other things, a symptom of a collision between the opposing claims of rationalistic order and religious atavism.’ (p.107.) Further, ‘Heaney’s ultimate fidelity to the ambiguity of opposing demands, and to the inner maneouvrings of poetic language which sustain such demands, his refusal of any single place or position which would permit the illusion of a final solution, is proof of his tireless transiting between revivalism and modernism.’ (p.112.) See also Appendix on ‘Heaney, Heidegger and Freud - The Paradox of the Homely [heimlich]’ (pp.113-22): ‘[…] By proposing an anti-revivalist re-evaluation of this work, I hope to scotch the stereotype of Heaney as some latter-day Piers Ploughman from County Derry staving off the plague of modernity and guiding us back to a prelapsarian pastureland.’ (p.113.)

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Ciaran Carson, review of Seamus Heaney’s Sweeney Astray: A Version from the Irish (Field Day [1983]), in The Honest Ulsterman, 76 (Summer 1984), pp.73-79; compares Flann O’Brien’s and Heaney’s versions of Buile Suibhne, with the comments on O’Brien’s ‘parody’; further, ‘Heaney adopts the more serious Kinsella-as-translator-of-the-Tain tone. To render the original manic sound patterns into any kind of believable English is impossible. / I have tried here to give some indication of the procedures and methods of Buile Suibhne and to indicate some of the immense difficulties faced by the translator […]’; he goes on to quote Heaney: ‘[Yet] I gradually felt I had to earn the right to do the high points by doing the whole thing: what I was dealing with, after all, is a major work in the canon of medieval literature.’; Carson characterised Section 40 of Heaney’s translation as ‘the most sustained lyric achievement’ (p.77).

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David Lloyd, ‘“Pap for the Dispossessed”: Seamus Heaney and the Poetics of Identity’, in Boundary, 2 (Winter/Spring 1985), pp.319-42 [rep. in Elmer Andrews, ed., The Poetry of Seamus Heaney: All the Realms of Whisper, London: Macmillan 1988]: ‘To be sure, Heaney makes much play […] with the deterritorialisation inflicted both on a national consciousness by the effects of colonisation, and on the individual subject by acculturation. But in Heaney’s writings such perception initiates no firm holding to the exploration of the quality of dispossession; rather his work relocates an individual and racial identity through the reterritorialisation of language and culture. […] Place, identity and language mesh in Heaney, as in nationalism, since language is seen primarily as naming, and because naming performs a cultural reterritorialisation by replacing the contingent continuities of an historical community with an ideal register of continuity in which the name (of place or object) operates symbolically as the commonplace communicating between actual and ideal continua. The name always serves likeness, never difference.’ (Anomalous States, 1993, p.24; Andrews, 1988, p.95-98.)

[Also quoted in Edna Longley, ‘The Aesthetics of the Territorial’, in Andrews, Contemporary Irish Poetry (1996), p.80; also Tom Herron, ‘Spectaculars: Seamus Heaney and the Limits of Mimicry’, in Irish Review (August 1999), p.183-91, p.185 [only from ‘Place, identity … [as supra]’.) [Cont.]

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David Lloyd (‘“Pap for the Dispossessed”: Seamus Heaney and the Poetics of Identity’, 1985) - cont.: Lloyd writes of a ‘crucial insufficiency of the poetic itself, one which permits Heaney to pose delusory moral conflicts whose real form can better be understood as a contradiction between the ethical and aesthetic elements of bourgeois ideology. Heaney’s inability to address such contradictions stringently stems from the chosen basis of his poetic in the concept of identity. Since this concept subtends the ethical and aesthetic assumptions that his poetry registers as being in conflict, and yet thoroughly informs his work, he is unable every to address the relation between politics and writing more than superficially, in terms of thematic concerns, or superstitiously, in terms of a vision of the poet as a diviner of the hypothetical pre-political consciousness of her race.’ (Anomalous States, 1993, p.14; cited in Tom Herron, ‘Spectaculars: Seamus Heaney and the Limits of Mimicry’, Irish Review, August 1999, p.183-91, p.184.) Note Gerry Smyth, Decolonisation and Criticism (London: Pluto 1998), commenting on Lloyd’s ‘notorious demolition’ of Heaney, whose work is considered “profoundly symptomatic of the continuing meshing of Irish cultural nationalism with the imperial ideology which frames it’ (Ibid.; rep. in Anomalous States, 1993, p.13-40, p.37; Smyth, p.31.)

See also Smyth’s remark: ‘Against both Heaney’s collusive, essentialist fantasies and the kind of critical discourse in which these are celebrated, Lloyd is concerned to uncover cultural effects and practices which approach “the threshold of another possible language with which a post-colonial subjectivity might begin to find articulation”’, Lloyd, p.56; Smyth, p.31.)

[See further quotations from Lloyd under Herron, infra, and Chris Morash’s comments on Lloyd’s essay under Lloyd, q.v.]

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Richard Ellmann, ‘Heaney Agonistes’, review of Station Island, in The New York Review of Books (14 March 1985): ‘After the heavily accented melodies of Yeats, and that poet’s elegiac celebrations of imaginative glories, Seamus Heaney addresses his readers in a quite different key. He does not overwhelm his subjects; rather he allows them a certain freedom from him, and his sharp conjunctions with them leave their authority and his undiminished. There are none of Yeats’s Olympians about; the figures who appear in Heaney’s verse have quite human dimensions. [...] Although unpretentiousness is characteristic of Heaney’s verse, the term is not adequate to describe his assured reticences, his unearthing of apt and unexpected images, his proneness to see the visible world as a substance compounded from materials no longer visible but still suspended in it. Behind facts lie myths, not airy ones but myths so durable they seem facts too. [...] Heaney has always been fond of myth, of what in ‘Gifts of Rain’ in an earlier book he called self-mockingly ‘my need for antediluvian love.’ He feels inside him ‘a whole late-flooding thaw of ancestors,’ including the Tolland man and the Grauballe man. Not anthropological ancestors only. A little room is found for godlike presences, of Diana or Venus, of the Irish Niamh and the fertility sprite, the brazen sheelagh na gig. A cornfield becomes the cornfield of Boaz where Ruth labored. Ghosts belong to the congeries of backgrounding selves, and so he praises Hardy, whose grave he visits in one poem, for ‘the unperturbable ghost life he carried.’ Looking at a pump in ‘Changes,’ Heaney hears its prehistory, ‘the bite of the spade that sank it,’ and all that has happened to it since.’ [Cont.]

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Richard Ellmann, ‘Heaney Agonistes’, review of Station Island, in The New York Review of Books (14 March 1985) - cont.: discusses “Sweeney Redivivus”: ‘Heaney is less interested in the confrontation of paganism and Christianity than in Sweeney as the type of the poet, ‘defying the constraints of religious, political and domestic obligation,’ and, moreover, ‘displaced, guilty, assuaging himself by his utterance.’ / The act of translation suggested a kinship of souls as well as of sounds between Heaney and Sweeney, and he exploits this in his new book. The series of poems with the general title “Sweeney Redivivus” offers glosses on the original, somewhere between the point of view of the legendary king and that of the contemporary poet. [Also discussses “Station Island”, his ‘most ambitious’ poem yet:] Heaney, no longer a believer, has had the happy thought of making the pilgrimage an all souls’ night, with frequent use of Dantean terza rima. The poet encounters a series of familiar ghosts, a woodcutter he has known, an old master from his Anahorish School, a priest friend who died of fever in a mission compound, an athletic schoolfellow killed by the IRA and a second cousin killed by a Protestant, an archaeologist, his mother, a first girlfriend. They tell their stories to this Irish Dante, and tell them well, and implicate him in their replies. But the main burden is carried by Carleton at the beginning, and by Joyce, no Lough Derg pilgrim, at the end.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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W. J. McCormack, ‘Seamus Heaney’s Preoccupations’, in The Battle of the Books: Two Decades of Irish Cultural Debate (Dublin: Lilliput 1986), pp.31-39; [There is an ambiguous longing for accommodation with a social reality which, were it wholly ordinary, would be blesséd. This has led to the most bizarre appropriation of Heaney in the contemporary British education system. Home being celebrated in a thoroughly bourgeois fashion, there has grown up a sentimental reading of his work whereby his evocation of that unattainable “ordinary universe” is taken as an endorsement of the simulacrum on sale in the classier shopping malls.’ (p.35); ‘Far from being a celebrant of local landscape, Heaney writes of landscape as itself something written, something ideally shared through a communal idiom, but as often elusive of enunciation. The community in question seems to be composed of ever-shifting subjectivities, with sometimes an excess of self and sometimes a deficiency being prominent.’ (p.37); note further his remarks in ‘Having a Field Day’ (Chap. 6, infra): ‘Seamus Heaney … a friendly yet hurt expression gently containing the violence he knows as his material, his inheritance.’ (p.53).

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Neil Corcoran, The Poetry of Seamus Heaney (London: Faber & Faber 1986) - on “Digging”: ‘[I]t is [...] an extremely important poem in the Heaney oeuvre, in that it opens up, as soon as the work itself opens up, an issue which remains at the root of a large number of subsequent poems: the proper relationship between this poet and his own first community. As “Digging” indicates, this is primarily, in Death of a Naturalist, the relationship with his immediate family – father and grandfather in “Digging”, his father alone in a number of other poems, his younger brother in “Mid-Term Break”, his mother glimpsed in “Churning Day”, his father’s uncle in “Ancestral Photograph”. These are all affectionate family memories, registering intimacy, warmth, tenderly respectful recall.’ p.10; quoted in Chloe McKinney, UG Diss., UUC 2011.) [Cont.]

Neil Corcoran (The Poetry of Seamus Heaney, 1986) - cont. [on “The Tollund Man”]: ‘This compacting in Heaney's imagination of Jutland and Ireland was impelled, he tells us in “Feeling of Words”, by his sensing a kinship between these ancient sacrificial killings and “the tradition of Irish political martyrdom for that cause whose icon is Kathleen ni Houlihan”; for, that is, the cause of Irish Republicanism. The implications of this recognition are fully pursued in North; but in “The Tollund Man” it gives Heaney his first opportunity to bring into relation the Iron Age victim and the victims of recent Irish sectarian atrocity.’ Corcoran, op. cit., 1986, p. 35; quoted in McKinney, op. cit., 2011 [p.17].) [Cont.]

Neil Corcoran, (The Poetry of Seamus Heaney, 1986): ‘Dante is of crucial value to Heaney as the greatest of all poetic communers with the dead. The Divine Comedy is a series of encounters in which they offer explanations of their fate and advice, encouragement and instruction to the poet and his companion, Virgil. Field Work is full of encounters with its poet’s own dead. There are the violently dead of Northern Ireland: Colum McCartney, Heaney’s second cousin, the victim of a random sectarian killing in 1975; Sean Armstrong, a Belfast social worker whom Heaney had known at university, in “A Postcard from North Antrim”; the victim in "Casualty" (unnamed in the poem, but in fact a friend of Heaney's called Louis O'Neill); the “ murdered dead’ and the “violent shattered boy” of “The Badgers”’. (p.85; quoted in McKinney, op. cit., 2011 [p.25.].)

Neil Corcoran, (The Poetry of Seamus Heaney, 1986): ‘“The Grabaulle Man” admits the ways in which such suffering can be turned to artistic account, as the successive photographs in Glob’s book, which show the man being gradually removed from the bog, suggest not death but childbirth, and make the victim almost an icon, his corpse is a “vivid cast”, his body having is “opaque repose”. The precision and meticulousness of Heaney’s metaphors are perhaps a similar appropriation of the human victim to the poem’s own form and order.’ (p.[1]14-15; quoted in Julie-Anne Devine, UG Diss., UUC 2006.) [Cont.]

 

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Neil Corcoran, Poets of Modern Ireland: Text, Context, Intertext (Univ. of Wales Press 1999): ‘“Absence”, therefore, the notification that a word is elegy to what it signifies, is one of the key words in post-structuralist critical discourse. “Absence” is also a significant word in Seamus Heaney. (79) … Writing makes you “other” or strange to yourself; it places, and publicises, your intimacies in the formality of the world; [...] the tightness of the poem’s organisation is slowly released into an almost ecstatic celebration of the way the [80] strangeness of writing supplies, or supplements, these specifically realised absences.’ (pp.80-81).

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Neil Corcoran, ‘Keeping the Colours New: Louis MacNeice in the Contemporary Poetry of Northern Ireland’, in Louis MacNeice and His Influence. ed. Kathleen Devine & Alan Peacock (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1997), pp.114-32. Further, ‘When Heaney speaks of MacNeice “positioning his lever” [in Frontiers of Writing ], he is employing one of those many classroom metaphors which figure in both his poetry and his critical prose: here the lever remembers the physics lesson. These metaphors are compelling in their childlike immediacy and aura of nostalgia, but they are also sly in their authoritative, tutorial panache, as they measure, weight and balance. In his writing about MacNeice Heaney has something of a field day […]. But it is of course Seamus Heaney who has completed the figure, in a bravura act of new geometrical reappropriation, this attemp to “sketch the shape of an integrated literary tradition”. The act of writing Carrickfergus Castle into [119] the annals in this way, when Heaney began by excluding MacNeice in favour of Kavanagh, has involved painful reorientation and re-alignment on his part.’ (pp.119-20.) Further: ‘It is of course to the point - although it is not a point Heaney makes - that the accommodating quincunx is a figure constructed exclusively from military architecture: towers, castles and keeps.’ (p.120.)

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Neil Corcoran, ‘The State We’re In’ review of Seamus Heaney, The Burial at Thebes, in The Guardian [Sat.] (1 May 2004): ‘[...] This new version [of Antigone] has been commissioned to mark the centenary of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. It maintains the high-profile classicism of some of Heaney’s recent work, which he shares with a number of other contemporary Irish writers: this may have been almost programmed into subsequent Irish writing by Ulysses, James Joyce’s “version” of the Odyssey. Notably, in Heaney’s case, there’s been a previous version of Sophocles - The Cure at Troy, produced by the Field Day Theatre Company, of which he was a director, in the Guildhall in Derry in 1990. There is also the sequence “Mycenae Lookout”, perhaps the finest single thing in The Spirit Level (1996), which implicitly reads recent Irish history through the savage lens of Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, and eventually attempts to inflect that catastrophe towards a tentative hopefulness. / By choosing Antigone to celebrate the endurance of the Abbey, Heaney also reminds us of the significance of the play in Irish culture and politics. W. B. Yeats, who, with Augusta Gregory, initiated the cultural agitation that led to the theatre’s founding, made versions of Sophocles’ other two Theban plays. Yeats also ended his sequence “A Woman Young and Old” with a version of one of the choral odes from Antigone; and that sequence itself concludes his magisterial volume, The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933). Yeats’s Antigone is implicitly a figure for the depredations of civil war, the calamity wreaked on “Brother and brother, friend and friend, / Family and family” by the “great glory driven wild” that is Antigone’s response to Creon, “driven” by familial piety and affection against the unreasonable demands of the state. So, linking 1904 to 2004, Heaney’s Antigone may be a gesture of piety to Yeats, that founder (in several senses) who has been a major presence in his own poetry and criticism since the mid-1970s.’

(See further under Tom Paulin, Commentary, infra, and full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, attached.)

Neil Corcoran, “Seamus Heaney” [obituary], in The Guardian (30 Aug. 2013): ‘[...] Mortality and domestic relations, affection and obligation, had preoccupied Heaney throughout his work, and were frequently sounded together. One of his most popular poems, “Mid-Term Break”, from his collection Death of a Naturalist (1966), handles the death of his younger brother Christopher in a road accident in 1953, when Heaney was still a schoolboy; that loss is returned to again in the superb late poem “The Blackbird of Glanmore”, in District and Circle (2006), which is also concerned with intimations of the poet’s own mortality. [...] But Heaney was also an excellent poet of familial love and, notably, of enduring married love. There are numerous poems of filial affection, for both mother and father, and wonderful poems for his children and, latterly, his granddaughter. One of his finest poems, “Sunlight”, in North, was written for his aunt Mary, who was partly responsible for his upbringing. “Chanson d’Aventure” marked a late stage in the marital relationship he had vividly portrayed for years after his marriage to Marie Devlin in 1965: from the difficulties evoked in “Summer Home” (in Wintering Out, 1972), a poem of regret and self-recrimination, through the stabilities, accommodations, supportiveness, sources of strength and erotic tenderness and arousal recorded in such poems as “The Skunk” and “An Afterwards” in Field Work (1979), and “The Underground” and “La Toilette” in Station Island.’ (Cont.)

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Neil Corcoran, “Seamus Heaney” [obituary], in The Guardian (30 Aug. 2013) - cont.: ‘When he wrote about Yeats in an early essay – one of many in which Heaney returns to the work of his great Irish poetic forebear – he used the word “exemplary” of that poet’s demeanour at a particular point in his life, and Heaney’s own life had the character of an experiment that was also available for scrutiny. For all the “luck” of the career, it was a life lived with a strong awareness of social and cultural responsibility. If the even-handedness of some of his explicit political remarks could seem almost diplomatic at times (politicians, including Bill Clinton, have been fond of quoting him), he was also, when the occasion demanded, a forceful articulator of an Irish political conscience before a primarily English audience. This was notably the case at a prizegiving in 1988, at which he chastised the English press for their reporting of Northern Ireland, and in the last of his Oxford lectures, Frontiers of Writing, in which he analysed his perturbed feelings when he stayed in a Tory cabinet minister’s room in an Oxford college at the time of the IRA hunger strikes in 1981. [...] Given his eminence, Heaney was exceptionally approachable: gregarious, generous, courteous and convivial. He was a formidably, spontaneously eloquent man gifted with a wonderful verbal memory: he once recited the whole of one of Philip Larkin’s less well-known poems to me, and another time several prose paragraphs from the philosopher E. M. Cioran. Nevertheless, his social manner was entirely relaxed and relaxing. He was a benignly mischievous raconteur and took great delight in telling, and hearing, jokes. He was very funny indeed, and to spend any time at all in his company was to laugh a great deal. [...]’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or as attached.)

Note the following from Cioran:
‘If we could, after the example of the mystics, pass beyond the evidence, beyond the impasse which proceeds from it, if we could, like them, reascend to the true nothingness […] that expansiveness of their soul forever threatening to fabricate another heaven, another earth […] Having understood the disadvantage of seeing and of leaving things as they are, they have forced themselves to denature themselves.’

E.M. Cioran, ‘Dealing with the Mystics’ [chap.], in The Temptation to Exist (NY: Arcade Publishing 1956) - quoted in paper of Shea Atchinson [email to Ricorso 2014; Atchinson’s emphasis; orig. publ. in Paris as La tentation d’exister].

Cf. James Knowlson, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett (NY Schuster &c. 1996) - on Beckett’s associates in later days: ‘For some years, he had met, occasionally for dinner, the Romanian-born philosopher Emil Cioran, but was finding that he had less in common with Cioran in terms of outlook than he had at first thought.’ (p.526.)

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Maureen Waters, ‘Heaney, Carleton and Joyce on the Road to Lough Derg’, in The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, 14, 1 (July 1988) [pp.55-65]: ‘Commenting on the influence of Dante’s Commedia on his recent sequence of poems set on Station Island, Seamus Heaney in Irish University Review observes Dante’s “ability to place himself in an historical world yet submit that world to scrutiny from a perspective beyond history,” to “accommodate the political and the transcendent.” This is precisely the task that Heaney sets himself through his dream journey into the purgatorio at Lough Derg in Donegal. Confronted by spirits of the dead, among them writers, teachers, and companions murdered by Ulster gunmen, Heaney’s pilgrim must settle conflicting claims. He must try to acknowledge the “ collective historical experience” without compromising his integrity as a poet.’ (p.55; quoted in Chloe McKinney, UU Diss., UUC 2011).

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Henry Hart, ‘Poetymologies in Seamus Heaney’s Wintering Out’, in Twentieth Century Literature, 35, 2 (Summer 1989), pp.204-31: ‘What critics of Wintering Out objected to was the way Heaney implied rather than declaimed his politics. Heaney approached Ulster’s turmoil from his own oblique angle, a technique every writer employs when facing a well-worn subject. Literary strategies, for better or worse, often preclude political ones. As Blake Morrison pointed out: “What Wintering Out does is to explore the deeper structures of present hostilities, the way in which divisions of Protestant and Catholic communities are embedded in language and topography.” Heaney’s tacit values are those of a physician who seeks a cure for a chronic disease.’ (p.206; quoted in Chloe McKinney, UG Diss., UUC 2011.)

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Stan Smith, ‘The Distance Between’, in The Chosen Ground: Essays on the Contemporary Poetry of Northern Ireland, ed. Neil Corcoran (Poetry Wales; Dufour 1992): ‘Heaney’s habit of ringing all the possible changes on an equivocal word or phrase comes from a refusal to be pinned down prematurely in a fixed place, a wish to keep open those channels of communication which allow all the ambivalences of his Northern Irish provenance to sound through.’ (p.40.) Further: ‘Heaney in fact does a remarkable thing in this volume. He inverts the traditional critical argument that language is inflected either towards its signifieds or to its signifiers, either self-effacingly presents its meanings or self-importantly calls attention to itself as a medium. In the empiricist ideology, language should ideally efface itself, act as a clear window through which its meanings are immediately and unmediatedly visible. In the radical, Modernist assault on this, language is distrusted as a suborner of meanings, and has to be fractured, dislocated, foregrounded in order to expose its ideological predisposings. Baring the device alerts us to the fact that language is not innocent but complicit, distorting or transforming that which it communicates. Heaney in these later poems demonstrates the opposite. The clearer, the more transparent the language, the more we become aware of its artifice. For in this apparent bareness it becomes clear that no language is free of metaphor, every word may double its meaning, and all discourse can turn back on itself in coy or brazen selfconsciousness. If the clogged, sedimented streams of his earlier poetry here run clear, free of mud visions, they are still (in the words of “The Summer of Lost Rachel”) “thick-webbed currents” […]’ (p.51.)

Stan Smith, review of Michael Parker, Seamus Heaney: The Making of s Poet (Gill & Macmillan 1993), in Irish Studies Review (Winter 1994/5), pp.53-55, in many ways a valuable and illuminating book, yet in the end it seeks to domesticate its subject, perpetuating the patronising metropolitan icon with its assumption that dialect … is somehow closer to the referent than ‘the more formal, extended register of language acquired at St Columb’s and Queen’s.’

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Robert Welch, ‘A Rich Man Leaves Everything he Had’: Poetric Freedom in Seamus Heaney’, in Elmer Andrews, ed., Seamus Heaney: A Collection of Critical Essays (London: Macmillan 1992): ‘From start to finish he [Heaney] wants to speak of the source; and he wants his language to have the weight, the drive and authority that poetry originating in a source should have. His conclusion is that such poetry will be fresh, powerful and strong, and capable of giving pleasure and delight to the community, for whom the source is culturally and emotionally relevant.’ ( c.p.150-52).

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John Wilson Foster, ‘Heaney’s Redress’, in Colonial Consequences: Essays in Irish Literature and Culture (Dublin: Lilliput 1991): Heaney has largely ignored the Protestant making of the north-east Ulster into its once-distinctive industriousness. … Heaney admires those who ‘beat real iron out’ but in Ireland it was most commonly the Ulster Scot who beat real iron out and who took fierce pride in workmanship. I sometimes fear that in future Heaney and Ulster will become synomous, the way that Yeats and Ireland became synomous for American scholars who took their Irish history from the poet.’ (p.177.) [Cont.]

John Wilson Foster (‘Heaney’s Redress’, in Colonial Consequences, 1991) - cont: ‘[I]n Heaney we can detect a nostalgia for pre-colonial unity, a recurring strain in Ulster Catholic writing. […] Certainly there is in Heaney an instinct for propitiation and spiritual intercession as deep as his instinct for retreat and neutrality, a desire to turn dew into holy water, to make poetry a ceremony of assuagement.’ (p.181.) [Cont.]

John Wilson Foster (‘Heaney’s Redress’, in Colonial Consequences, 1991) - cont: Foster speaks of a Copernican revolution in Heaney’s poetry:] ‘a shift from poetics of excavation to that of light, from earth to air.’ [188] In Government of the Tongue ‘the uprooted is now privileged; so too are absence, placelessness, the unsaid, impersonality, weightlessness, vision, even dream - all most un-Heaney-like. Kavanagh is re-evaluated and found to have moved from substantial, local and self-expressive poetry to a weightless, placeless self-mastery. This is not a reading that convinces me, but aligns with Heaney’s current “stance towards life”. (p.193.) [Cont.]

John Wilson Foster (‘Heaney’s Redress’, in Colonial Consequences, 1991)- cont: ‘The necessity for reification and the longing for rarification creating a fresh duality in the verse. [… N]ow the ideal alternative to danger is purity, not the messier business of relishable antiquity.’ [195] ‘He has employed this allegory [the troubled history of the North] even though poetry is its highest form is judged to have ‘cleared’ or surmounted politics. … But even if politics are in the best poetry sublimated (hence the imagery of light, air, flight?), Heaney has always intended his poetry [197] to be, and indeed it is, a political poetry of considerable oblique power. (pp.197-98.) [Cont.]]

John Wilson Foster (‘Heaney’s Redress’, in Colonial Consequences, 1991) - cont: ‘The Catholicism by which [his] progress is charted is a religious redress within the context of these islands where Catholicism, Ireland, and minority nationalism are almost synonymous. … That it is an Irishman, and an Ulsterman to boot, who is currently framing in practice and theory the constitution of mainstream poetry in these islands is a cultural redress of remarkable proportions.’ (p.203.)

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Susan Shaw Sailer, ‘Time against Time: Myth in the Poetry of Yeats and Heaney’, in The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, 17, 2 (Dec. 1991) [ pp.54-63]: ‘Heaney … recognized that the work of the poet, besides acknowledging the force and ferocity of history, was the exploration of self, not as private confession but as a voice of the problems of being alive in Ireland in the late twentieth century. The [parable] poems of The Haw Lantern imply that the terrors and troubles of Ireland coincide with those of any people struggling to become self determining.’ (pp.54-63; quoted in Chloe McKinney, UU Diss., UUC 2011.)

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James Simmons, ‘The Trouble With Seamus’ (1992), suggests that Heaney’s work is weakened by the fact that, ‘As man and poet in his life and philosophy Heaney is not geared to progress and reform. He wants to wallow and look back.’ ([rep. in] Elmer Kennedy-Andrews, Seamus Heaney: A Collection of Critical Essays, Basingstoke & London: Macmillan Press 1992, p.48); and further: ‘His doors into the dark have not illuminated the Catholic Irish subconscious’ (p.65; both quoted in Sharon Moore, ‘Early Attachments and Identification Processes in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney and Michael Hartnett’, UUC PhD Diss. 2007.)

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Derek Mahon, ‘The Need to Sing’ [review of The Government of the Tongue, in The Irish Times, 1993], rep. in Journalism: Selected Prose 1970-1995 (Dublin: Gallery Press 1996), pp.105-11: points out that in an uncollected review in New Statesman [n.d.], Heaney wrote that life for ‘the minority’ could be quite tolerable under the old Stormont dispensation so long as it kept a ‘civil tongue in its head’ and remarks that the phrase occurs here in ‘a triumphantly inverted form’, adding: ‘anyway, since Deane’s pamphlet Civilians and Barbarians, a certain discredit has attached to the word.’(p.112.) Later notes that the phrase is used in the collection of essays in connection with W. H. Auden (p.114).

Michael Parker, Seamus Heaney: The Making of a Poet (Iowa UP 1993): ‘After having endured decades of defeatism and submissiveness, many Catholics in the late 1960's and early 1970’s turned first to the Civil Right movement, and then later regrettable, to the I.R.A to assert their sense of racial identity ... he too resented having to turn the other cheek, and while he would not condone the violence he understood the legitimacy of the rage which gave rise to it." (p.115; quoted in Laura McCrea, UG Diss., UUC 2012.)

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Patrick Crotty, ed., Modern Irish Poetry (Belfast: Blackstaff 1995), Introduction: ‘With their fidelity to local speech patterns, Heaney’s verses in any case were from the beginning considerably removed from the clipped tones and edges of the Movement lyric. Unease about the procedures of his work is so crucial to this poet’s sense of artistic responsibility that one must be wary of reading too much into the manner of his progress towards more open and varied forms. It can nonetheless be noted that Heaney dropped the regular stanzas of his first two books just as his poetry was taking on an explicitly historical character in response to the catastrophic turn of events in Northern Ireland. His adoption of an American-style short unrhymed line for Wintering Out (1972) and North (1975) may represent a last - and this time largely coincidental - intersection between Irish nationalist politics and international modernism.’ (p.5)

Mebdh McGuckian, ‘Death Withstood’, Review of Seamus Heaney’s The Redress of Poetry (1995), in Fortnight Review, 344 (1995), p.36; includes the comment: ‘his mathematical proposition of the quicunx is as brilliant a solution to the conundrum of Ireland as his stark analysis of “Aubade”, from which he implies that that British poetry has not yet recovered.’; further, his commends remarkably sensitive reading of homosexual Elizabeth Bishop; ‘without using the unpopular words “spirit”, “faith”, “God”, or even “mortality” once, Heaney’s explorations endorse the set of values he inherited which means he is likely to be on the curriculum as long as there is a curriculum.’ Note also her poem in The Irish Times, on the morning following the announcement of the Nobel Award to Heaney (Nov. 6 1995).

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Peter Levi, ‘Lover of the upside-down, Peter Levi admires astute account of poetry from Seamus Heaney’, review of The Redress of Poetry, The Oxford Lectures (Faber 1995), in Sunday Times, “Books” (10 Oct., 1995); notes ‘brilliant’ and ‘persuasive’ allusions to Marlowe, John Clare, Oscar Wilde, Hugh McDiarmid, Dylan Thomas; ‘the sharpest intuition about other poets, an Irish Catholic from Derry, he is well placed to comment on the outsiders of English poetry, who have always (I suspect) outweighed its insiders’ [Levi]; ‘effective’ on Elizabeth Bishop; also remarks on Spenser; ‘there is no doubt that the English have done Ireland terrible injuries […]’; Heaney is the best possible example of a highly intelligent, honest and decent Irishman of today, struggling like Hercules with the contradiction of his inheritance. This gives him the advantage, as a poet, of having plenty to say, and, as a professor, a certain steely clarity. Oxford has never had a better or more distinguished professor of this upside-down-subject.’ (p.11.)

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Edna Longley, ‘Defending Ireland’s Soul: Protestant Writers and Irish nationalism after Independence’, in The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1994), 130-49, p.164: Seamus Heaney’s “Bogland” famously does its own digging, conceives the past as a dimension to be explored dynamically rather than received statically […]. / This conflates historical enquiry with psychic investigation, and Heaney’s subsequent soundings resemble Jungian therapy, rather than Friel’s implied prescription of electro-convulsion. Heaney’s methods affirm the presence of depths and layers whereby the past imprints individual and community, a “script indelibly written into the nervous system”.’ […] Yet this begins to edge towards the mythic inevitabilities that take hold in North […]. The iconography and rituals of North […] also freeze the fluid religious element which has always permeated Heaney’s imaginative relation to the past.’ (p.164); Further, extensive commentary in ‘Defending Ireland’s Soul: Protestant Writers and Irish nationalism after Independence’ (op. cit., 1994, pp.130-49, incl. remarks on Muldoon’s challenge to Heaney’s reading of Anglo-Irish history, quoting ‘The Frogs’ [in Quoof : ‘The entire population of Ireland / springs from a pair justify to stand / overnight in a pond in the gardens of Trinity College, / two bottles of wine justify there to chill / after the Act of Union. // There is, surely, in this story / a moral. A moral for our times] / This anti-Aesop, anti-Davisite fable plays down 1800 as much as Paulin plays up 1798. It also criticises Heaney’s ‘Act of Union’ as not only portentously futile, but radical chic, a form of dilettante dabbling in violent waters: ‘What if I put him to my head / and squeezed it out of him, / like the juice of freshly squeezed limes, / or a lemon sorbet?’ (p.168.); Also, ‘The book [North] contains an unresolved tension between [189] two Muses: a symbolic mummified or mummifying woman (not yet Anorexia) and the warmly creative, if domestic, aunt who bakes scones in the poem “Sunlight”’( ‘From Cathleen to Anorexia’, op. cit., 1994, pp.189-90.)

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Oonagh Warke reviews J. F. Wilson, The Achievement of Seamus Heaney (Lilliput 1996), 64pp.; notes that the contradictions of the poetry compel a political reading; and quotes: ‘Many individual poems are lyrical dwellings in captivity and daydreams of escape, but together they chart in verse what the essays chart in prose: Heaney’s changing idea of what constitutes poetry, and how it can be appointed to its proper dignity and office; how, in other words, it can be constituted.’ [?Fortnight Review ].

P. J. Kavanagh, ‘The dove keeps on rising’, review The Spirit Level, in Spectator (11 May 1996), shows greatest approbation and remarking: ‘the political pressures on him were certainly great, but … it gave him a subject … He never exploited this, he has ducked and weaved to avoid the poisonous kiss of such recognition, but nor has he evaded the historical fact on his doorstep’; quotes, ‘Still, for Jesus sake, / Do me a favour, would you, just this once? // Prophesy, give scandal, cast the stone. // … I held back when I should have drawn blood / And that way (mea culpa) lost an edge. // A deep mistaken chivalry, old friend. / At this stage only foul play cleans the slate.’ Kavanagh comments: ‘the ease of that, the ambiguity of “for Jesus sake” - mild blasphemy, or player? - the clichés all in place and appropriate to the grim conversational tone; the terrible, bitter conclusion.’ Further asserts that Heaney is the ‘real thing’, countryman and poet, citing the poem in which his Caedmon puts his hands in urine to test the sickness of a cow: ‘Oh, Caedmon was the real thing all right.’ (p.43.)

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Nicholas Jenkins, ‘Walking on Air’, long review of Seamus Heaney, The Spirit Level, in Times Literary Supplement (25 July 1996), characterises developments from Seeing Things, in which “omnipresence, equilibrium, brim” denotes poetic of charmed stillnesses, instead of which now “everything trembled, flowed with give and take”; Jenkins calls it ‘a special kind of retrospect’; quotes “My last things will be first things slipping from me”; sees the poet as re-inscribing and recontextualising old subjects and writings; quotes “cruising altitude” flying over “the same house/They’d justify an hour before” (‘Transportation’); remarks the Heaney’s sensual writing about the experience of being in a car; cites Hugh McDiarmid’s “far out, blathering genius”; relates how in an argument with a friend, the poet declares, “At this stage only foul play cleans the slate”; in ‘Keeping Going’ to a brother Hugh, who as stayed “on where it happens”, Heaney writes “I see you at the end of your tether sometimes/coming to the smell of dung again/And wondering, is this all? As it was/In the beginning, is now and shall be? … You have good stamina [but] you cannot make the dead walk or right wrong”; cites the phrase “user friendly outback”; the poet faces the unpoetic realities of a technologised, disenchanted democracy .. willingly if a little sceptically ready to “make a new beginning”; focuses on “Mycenae Lookout”, main sequence of the new collection, and ostensibly his investigation of the “peace” wrought by the fall of Troy; the speaker is a familiar Heaneyish observer, a tongue-tied prophesier, so indecisive that finally, almost self-parodically, he even moves “beyond bad faith”: “I balanced between destiny and dread / And saw it coming, clouds bloodshot with the red / Of victory fires, the raw wound of that dawn / igniting and erupting, bearing down / Like lava on a fleeing population”; Jenkins comments on the ‘impressive muscularity’ of the book on its ‘panoramic’ side but emphasises the ‘“lighter”, more fractured and exploratory side’ instanced by a general transition from earth to air; he notes particularly recurrence in recent prose and poetry of the phrase ‘walking on air’, viz., the new poem (apparently sent out as a Christmas card to literary friends) ‘So walk on air against your better judgement / Establishing yourself somewhere in between/Those solid batches mixed with grey cement / And a tune called “The Gravel Walks” that conjures green.’ Muldoon replies to this, in The Prince of the Quotidian, 1994.) ‘Doctor Heaney / the great physician of the earth / is waxing metaphysical, has taken to “walking on air”.’ Jenkins comments that ‘this “walking on air” phrase has become, then, a organising preoccupation for Heaney: in his Nobel lecture, for instance, delivered in December, he avowed that ““for once in my life, I am permitting myself the luxury of walking on air.” But “walking on air” mean something more than simply the conventional sense (of being exultant or delighted) though of course it includes that. For Heaney it also conveys an effort of determination and defiance, as much remaking as relaxing. In the Nobel lecture, he explained this new aspiration as a reaction against his “temperamental disposition toward an art that was earnest and devoted to things as they are.” […] it also implies an argument about poetry, since who after all would be doing it but for the wing-shod Hermes, the mediating god of poetry and borders? The idea of moving over into another realm was implicit in many earlier Heaney poems, as well as in his prose comments about the “frontier of writing”. Also quotes from ‘The Redress of Poetry’ lecture, Heaney’s assertion about poetry’s “angelic potential” and “its function as an agent of possible transformation, of evolution towards that more radiant and generous life which the imagination desires”. Jenkins holds that a reader’s first response might be ‘intense literary fascination’, but that ‘this vision of imaginative crossing and re-crossing also serves as subtle political paradigm.’ (pp.10-12.)

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Richard Tillinghast, ‘Seamus Heaney Scales the Earth’, NY Review of Books (21 July 1996), cover story with port. [in academic gown] & caption: ‘In The Spirit Level […] Seamus Heaney looks to weigh opposites, to find equilibrium, to discern karma’; quotes, “Weighing In”: ‘Passive suffering makes the world go round./Peace on earth, men of good will, all that/Holds good only as long as the balance holds.’ Quotes “The Spirit Level”: ‘Hoard and praise the verity of gravel./Gems for the undeluded. Milt of earth./Its plain, champing song against the shovel/Soun[d]tests and sandblasts words like “honest worth”; remarks, ‘Increasingly this champion of the senses has come to emphasise moral and spiritual dimensions. The words honest worth” not only sound like feet stepping on gravel, but characterise how we handle gravel and what we use it for - “The actual washed stuff kept you slow and steady / As you went stooping with your barrow full / Into an absolution of the body.”’ Further, ‘the son of an Irish farmer offers a vision that is a powerful tonic against the fin de siecle alienation and solipsisim touted by fashionable literary criticism.’ Quotes: ‘I am all foreknowledge / Of the poem as a ploughshare that turns time / Up and over. Of the chair in leaf / The fairy thorn is entering for the future. / Of being here for good in every sense.’ Final remarks: ‘His poems, resting at the balance points between what we see as opposites, can make us realise that at times our vision utterly deceives us. They will last. Anyone who reads poetry has reason to rejoice at living in the age when Seamus Heaney is writing.’

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