Seamus Heaney: Quotations - 2: Prose
[ See Henri Coles interview with Heaney, The Paris Review (Fall 1997) - available online, or as attached. ]
[We must ] take the strain of being in two places at once. (Place and Displacement: Recent Poetry of Northern Ireland: The Peter Laver Memorial Lecture, Grasmere, Aug. 1984, rep. in Elmer Andrews, ed., Contemporary Irish Poetry, 1996)
Poetry is a ratification of the human impulse towards transcendence [...] to the extent that poetry is a pay-off for all the duplicities of language and disappointments of reality, it can also be said to be a form of redemption. (Dennis ODriscoll inStepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney
, London: Faber 2008, q.p.; quoted at Sean OBrien [Newcastle U.], The Soil and Soul of Heaney essay - online
I have begun to think of life as a series of ripples widening out from an original center. In a way, no matter how wide the circumference gets, no matter how far you have rippled out from the first point, that original pulse of your being is still traveling in you and through you, so although you can talk about this period of your life and that period of it, your first self and your last self are by no means distinct. (Interview with Paris Review
, Fall 1997) interview with Heaney - online
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Our Own Dour Way (1964): It is high time the North had another literary magazine; A number of literary magazines which appeared during the forties and the early fifties, gave a forum to Ulster writers, the experienced and established, the young and unknown. I would like to take a look at these magazines and show the work that they did in their time has not been carried on. Heaney continues: Northerners have always felt this slight cultural envy [of the South]; Threshold has been an excellent publication
Yet Threshold has not taken over where the other magazines left of. / Why? because it is not essentially a Northern magazine. It might as well be published in Dublin. In fact put a copy of Threshold inside a Kilkenny Magazine cover and very few people could tell the difference. Moreover, it relies on established reputations. Heaney goes on to say that that Rann, Lagan, the New Northman were not as accomplished as Threshold but they certainly gave the North a literary identity and encouraged a lively crop of local writing.
Further: Why could Patrick Boyle, Brian Friel, Stuart Love, Roy MacFadden and Denis Ireland not come together between limp quarterly covers and create a true artistic unity in diversity? Perhaps it is mere economics
; the artist is the custodian of human values, of sanity and tolerance and these are the qualities most needed in the North today. The article concludes, The Northern idealists of 1798 made their point in a forcible and unforgettable manner. [Quotes ballad:] We men of Ulster had a word to say / And we said it then on our own dour way / And we spoke out loud and clear, adding the comment: I only hope that their descendants of the 1960s follow their example - with the pen which is so much mightier than the pike. (Trench, St. Josephs TTC, Belfast, April 1964 [1st iss.], 21pp.; pp.3-4; copy held in John Hewitt Collection of University of Ulster Library; see notes, infra].
‘Unhappy and at Home, interview with Seamus Deane, in The Crane Bag, 1, 1 (1977), pp.66-72. Deane: Do you believe there is a recognisable northern group of poets, recognisable that is, in the literary as opposed to merely geographical sense? And secondly, do you believe that this can be legitimately connected with the northern troubles? Heaney: I think there is a recognisable group in the literary sense. This would include Simmons, Longley, Mahon, Muldoon and others; I’m not sure whether I would include you here, for I’m talking of a certain literary style which arose from the well made poem cult in English writing in the late fifties and sixties. Though harking to different writers all of us in this group were harking to writers from the English cultural background. In that sense, there is a kind of tight-mouthedness which might be considered Northern by many in the South, but which is really the result of a particular literary apprenticeship. Deane: And can the emergence of this group be related in any way to the Northern crisis? Heaney: I think that this is a much more imponderable kind of subject. There is certainly no direct or obvious connection; but this poetry and the troubles emerged from an intensity, a root, a common emotional ground. The root of the troubles may have something in common with the root of the poetry. [For full text, see under Ricorso Library, Irish Classics, infra.]
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Mossbawn, in Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-78 (Faber 1980), pp.17-27 [1: Omphalos ; 2: Reading; 3: Rhymes]: A small bog
This was the realm of bogeys. Wed heard about a mystery man who haunted the fringes of the bog here, we talked about mankeepers and mosscheepers, creatures uncatalogued by any naturalist, but nonetheless real for that [
] What was a mosscheeper anyway, if not the soft, malicious sound the word itself made, a siren of collapsing sibilants leading you out towards the bog holes, lidded with innocent grass, quicksands and quagmires? (p.18.)
Further: To this day, green, wet corners, flooded wastes, soft rushy bottoms, any place with the invitation of watery ground and tundra vegetation, even glimpsed from a car or a train, possess an immediate and deeply peaceful attraction. It is as if I am betrothed to them, and I believe my betrothal happened one summer evening thirty years ago, when another boy and myself stripped to the white country skin and bathed in a moss-hole, treading the liver-thick mud, off the bottom and coming out smeared and weedy and darkened
somehow initiated. (p.19.)
Further: In the names of its fields and townlands, in the mixture of Scots and Irish and English etymologies, this side of the country was redolent of the histories of its owner. Broagh, the Long Rigs, Bells Hill, Brians Field, the Round Meadow, the Demesne: each name was a kind of love made to each acre. And saying the names like this distances the laces, turns them into what Wordsworth once called a prospect of the mind. They lie deep, like some script indelibly written into the nervous system. (p.20) [BBC 4 1978]; Reading: the Maurice Walsh circuit
an atmosphere, a sense of bogs and woods (p.23) [Education Times, 1973].
Mossbawn (in Preoccupations, 1980) - cont.: Belfast: on Philip Hobsbaum: one of the strongest agents for change
moved disparate elements into a single action; If he drove some people mad with his absolutes and hurt others with his overbearing, he confirmed as many with his enthusiasms. (pp.28-29.) I have always listened for poems, they come sometimes like bodies come out of a bog, almost complete, seeming to have been laid down for a long time, surfacing with a touch of mystery. They certainly involve craft and determination, but chance and instinct have a role in the thing too. I think the process is a kind of somnambulist encounter with the masculine will and intelligence and feminine clusters of image and emotion. / I suppose the feminine element in me involves the matter of Ireland, and the masculine strain is drawn from the involvement with English literature. I speak and write in English and do not altogether share the preoccupations and perspectives of an Englishman. I teach English literature, I publish in London, but the English tradition is not ultimately home. I live off another hump as well. (p.34.) Refers to Spenser and Sir John Davies; characterises himself as this backward looking colonisé (p.35.) The demesne [Moyola] was walled, wooded, beyond our ken; the bog was rushy and treacherous, no place for children. They said you shouldnt go near the moss-holes because there was no bottom in them. (p.35.) If you like, I began as a poet when my roots were crossed with my reading. I think of the personal and Irish pieties as vowels, and the literary awarenesses nourished on English as consonants. My hope is that the poems will be vocables adequate to my whole experience. (Guardian, 1972; here p. 37).
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Feeling into Words, in Preccupations: Selected Prose 1968-78 (Faber 1980), pp.41-60: Digging
the first poem I wrote where I thought my feelings had got into words (p.41); the pen/spade analogy was the simple heart of the matter, and that was a simple matter of almost proverbial common sense. (p.42); a big, coarse-grained navvy of a poem (p.43.) On W. R. Rodgers: much lured by alliteration [quotes an abrupt people/Who like the spiky consonants of speech
] (p.44f.) Craft is the skill of making. It wins competitions in the Irish Times or the New Statesman. It can be deployed without reference to the feelings or the self.
Technique, as I would define it, involves not only a poets way with words, his management of metre, rhythm and verbal texture; it involves also a definition of his stance towards life, a definition of his own reality. It involves the discovery of way to go out of his normal cognitive bounds and raid the inarticulate: a dynamic alertness that mediates between the origins of feelings in memory and experience and the formal ploys that express these in a work of art. Technique involves the watermarking of your essential patterns of perception, voice and thought into the touch and texture of your lines; it is that whole creative effort of the minds and bodys resources to bring the meaning of experience within the jurisdiction of form. Technique is what turns, in Yeatss phrase, the bundle of accident and incoherence that sits down to breakfast and an idea, something intended, complete. (p.47). [See longer extracts in RICORSO Library, Critical Classics, infra.]
The Sense of Place , Preoccupations (London: Faber 1980), pp.131-49 [extracts]: We have to retrieve the underlay of Gaelic legend in order to read the full meaning of the name and to flesh out the topographical record with its human accretions. The whole of the Irish landscape, in John Montagues words, is a manuscript which we have lost the skill to read. (p.132.) [Cont.]
Cont.: Tory Island, Knocknarea, Slieve Patrick, all of them deeply steeped in associations from the older culture, will not stir us beyond a visual pleasure unless that culture means something to us, unless the features of the landscape are a mode of communication with a something other than themselves, a something to which we ourselves still feel we might belong. (p.132.)
It is this feeling, assenting, equable marriage between the geographical country and the country of the mind, whether that country of the mind takes its tone unconsciously from a shared oral inherited culture, or from a consciously savoured literary culture, or from both, it is this marriage that constitutes the sense of place in its richest possible manifestation. (p.132.)
The landscape was sacramental, instinct with signs, implying a system of reality beyond the visible realities. Only thirties years ago, and thirty miles from Belfast, I think I experienced this kind of world vestigially and as a result may have retained some vestigial sense of place as it was experience in the older dispensation. (A Sense of Place , in Preoccupations: Selected Prose, 1980, pp.131-49; p.132; quoted in Stan Smith, Seamus Heaney: The Distance Between, in Neil Corcoran, ed., The Chosen Ground: Essays on the Contemporary Poetry of Northern Ireland, 1992, p.39). [Cont.]
Yet those primary laws of our nature are still operative. We are dwellers we are namers, we are lovers, we make homes and search for our histories. And when we look for the history of our sensibilities I am convinced, as Professor J. C. Beckett was convinced about the history of Ireland generally, that it is to the stable element, the land itself, that we must look for continuity. (A Sense of Place, in Preoccupations, Selected Prose, 1980, pp.131-49; quoted [without ref.] in Sophia Hillen King, The Millstone and the Star, Regionalism as Strength, in Linen Hall Review, Autumn 1994, p.7). [See full text under Irish Critical Classics in Ricorso Library, infra.]
In the Country of Convention [review of John Barrell and John Bull, eds., Penguin Book of English Pastoral Verse (1975)], in Preccupations: Selected Prose 1968-78 (Faber 1980), pp.173-80: the sociological filleting of the convention [by Marxist theory is] a bracing corrective to an over-literary savouring of it as a matter of classical allusion and imitation but it nevertheless entails a certain attenuation of response, so that consideration of the selected poems as things made, as self-delighting buds on the old bough of the tradition, is much curtailed. The Marxist brush sweeps the poetic enterprise clean of those somewhat hedonistic impulses towards the satisfaction of aural and formal play out of which poems arise, whether they desire to delineate or to obfuscate things as they are. (p.174.) [M]ystification [is] word I am reluctant to regard as altogether pejorative in poetry (p.175); he ends in questioning if Irish writing and especially seminal texts such as Synges Aran Islands and Kavanaghs The Great Hunger, pastoral and anti-pastoral respectively, are not to be regarded just as occasional twitches, and, more recently, in John Montagues The Rough Field is not the same. (p.180; End.)
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A Tale of Two Islands: Reflections on The Irish Literary Revival, in Irish Studies, I, ed. P. J. Drury, (Cambridge UP 1980), pp.1-20, discusses and compares the attitudes towards native Irish life and rural experience in Yeats, Charles Gavan Duffy, Carleton, Clarke, Kavanagh, Joyce, and , Yeats (Traditional sanctity and loveliness; / Whatevers written in what poets name / The book of the people [Coole Park and Ballylee]) and remarking: These Anglo-Irish counter-cultural Romantics found in the west of Ireland corroboration for their image of an Ireland untouched by geniality, inoculated against mere opinions and unified by an instinctive sense of beauty. / All this, of course, was artistically proper and exhilarating. Writers need images and situations which release in them whatever is latent and submerged and allow them to appease their perhaps unconscious yearnings and tensions. One has a sense that for Synge there was enormous exultation and confirmation and destination in the Aran experience [
] And Synges certitude transfused Yeats also [
]. (pp.9-10.) [Cont.]
Cont.: My almost instinct was that much that had been known and loved in Ireland was half-frustrated in its expression by the mighty beauties of the art of the Irish Literary Revival. What I have been saying here is almost true, and if not the whole truth, then let it be taken, itself, as a near myth. (p.19; end.)
See note: I am indebted to Dr. [Seamus] Deane, not only for this article, but for many conversations in which we plied the substance of what I have written here. (ftn. 1; p.20.) [For further extracts see under J. M. Synge, as infra, and Patrick Kavanagh, as infra.]
The God in the Tree, in The Pleasures of Gaelic Poetry, ed. Seán MacRéamoinn (London: Penguin 1982), pp.25-34: Heaney praises Irish poetry for its precision and suggestiveness and steel-pen exactness, writing further: early Irish poetry registers certain sensations, and makes a springwater music out of certain feelings (p.16; quoted in Callum Boyle, Tradition and Transgression in the Poetry of Michael Hartnett, MA Diss., UUC 2005.)
Place and Displacement: Recent Poetry of Northern Ireland [Peter Laver Memorial Lecture, Grasmere, Aug. 1984]; rep. in Elmer Andrews, ed., Contemporary Irish Poetry, 1996): The Nationalist will wince at the Union Jack and God Save the Queen as tokens of his place in the world, he will withhold assent from the solidarities implicit in these emblems [
] the Northern Nationalist conducts his daily social life along Unionist neighbours for whom these emblems have pious and passionate force. (q.p.) Further: [We must] take the strain of being in two places at once (Ibid., p.127; for longer extracts from Place and Displacement: Recent Poetry of Northern Ireland, see under Mahon, Commentary, infra.)
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The Placeless Heaven: Another Look at Patrick Kavanagh [Opening lecture, Kavanaghs Yearly, Carrickmacross, Nov. 1985], in The Government of the Tongue (London: Faber 1986): [
] in the pivotal sonnet, Epic, even though the poem gives the stage over to two Monaghan farmers and successfully sets Ballyrush and Gortin in balance against Munich, it is not saying that the farmers and the Monaghan region are important in themselves. They are made important only by the light of the mind which is now playing upon them. It is a poem more in praise of Kavanaghs idea of Homer than in praise of Kavanaghs home. / Epic appeared in the volume called Come Dance with Kitty Stobbling, published in 1960 and reprinted three times within the next year. My own copy is one of the fourth impression, and I have dated it 3 July 1963. I did not have many copies of books by living poets at that time and it is hard now to retrieve the sense of being on the outside of things, of being far away from the City of Kings / Where art music, letters are the real thing. Belfast at that time had no literary publishers, no poetry readings, no sense of a literary identity. In 1962, while a student at St Josephs College of Education, I had done an extended  essay on the history of literary magazines in Ulster, as though I were already seeking a basis for faith in the possibility of our cultural existence as northern, Irish and essentially ourselves. It comes as something of a shock nowadays to remember that during four years as an undergraduate in the Queens University English department I had not ever been taught by an Irish or an Ulster voice. I had, however, heard Louis MacNeice read his poems there and in 1963 had also listened to Thomas read from his second volume Downstream, and from earlier work. Eventually, I got my hands on Robin Skeltons anthology, Six Irish Poets; on the first edition of John Montagues Poisoned Lands, with its irrigating and confirming poem, The Water Carrier; on Alvarezs anthology, The New Poetry, where I encountered the work of Ted Hughes and R. S. Thomas. All of these things were animating, as were occasional trips to Dublin where I managed to pick up that emblem of Irelands quickening poetic life, The Dolmen Miscellany of Irish Writing, and to read in it the strong lines of Richard Murphys The Cleggan Disaster. Meanwhile, my headmaster Michael McLaverty, himself a Monaghan man by birth but with a far gentler sensibility than Kavanaghs, lent me his copy of A Soul for Sale and so introduced me, at the age of twenty-three, to The Great Hunger . [Note: Heaneys fuller remarks on Patrick Kavanagh can be viewed under Kavanagh, Commentary, infra.] [Cont.]
[Note: I was sort of pupped out of Kavanagh. I read him in 1962, after Id graduated from Queens and was teaching at St. Thomass, where my headmaster was the short-story writer Michael McLaverty. He lent me Kavanagh's Soul for Sale, which includes The Great Hunger, and at that moment the veil of the study was rent: it gave me this terrific breakthrough from English literature into home ground. (Interviewed by Henri Cole, The Paris Review, 75, Fall 1997 - available online.)]
The Placeless Heaven: Another Look at Patrick Kavanagh (1985) - cont.: Everything, at that time, was needy and hopeful and inchoate. I had had four poems accepted for publication, two by the Belfast Telegraph, one by the Irish Times and one by The Kilkenny Magazine, but still, like Keats in Yeatss image, I was like a child with his nose pressed to a sweetshop window, gazing from behind a barrier at the tempting mysteries beyond. And then came this revelation and confirmation of reading Kavanagh. When I found Spraying the Potatoes in the old Oxford Book of Irish Verse, I was excited to find details of a life which I knew intimately - but which I had always considered to be below or beyond books - being presented in a book. The barrels of blue potato spray which had stood in my own childhood like holidays of pure colour in an otherwise grey field-life - there they were, standing their ground in print. And there too was the word headland, which I guessed was to Kavanagh as local a word as was headrig to me. Here too was the strange  stillness and heat and solitude of the sunlit fields [
] I had been hungry for this sort of thing without knowing what it was I was hungering after. [
] I am not affirming here the superiority of the rural over the urban/suburban as a subject for poetry, nor am I out to sponser deprivation at the expense of cultivation. I am not insinuating that one domain of experience is more intrinsically poetical or more ethically desireable than another. am trying to record exactly the sensations of one reader, from a comparatively  bookless background, who came into contact with some of the established poetic voices in Ireland in the early 1960s. Needless to say, I am aware of a certain partisan strain in the criticism of Irish poetry, deriving frm remarks by Samuel Beckett in the 1930 and developed most notably by Anthony Cronin. This criticism regards the vogue for poetry based on images from a country background as a derogation of literary responsibility and some sort of negative Irish feedback. It is also deliberately polemical and might be worth taking up in another context; for the moment, however, I want to keep the focus personal and look at what Kavanagh has meant ot one reader, over a period of a couple of decades.
The Placeless Heaven: Another Look at Patrick Kavanagh (1985) - cont.: In the 1960s I was still more susceptible to the pathos and familiarity of the matter of Kavanaghs poetry than I was alert to the liberation and subversiveness of its manner. Instead of divesting me of my first life, it confirmed that life by giving it an image. I do not mean by that that when I read The Great Hunger I felt proud to have known people similar to Patrick Maguire or felt that their ethos had been vindicated. It is more that one felt less alone and marginal as a product of that world now that it had found its expression in a work which was regarded not just as part of a national culture but as a contribution to the worlds store of true poems. / Kavanagh gave you permission to dwell without cultural anxiety among the usual landmarks of your life. Over the border, into a Northern Ireland dominated by the noticeably English accents of the local BBC, he broadcast a voice that would not be cowed into accents other than its own. Without being in the slightest way political in its intentions, Kavanaghs poetry did have political effect. Whether he wanted it or not, his achievement was inevitably co-opted, north and south, into the general current of feeling which flowed from and sustained  ideas of national identity, cultural otherness from Britain and the dream of a literature with a manner and a matter resistant to the central Englishness of the dominant tradition. No admirer of the Irish Literary Revival, Kavanagh was read initially and almost entirely in light of the Revival writers ambitions for a native literature. (pp.6-10.)
Further - Heaney writes of ‘Solidly based phenomena transformed by a shimmer of inner reality’. (The Placeless Heaven, p.10; quoted in Elmer Andrews, Contemporary Irish Poetry: Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Andrews, Dublin: Macmillan 1992, Intro. p..
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The Government of the Tongue [in collection of that title] (London: Faber 1988): Poetrys special status among the literary arts derives from the audiences readiness to concede to it a similar efficacy and resource. The poet is credited with a power to open unexpected and unedited communications between our nature and the reality we inhabit. / the oldest evidence for this attitude appears in the Greek notion that when a lyric poet gives voice, it is a god that speaks. And when the attitude persists into the twentieth century one thinks of Rilkes restatement of it in his Sonnets to Orpheus [
] (p.93; quoted [in part] in Stan Smith, Seamus Heaney: The Distance Between, in The Chosen Ground: Essays on the Contemporary Poetry of Northern Ireland, ed. Neil Corcoran, 1992, p.40). [Cont.]
] In one sense the efficacy of poetry is nil - no lyric has ever stopped a tank. In another sense, it is unlimited. It is like writing in the sand in the face of which accusers and accused are left speechless and renewed. (p.107; Curtis, idem.)
Poetry, like the writing, is arbitrary and marks time in every possible sense of that phrase. It does not say to the accusing crowd or to the helpless accused, Now a solution will take place, it does not propose to be instrumental or effective. Instead, in the rift between what is going to happen and whatever we would wish to happen, poetry holds attention for a space, functions not as a distraction but as pure concentration, a focus where our power to concentrate is concentrated back on ourselves. / This is what gives poetry its governing power. At its greatest moments it would attempt, in Yeatss phrase, to hold in a single thought reality and justice. Yet even then its function is not essentially supplicatory or transitive. Poetry is more a threshold than a path, one constantly approached and constantly departed from, at which reader and writer undergo in their different ways the experience of being at the same time summoned and released. (p.108; end.)
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The Fully Exposed Poem, [essay] in The Government of the Tongue (London: Faber 1988): [...] In spite of a period of castigation about the necessity for intelligence and irony, poetry in English has not moved all that far from the shelter of the Romantic tradition. Even our self-mocking dandies pirouette to a narcotic music. The dreams the thing, not the diagnosis. Inwardness, yearnings and mergings of the self towards nature, cadences that drink at spots of time - in general the hopes of poets and readers still realize themselves within contexts like these. We still expect the poetic imagination to be sympathetic rather than analytic. Intellect still tends to summon its rhyme from Wordsworths pejorative dissect. [Iin Government of the Tongue, Faber 1988, p.45; quoted 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, p.19.)
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Calling the Tune, interview with Tom Adair, in Linenhall Review, 6, 2 (Autumn 1989): I felt that division myself, very much. And it still is a reality- unfinished business, not only for poets, but for the whole country. What does a modern Irish independently state mean? It is [previous] to British TV. Its people go to Britain for work. There is constant coming and going. There has to be an acknowledgement of that double reality, and I always felt that I should say something about it. I could neither go unambiguously with the name British, nor would I wish to be in the position of espousing cultural tariff barriers - all that kind of bigoted, parochial Little Ireland stuff. You cant have that either. (p.5.) Well, our family werent politicised, I heard talk about the Hibs and the Sinn Feiners, but that was the old generation. My father never uttered a word in his life of political opinion. He was impervious to it. (p.7.) Further, I had a very strong resentment of the B Specials. And at specific moments in my late teens,coming home from ceilidhs, there was definitely harrassment. (p.7; all the foregoing quoted in Anne-Jule Devine, UG Diss., UUC 2006.)
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Frontiers of Writing [final Oxford Poetry lecture, printed in Bullán: An Irish Studies Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring 1994), pp.1-15: I have been intent upon treating poetry as a thing in itself, an answer given in terms of metre and syntax, of tone and musical trueness; an answer given also by the unpredictability of its inventions and the implacability of its appetite for technical elaboration beyond the scale of an agreed perfection.  … I also praised Elizabeth Bishop for way her act of writing effected a redistribution of the minds burdens, the way a pun on the verb to write, in the senses of correcting an error and inscribing a sign, manifested the point of her art to perfection.  … [On MacNeices bi-focal vision:] His ancestry in Mayo gave him a native dream place south of the border as well as a birthplace north of it, while his dwelling in England gave him a critical perspective on the peculiar Britishness of those roots in the north. . Note that Heaneys portrait of MacNeice includes an approving quotation from Roy Foster on the notion that people can reconcile more than one cultural identity. (See Irish Literary Supplement, Fall 1994, p.14.).
Frontiers of Writing (in The Redress of Poetry, 1995), pp.186-202: […] But if Hewitt was the projector of a Northern Ireland that failed to develop, Louis MacNeice is the sponsor of one struggling to be born, one in which allowances for the priority of some of its citizens Irishness would not prejudice the rights of others Britishness. I talked two years ago about MacNeices bifocal vision and about how it is, as they say, part of the solution. [...] And what it all means can be represented, I suggested, by the figure of the quincunx, and my suggestion was no more than another attempt to bring the frontiers of the country into alignment with the frontiers of writing, an attempt to sketch the shape of an integrated literary tradition. / I sketched that tradition in terms of five towers, with first, at the centre, the tower of prior Irelandness, the round tower of original insular dwelling, located perhaps in what MacNeice called the pre-natal mountain. With this at the centre, I then placed at the southern point of a diamond shape Kilcolman Castle, Edmund Spensers tower, as it were, the tower of English conquest and the Anglicisation of Ireland, linguistically, culturally, institutionally. Then, on the left of the diamonds shoulder, in the west of the country, at Ballylee, there is the Norman tower occupied by W. B. Yeats as a deliberate symbol of his poetic effort, which was to restore the spiritual values and magical world-view that Spensers armies and language had destroyed. The fourth tower, on the eastern edge, is Joyces Martello tower, on Dublin Bay, the setting of the opening chapter of Ulysses and symbol of Joyces attempt to hellenise the island, his attempt to marginalise the imperium which had marginalised him by replacing the Anglocentric Protestant tradition with a newly forged apparatus of Homeric correspondences, Dantesque scholasticism and a more or less Mediterranean, European, classically endorsed world-view. So: we can say that Spensers tower faces in to the round tower of the mythic first Irish place and sees popery, barbarism and the Dark Ages; Yeatss tower faces it and sees a possible unity of being, an Irish nation retrieved and enabled by a repossession of its Gaelic  heritage; Joyces tower faces it and sees an archetypal symbol, the omphalos, the navel of a reinvented order, or maybe the ivory tower from which the chaste maid of Irish Catholic provincialism must be liberated into the secular freedoms of Europe. / Enter then, from the north, Carrickfergus Castle - MacNeices keep, shall we say. And this tower, where William of Orange once landed on his way to secure the Protestant Settlement and where the British Army was garrisoned for generations, this tower, once it is sponsored by MacNeices vision, no longer only looks with averted eyes back towards the Glorious Revolution and the Mother of Parliaments, but is capable of looking also towards that visionary Ireland whose name, to quote MacNeice, keeps ringing like a bell. / In an underwater belfry. (pp.199-200.)
Frontiers of Writing (1995) - cont.: […] By writing his castle into the poetic annals, he has completed the figure. He can be regarded as an Irish Protestant writer with Anglocentric attitudes who managed to be faithful to his Ulster inheritance, his Irish affections and his English predelictions. As such, he offers a way in and a way out not only for the northern Unionist imagination in relation to some sort of integral Ireland but also for the southern Irish imagination in relation to the partitioned north. It may be that there is not yet a political stucture to reflect this poetic diagram, but the admission of MacNeice in this way within the symbolic order of Ireland also admits a hope for the evolution of a political order, one tolerant of difference and capable of metamorphoses within all the multivalent possibilities of Irishness, Britishness, Europeanness, planetariness, creatureliness, whatever. (p.200.) Further: There is nothing extraordinary about the challenge to be in two minds. If, for example, there was something exacerbating, there was still nothing deleterious to my sense of Irishness in the fact that I grew up in the minority in Northern Ireland and was educated within the dominant British culture. One doesnt have to inoculate oneself. That culture is one of the places where we live. Its in the language. And its where the mind of many in the republic lives also. So I would suggest that the majority in Northern Ireland should make a corresponding effort at two-mindedness. Obviously, it will be extremely difficult for them to surmount their revulsion against the violence perpetrated in the name of Ireland, but everything and everybody would be helped were they to make their imagination press back against the pressure of reality and re-enter the whole country of Ireland imaginatively, but not necessarily constitutionally, by the northern point of the quincunx. (The Frontiers of Writing, Bullán, Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring 1994, pp.1-15, p.14; rep. in Redress of Poetry, 1995, p.202.) [See note on quincunx, infra; and note echo of the phrase press back from W. J. McCormack, Joseph Le Fanu Sheridan, 1991 Edn. p.61.)
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John Clares Prog (Redress of Poetry, 1995), first published in Hugh Haughton, Adam Phillips, and Geoffrey Summerfield, John Clare in Context, Cambridge UP 1994): After an initial brush with the censor, Clare refused to co-operate. The story of his career, in other words, can be expressed as follows. Once upon a time John Clare was lured to the edge of his word-horizon and his tonal horizon, looked about him eagerly, tried out a few new words and accents and then, wilfully and intelligently, withdrew and dug in his local heels. (p.64); Like all readers I am indebted to John Barrells diagnosis of Clares strengths and complications, in so far as it reveals him as a poet who posssessed a secure local idiom but operated within the range of an official literary tradition. (p.65); the eye of the writing is concentrated utterly upon what is before it, but also allows what is before it deep access to what is behind it. The eye, at any rate, does not lift to see what effect it is having upon the reader; and this typical combination of deep-dreaming in-placeness and wide-lens attentiveness in the writing is mirrored by the cess-pools as they glitter in the sun. [the water oer the pebbles scarcely run / And broad old cesspools glittered in the sun]. / And yet, innocent as the poets eye may seem, it is worth stressing the point that his poem is as surely made of words as any by Mallarmé. It has a special realism and reliability because it is a naturalists observation, but neither the simplicity of its utterance nor the solidity of its content line by line should prevent its being regarded as a poetic achievement of rare finesse and integrity. (p.67.) [T]he poems of Clares that still make a catch in the breath and establish a positively bodily hold upon the reader are those in which the wheel of total recognition has been turned. (p.70.) [On the great white butter flye:] Rarely has the butteriness of a butterfly been so available (p.71.) Heaney here invokes Nadezhda Mandelstams nugget of harmony to say that To locate this phonetic jewel, to hit upon and hold ones true note, is a most exacting and intuitive discipline … (p.73.) Refers to Tom Paulins essay of brilliant advocacy on John Clare in Minotaur (1992), and quotes from the introduction to Faber Book of Vernacular Verse (1990): The restored texts of the poems embody an alternative social idea. With their lack of punctuation, freedom from standard spelling, and charged demotic ripples, they become a form of Nation Language that rejects the polished urbanity of Official Standard. [Cont.]]
John Clares Prog (Redress of Poetry, 1995) - cont.: Quotes Paulins remarks on Clares Ranters sense of being trapped within an unjust society and an authoritarian language, and his conclusion that Clare dramatises his experience of the class system and its codified language as exile and imprisonment  in Babylon. Heaney adds, By implication, then Clare is a sponsor and a forerunner of modern poetry in post-colonial national languages, poetry that springs from the difference and/or disaffection of cultral and perhaps political odds with others in possession of that normative Official Standard. Paulins contention is that wherever the accents of exacerbation and orality enter a text, be it in Belfast or Brooklyn or Brixton, we are within earshot of Clares influence and example. What was once regarded as Clares out-of-stepness with the main trends has become his central relevance: as ever the need for a new kind of poetry in the present has called into being precursors out of the past. (p.81.) He never heard Mandelstams famous phrase about Acmeism being a nostalgia for world culture, but oddly enough, it makes sense to think of Clare in relation to the arrival of poetry in that longed-for place or state - an arrival which John Bayley has recently observed in the work of many gifted contemporaries. The dream of a world culture, after all, is a dream of a workd where no language will be relegated, a world where the ancient rural province of Boeotia (which Les Murray has made an image for all the outback and dialect cultures of history) will be on an equal footing with the city state of Athens; where not just Homer but Hesiod will have his due honour. Further, To read him for exotic flavours of an archaic diction and the picturesque vistas of a bucolic past is to miss the trust he instills in the possibility of a self-respecting future for all languages, an immense, creative volubility where human existence comes to life and has life more abundantly because it is now being expressed in its own self-gratifying and unhindered words. [p.82; end].
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The Redress of Poetry [Lecture of 24 Oct. 1989], in The Redress of Poetry [title-essay] (London: Faber & Faber 1995), pp.1-16: [
] In any movement towards liberation, it will be necessary to deny the normative authority of the dominant language or literary tradition. At a special moment in the Irish Literary Revival, this was precisely the course adopted by Thomas MacDonagh, Professor of English at the Royal University in Dublin, whose book on Literature in Ireland was published in 1916, the very year he was executed as one of the leaders of the Easter Rising. With more seismic consequences, it was also the course adopted by james joyce. But MacDonagh knew the intricacies and delicacies of the English lyric inheritance which he was calling into question, to the extent of having written a book on the metrics of Thomas Campion. And Joyce, for all his hauteur about the British Empire and the English novel, was helpless to resist the appeal of, for example, the songs and airs of the Elizabethans. Neither MacDonagh nor Joyce considered it necessary to proscribe within his readers memory the riches of the Anglophone culture whose authority each was, in his own way, compelled to challenge. Neither denied his susceptibility to the totally persuasive word in order to prove the purity of his resistance to an imperial hegemony. Which is why both these figures are instructive when we come to consider the scope and function of poetry in the world. They remind us that its integrity is not to be impugned just because at any given moment it happens to be a refraction of some discredited cultural or political system. (p.7.) [Cont.]
Redress of Poetry (1989)- cont.: [
] I want to profess the surprise of poetry as well as it reliability; I want to celebrate its given, unforeseeable thereness; the way it enters our field of vision and animates our physical and intelligent being in much the same was as those bird-shapes stencilled on the transparent surfaces of glass walls or windows must suddenly enter the vision and change the direction of the real birds flight. In a flash the shapes register and transmit their unmistakable presence, to the birds veer off instinctively. An image of the living creatures has induced a totally salubrious swerve in the creature themselves. (p.15.) On Dylan Thomas:] [His] anti-intellectualism, for example, is a bad boys habit wastefully prolonged and this doctrinaire immaturity, which was at once tedious and entertaining in life, was finally retrograde in art [..] as long as he kept too rigidly to those bodily, earthy impartatives, it was not possible for Thomas to admit into his poetry the presence of that which Rilke called the angles. The jurisdiction of the bone-bound island, to which he had pledged his loyalty, forbade the necessary widening of scope. (p.140-41.) I grew up in the minority in Northern Ireland and - was educated with the dominant British culture. My identity was emphasised rather than eroded by being maintained in such circumstances; The British dimension, in other words, while it is something that will be resisted by the minority if it is felt to be coercive, has nevertheless been a given of our history and even of our geography, one of the places where we live, willy-nilly. Its in the language. And its where the mind of many in the Republic live also. (ibid. p.202) [All the above cited in Sean Lysaght, review, Irish Literary Supplement, Spring 1996, p.32.)
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Joy or Night: Last Things in the Poetry of W. B. Yeats and Philip Larkin [Oxford lecture given 30 April 1990], in The Redress of Poetry: Oxford Lectures (London: Faber & Faber 1995; NY: Farrar, Straus & Giraud 1995): When a form generates itself, when a metre provokes consciousness into new postures, it is already on the side of life. When a rhyme surprises and extends the fixed relations between words, that in itself protests against necessity. When language does more than enough, as it does in all achieved poetry, it opts for the condition of overlife [sic], and rebels at limit. [p.158]; quoted in Colm Tóibín, review of Human Chain, by Seamus Heaney, in The Guardian (21 Aug. 2010; see full-text version in RICORSO > Reviews - via index or as attached; also available online.)
See Daniel Hartley, Seamus Heaney on Life and Death in Larkin and Yeats - at Thinking Blue Guitars [Wordpress blog]: "[This] essay lays emphasis on form as a constitutive aspect of a poems meaning. Indeed, Heaney endows form with a nigh-metaphysical import: [W]hen a poem rhymes, when a form generates itself, when a metre provokes consciousness into new postures, it is already on the side of life. When a rhyme surprises and extends the fixed relations between words, that in itself protests against necessity. (p.158.) Thus the poetry of Larkin and Yeats comes to be seen as a battle-ground between life and death: the dialectic of life as cornucopia and life as empty shell plays itself out in both overt moral pronouncements and the forms in which those pronouncements are embodied. In Yeats, Heaney claims, no matter how close he drives to the aboriginal ice - the cold heart of all things - there is in this very drive itself a superabundant Yes! to life, which overcomes the terrestrial No! of human suffering and nihilism. Because of this, Yeatss aboriginal ice is of a very different glacial genre from Larkins sun-comprehending glass: It represented not so much a frigid exhaustion as an ultimate attainment. (p.157.) Larkin, however, reneges on the fundamental task of poetry, as Heaney sees it: [Larkins Aubade] does not hold the lyre up in the face of the gods of the underworld; it does not make the Orphic effort to haul life back up the slope against all odds (p. 158). No matter how much the form of Larkins poem cried out for life, its argument could not overcome its entrapment in the vision of life as empty shell, in which Death is no different whined at than withstood. Heaney, with Yeats as corroboration, suggests it is very different - very different indeed. (Accessed online; 03.04.2014.)
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Crediting Poetry (Stockholm Nobel Prize Address, 1995): [
] In the nineteen-forties, when I was the eldest child of an ever-growing family in rural Co. Derry, we crowded together in the three rooms of a traditional thatched farmstead and lived a kind of den-life which was more or less emotionally and intellectually proofed against the outside world. It was an intimate, physical, creaturely existence in which the night sounds of the horse in the stable beyond bedroom wall mingled with the sounds of adult conversation from the kitchen beyond the other [...] I would climb up on an arm of our big sofa to get my ear closer to the wireless speaker. But it was still not the news that interested me; what I was after was the thrill of story, [...] I had to get close to the actual radio set in order to concentrate my hearing, and in that intent proximity to the dial I grew familiar with the names of foreign stations, with Leipzig and Oslo and Stuttgart and Warsaw and, of course, Stockholm. [Cont.]
Crediting Poetry (Stockholm Nobel Prize Address, 1995) - cont.: I also got used to hearing short bursts of foreign languages as the dial hand swept round from the BBC to Radio Éireann, from the intonations of London to those of Dublin, and even though I did not understand what was being said in those first encounters with the gutturals and sibilants of European speech, I had already begun a journey into the wideness of the world. This is turn became a journey into the wideness of language, a journey where each point of arrival - whether in ones poetry or in ones life - turned out to be a stepping stone rather than a destination, and it is that journey which has brought me now to this honoured spot. And yet the platform here feels more like a space station than a stepping stone, so that is why, for once in my life, I am permitting myself the luxury of walking on air. / [Sect. ending.] I credit poetry with making this space-walk possible. I credit it immediately because of a line I wrote fairly recently encouraging myself (and whoever else might be listening to walk on air against your better judgement. But I credit it ultimately because poetry can make an order as true to the impact of the external reality and as sensitive to the inner laws of the poets being as the ripples that rippled in and rippled out across the water in that scullery bucket fifty years ago. An order where we can at last grow up to that up to that which we stored as we grew. An order which satisfies all that is appetitive in the intelligence and prehensile in the affections. I credit poetry, in other words, both for being itself and being a help, for making possible a fluid and restorative relationship between the minds centre and its circumference, between the child gazing at the word Stockholm on the face of the radio dial and the man facing the faces that he meets in Stockholm at this most privileged moment.
|Note remarks on Northern Ireland:
The external reality and inner dynamic of happenings in Northern Ireland between 1968 and 1974 were symptomatic of change, violent change admittedly, but change nevertheless, and for the minority living there, change had been long overdue. It should have come early, as the result of the ferment of protest on the streets in the late sixties, but that was not to be and the eggs of danger which were always incubating got hatched out very quickly. While the Christian moralist in oneself was impelled to deplore the atrocious nature of the IRAs campaign of bombings and killings, and the mere Irish in oneself was appalled by the ruthlessness of the British Army on occasions like Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972, the minority citizen in oneself, the one who had grown up conscious that his group was distrusted and discriminated against in all kinds of official and unofficial ways, this citizens perception was at one with the poetic truth of the situation in recognizing that if life in Northern Ireland were ever really to flourish, change had to take place. But that citizens perception was also at one with the truth in recognizing that the very brutality of the means by which the IRA were pursuing change was destructive of the trust upon which new possibilities would have to be based.
Then one of the masked executioners said to them, Any Catholics among you, step out here. As it happened, this particular group, with one exception, were all Protestants, so the presumption must have been that the masked men were Protestant paramilitaries about to carry out a tit-for-tat sectarian killing of the Catholic as the odd man out, the one who would have been presumed to be in sympathy with the IRA and all its actions. It was a terrible moment for him, caught between dread and witness, but he did make a motion to step forward. Then, the story goes, in that split second of decision, and in the relative cover of the winter evening darkness, he felt the hand of the Protestant worker next to him take his hand and squeeze it in a signal that said no, dont move, well not betray you, nobody need know what faith or party you belong to. All in vain, however, for the man stepped out of the line; but instead of finding a gun at his temple, he was thrown backward and away as the gunmen opened fire on those remaining in the line, for these were not Protestant terrorists, but members, presumably, of the Provisional IRA.
Nobel Lecture, 1995; quoted in Seamus Heaney by Petri Liukkonen [Kirjasto - online]; also in Time Magazine and other venues prior to formal publication as Crediting Poetry [The Nobel Lecture], Oldcastle: Gallery 1996; rep. in Opened Ground, Poems 1966-96, 1998, pp.445-67.) [See longer extracts - attached.]
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Between North and South: Poetic Contours [interview], in Richard Kearney, States of Mind: Dialogues with Contemporary Thinkers on the European Mind (Manchester UP 1995): Poets made the 1916 Revolution. You had a sense of them being at the centre of power in a way that [Vaclav] Havel and all these people are. But I think that when a society settles back (and, paradoxically, in spite of the Northern [Irish] situation, you could say that theres an element of settlement about Irish society) then the role of the artist is oppositional. But its oppositional in terms of modes of thinking, modes of apprehending. He or she can be the magical thinker, he or she can stand for values that arent utilitarian. The artist can refuse History as a category, can say No. I prefer to dream possibilities. It is a refusal of the terms. Take a poet in Ireland like Paul Durcan, who seems to be connected up with the times: of course he is, but hes refusing the terms. In Durcans case, what is dream refusal can be taken for social comment. Of course it includes social comment, but its modus agendi, its way of going on is to say I dont believe any of this. If you take a completely different kind of voice like Paul Celan, you get a hermetic poetry, a secluded poetry, a poetry that huddles itself into the smallest space of language and says poetically within that language I refuse whats going on. I hate it. So artistic action is not necessarily dialogue, the much-prized dialogue with other ideas. Its a statement of Look. There is another way. We dont have to take this way of doing it. (p.107; quoted in Mark Ward, Doct. Presentation, UUC 2004.)
Viewing the Century (Lecture on Poetry, BBC3; printed as The Peace of the Word in The Sunday Times [same day] (17 Jan. 1999). Begins, What good is poetry, making reference to Sir Philip Sidney, Shelley, and then Auden in his elegy for Yeats; quotes Joseph Brodsky: Human beings are put on earth to create civilisation, and concludes: And if we accept that definition of our human raison dêtre, then we will admit that in a century when inhumanity was never far to seek, the poets have been true to that purpose, and have indeed proved central to it.
Poetrys Power against Intolerance, in New York Times, Weekend [Op-Ed.] (26 August 2001): Heaney writes of the role of art at the U.N. racism conference; begins by quoting Czeslaw Miloszs Incantation [Human reason is beautiful and invincible], and remarks, It is thrilling to hear the ideal possibilities of human life stated so unambiguously and so unrepentantly. For a moment the dirty slate of history seems to have been wiped clean. The lines return us to the bliss of beginnings. They tempt us to credit all over again liberations. promised by the Enlightenment and harmonies envisaged by the scholastics, to believe that the deep well of religious and humanist value may still be unpolluted. Further, What is poetry, he [Milosz] ask, which does not save nations and peoples? It is a question that concerns the redress of poetry, by which I mean the need poets feel to align themselves with those who have been wronged, to repair and compensate for injustices suffered, to stay mindful of the miseries of the world. It is the serious artists question to himself and the question he will usually hear when he comes in contact with the activist. And it is a question he will answer by posing another one: What is poetry that does not address itself to the individual consciousness, that does not convey an experience of verification at the personal level? Further: The fight against racism certainly must be waged by governments [….] Nevertheless, the fight is also helped by every statement that strengthens an individuals moral sense and gratifies his or her sense of right, every utterance that reawakens the feeling of personal dignity or promotes a trust in human solidarity. /Much of the literature of the past century is a de profundis on behalf of the desperate or deprived in gulag or ghetto or township or camp, but in spite of its desolate content that literature has been a positive influence [
]. Concludes with remarks about Mandelas participation in the conference: there is genuine healing power rather than mere rhetorical uplift in Mr. Mandelas espousal of the aims of the Durban conference. Ends by quoting further from Miloszs poem: Beautiful and very young are Philo-Sophia/And poetry [
]/Their friendship will be glorious,/Their time has no limit/Their enemies have delivered themselves to destruction. (p.13.)
One Voice, Two Places, interview-article [with Fintan OToole], in The Irish Times (30 Oct. 1999): On the one hand you can do the reading that says you were force-fed colonial matter and you became a good little subject of the English language by acknowledging Shakespeare and that he was part of the cultural clinching of the power situation. / Thats one truth, all right. But there is the second trutth, which is that theres some form of transformation or radiance. Admittedly, hes a cultural icon and part of the hegemony and so on. But theres also the extraness that comes just from going into a school play and seeing yourself and your companions all for the moment carried away. There was an element of enlightenment, brighting light into your life. So, is Shakespeare an imposition and a stealthy political infiltration, or is he a radiant transformer? Surely both. Further: I think that imaginatively the Northern Ireland situation was comprehended a long time ago. People are living with two realities and even now the politiciaqns in the actual day-to-day life are living with two realities fairly adequately. / One is that we know this think is never going to be settled as it is meant to be in the documents because of the dream-realisations that each side has of the nature of the other. But there is also an administrative knowledge or moral knowledge that turned itself into the Belfast Agreement and that is good enough to be going on with. In peoples hardline, intimate grouptalk among themselves, republicans will not yield and unionists will not yield. But in that administering language, something has changed. [
] Personally, I have felt freed in tthat way for a good while. I would say that I was in thrall to some kind of correctness until the mid-1980s. The danger for writers getting odler is that they can do certain things. And you look at the work and sya, I can do this, but is it just doing it again or is there something new being done here? And its injecting excitement, or irresponsibility, or new material that matters. / Every now and again you get a subject that opens into a whole set of subjects. But for me it has always been a matter of waiting for an occasion for poetry, an occasion of lines tha topens you up and wakens you up. And I think all poets survive perilously by what occurs. It cannot be summoned. You just wait for verificiation within your own sense of whats true.
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Prefaces & Introductions
The Crane Bag Book of Irish Studies 1977-1981 (Dublin: Blackwater Press 1982), Preface: [
] the Crane Bag was something conjured by the mythic understanding, a poet[ic] lure to call us beyond our positions towards that dis-position adumbrated in the first editorial [
] discussion of the contemporary literature of Ireland [
] conducted [not] in the usual spirit of the reviewers column [
] but rather in a mood of diagnostic reverie [&c.].
The Rattle Bag, ed. Heaney & Ted Hughes (Faber & Faber; NY: OUP 1982) , Introduction: This anthology has amassed itself like a cairn. Most of the poems lay about for the taking in places already known to people, younger or older, who read verse; only a few came from the by-ways. [
]. We hope that our decision to impose an arbitrary alphabetical order allows the contents to discover themselves as we ourselves gradually discovered them - each poem full of singular appeal, transmitting its own signals, taking its chances in a big, voluble world. (p.19.)
Finders Keepers: Selected Prose 1971-2001 (Faber & Faber 2002) - Preface [extract]: [...] Revisions have been made in almost all of the previously uncollected work; in pieces reprinted from earlier collections, abridgements and a few revisions have also been made. / In the playground the phrase finders keepers probably still expresses glee and stakes a claim, so in that sense it can apply as well to the experiece of a reader of poetry; the first encounter with work that excites and conncts will induce in the reaeder a similar urge to celebrate and take possession of it. My title is therefore an acknowledgement that many of these essays have their origin in such moments. Mostly they are appreciations, reports on the good of poetry itself, attempts to keep it and to say why it is worth keeping. They are also, of course, testimonies to the fact that poets themselves are finders and keepers, that their [ix] vocation is to look after art and life by being discoverers and custodians of the unlooked for.
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On individual works
Tollund Man (North, 1975): 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 [
]; [I do] not mean liberal lamentation that citizens should feel compelled to murder one another or deploy their different military arms over the matter of nomenclatures such as British or Irish. I do not mean public celebrations or execrations of resistance or atrocity - although there is nothing necessarily unpoetic about such celebration, if one thinks of Yeatss Easter 1916. I mean that I felt it imperative to discover a field of force in which, without abandoning fidelity to the processes and experience of poetry [
] it would be possible to encompass the perspectives of a humane reason and at the same time to grant the religious intensity of the violence its deplorable authenticity and complexity. And when I say religious, I am not thinking simply of the sectarian division. To some extent the enmity can be viewed as a struggle between the cults and devotees of a god and goddess. There is an indigenous territorial numen, a tutelar of the whole island, call her Mother Ireland, Kathleen Ni Houlihan, the poor old woman, the Shan Van Vocht, whatever; and her sovereignty has been temporarily usurped or infringed by a new male cult whose founding fathers were Cromwell, William of Orange and Edward Carson, and whose godhead is incarnate in a rex or caesar resident in a palace in London. What we have is the tail-end of a struggle in a province between territorial piety and imperial power. (Preoccupations, pp.57-58; Longley, op. cit., p.74; also in part in Longley, From Cathleen to Anorexia, The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, Bloodaxe 1994, pp.173-95, p.189.)
Note also: The two halves of the book [North] constitute two different types of utterance, each of which arose out of the necessity to shape and give palpable linguistic form to two types of urgency, one symbolic, one explicit. (Unhappy and at home: Interview with Seamus Deane, No. 1, 1, Crane Bag, 1977, pp.61-67.)
Beowulf: A New Verse Translation by Seamus Heaney (London: Faber & Faber 1999), Introduction, 2: about this translation- remarks include the follow: [
] Sprung from an Irish nationalist background and educated at a Northern Irish Catholic school, I had learned the Irish language and lived within a cultural and ideological frame that [xxiii] regarded it as the language that I should by rights have been speaking but I had been robbed of. [
] I tended to conceive of English and Irish as adversarial tongues, as either/or conditions rather than both/and, and this was an attitude that for a long time hampered the development of a more confident and creative way of dealing with the whole vexed question - the question, that is, of the relationship between nationality, language, history and literary tradition in Ireland. / Luckily, I glimpsed the possibility of release from this kind of cultural determination early on, in my first arts year at Queens University, Belfast, when we were lectured on the history of the English Language by Professor John Braidwood. Braidwood could not help informing us, for example, that the world whiskey is the same words as the Irish and Scots Gaelic word uisce, meaning water, and that the River Usk in Britain is therefore to some extent the River Uisce (or Whiskey); and so in my mind the stream was suddenly turned into a kind of linguistic river of rivers issuing from a pristine Celto-British Land of Cockaigne, a riverrun of Finnegans Wakespeak pouring out of the cleft rock of some prepolitical, prelapsarian, urphilological Big Rock Candy Mountain - all of this had a wonderful sweetening effect on me. The Irish/English duality, the Celtic/Saxon antithesis were momentarily collapsed and in the resulting etymological eddy a gleam of [xxiv] recognition flashed through the synapses and I glimpsed an elsewhere of potential that seemed at the same time to be a somewhere being remembered. The place on the language map where the Usk and the uisce and the whiskey coincided was definitely a place where the spirit might find a loophole, an escape route from what John Montague has called the partitioned intellect, away into some unpartitioned linguistic country, a region where ones language would not be simply a badge of ethnicity or a matter of cultural preference or an official imposition, but an entry into further language. And I eventually came upon one of these loopholes in Beowulf itself. (pp.xxiii-xxv.) [Cont.]
Beowulf (1999), Introduction 2 - cont.: It is one thing to find lexical meanings for the words and to have some feel for how the metre might go, but it is quite another thing to find the tuning fork that will give you the note and pitch for the overall music of the work. Without some melody sensed or promised, it is simply impossible for a poet to establish the translator's right of way into and through a text. I was therefore lucky to hear this enabling note almost straight away, a familiar local voice, one that had belonged to relatives of my father, people whom I had once described (punning on their surname) as big-voiced scullions. / I called them big-voiced because when the men of the family spoke, the words they uttered came across with a weighty distinctness, phonetic units as separate and defined as delph platters displayed on a dresser shelf. A simple sentence such as We cut the corn today took on immense dignity when one of the Scullions spoke it. They had a kind of Native American solemnity of utterance, as if they were announcing verdicts rather than making small talk. And when I came to ask myself how I wanted Beowulf to sound in my version, I realized I wanted it to be speakable by one of those relatives. I therefore tried to frame the famous opening lines in cadences that would have suited their voices, but that still echoed with the sound and sense of the Anglo-Saxon [Quotes: Hwæt we Gar-Dena …. fremedon - as infra.] [
] I came to the task of translating Beowulf with a prejudice in favour of forthright delivery. I remembered the voice of the poem as being attractively direct, even though the diction was ornate and the narrative method at times oblique. What I had always loved was a kind of foursquareness about the utterance, a feeling of living inside a constantly indicative mood, in the presence of an understanding that assumes you share an awareness of the perilous nature of life and are yet capable of seeing it steadily and, when necessary, sternly. There is an undeluded quality about the Beowulf poet's sense of the world that gives his lines immense emotional credibility and allows [xxvii] him to make general observations about life that are far too grounded in experience and reticence to be called moralizing. These so-called gnomic parts of the poem have the cadence and force of earned wisdom, and their combination of cogency and verity was again something that I could remember form the speech I heard as a youngster in the Scullion kitchen. (p.xxvii-xviii.)
So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and
We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns.
[ Source: Norton 1st Edn. (NY 2000), available in Google - as .pdf; accessed 17.08.2016. ]
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The Cure of Troy (1990), of Philoctetes: in the Greek play, himself alone with his predicatment [as being wounded], just as he is also an aspect of every intransigence, Republican as well as Unoinist, a manifestation of the swank of victim … the wounded one whose identity has become dependent upon the wound, the betrayed one whose energy and prideare morbid symptoms. Heaney ends these notes with a quotation from his version: Believe in miracles [
&c.]. [Quoted in J. D. McClatchy, Minds Beyond Themselves, review article on Cure of Troy, Jean Cocteau Repertory Theatre, dir. Liz Diamond; copied from NY Review of Books cutting supplied by Christina Hunt Mahony; n.d.]
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Sweeney Astray (1983): Sweeney Astray: [The book] would make a unionist audience aware that Ulster was Irish, without coercing them [i.e., Northern Unionists] out of their cherished conviction that it was British. Also, because it reached back into a pre-colonial Ulster of monastic Christianity and Celtic kingship, I hoped the book might complicate that sense of entitlement to the land of Ulster which had developed so overbearingly in the Protestant majority, as a result of various victories and acts of settlement over the centuries [
]. I simply wanted to offer an indigenous text that would not threaten a Unionist (after all, this was just a translation of an old tale, situated for much of the time in what is now Co. Antrim and Co. Down) and that would fortify a Nationalist (after all, this old tale tells us we belonged here always and that we will remain unextirpated.) (Earning a Rhyme [lect. at Boston College], in Poetry Ireland Review, 25, Spring 1989, p.96-97; rep. as Do., in Rosanna Warren, ed., The Art of Translation: Voices from the Field, Northwestern UP 1989, pp.13-20; quoted in Eugene OBrien, The Ethics of Translation: Seamus Heaneys The Cure of Troy and Beowulf, in Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, 27, 2 & 28, 1, 2003, p.30.)
[Note: OBrien paraphrases Heaney: As the conflict in Northern Ireland intensified, poets began to find themselves tugged by undercurrents of historical memory and pleas for identification with the political aims of their groups, and as a result, Heaney notes, historical parallels and literary precedents began to assume importance as they offered distances and analogies which could ease the strain of the present. Such free spaces would allow writers to express honestly the exacerbations of the local quarrel without turning this expression into just another manifestation of the aggressions and resentments which had been responsible for the quarrel in the first place. (Heaney [op. cit.], 1989, p.96; OBrien, idem.) OBrien goes on to quote Heaney's stated reason for admiring Dante as being able to accommodate the political and the transcendent prompting him to contemplate a properly literary activity which might contain a potential public meaning. (Idem.)
Sweeney Astray (1983): There is a sort of schizophrenia in him. On the one had he is always whinging for home, but on the other he is celebrating his free creative imagination. (Quoted in Richard Kearney, The Irish Mind, 1985, p.12.)
Sweeney Astray (1893): I no longer wanted a door into the dark - I want a door into the light
I really wanted to come back to be able to use the first person singular to mean me and my lifetime. ( quoted in Tony Curtis, ed., The Art of Seamus Heaney, Bridgend: Seren Books 1982; [rev. edn.] 1994, p.9.)
Sweeney Astray (1983) - see pref. remarks to reprinting of a poem [Woman, picking the watercress ...], in Ireland and the Arts, ed. T. P. Coogan [Special Issue of Literary Review] (London: Namara Press 1984), pp.152-56 [the whole signed Seamus Heaney].
The following extracts are from a version of the medieval Irish tale Buile Shuibhne, a work already available in the old-fashioned English crib provided by J. G. OKeeffe in his edition of the work for the Early Irish Texts Society V in 1913. It is also available, in hilarious and abbreviated form, as pan of the comic apparatus of Flann OBriens novel At Swim-Two-Birds.
Sweeney is an Ulster King who offends a saint, is cursed by him and turned into a bird. The transformation occurs at the moment when violence breaks out at the Battle of Moira and from then until his death Sweeney is doomed to roam Ireland, a displaced person, full of distrust and resourceful lament, a chastened Lear undergoing purgatorial exile among the branches.
Sweeney is anti-heroic, traumatized, in love with the actual, surviving by keeping close to the minimal nurtures and consolations of the earth. He has also awakened from the nightmare of power politics and is attempting to remake his soul. He is a figure of what the Irish poetic imagination has been through and while my original attraction to his story sprang from a relish of the natural magic in many passages of melancholy sweetness I also recognized in Sweeney himself an objective correlative of the poet. I first began to work on the material in Wicklow in 1972 when my identification with the Ulsterman sheltering in woodlands was at its most immediate. Since  then I have tried to make this work more objective, more in tune with the clean shape of the original. (pp.152-53.) [Sections of the poem follow.]
Squarings (in Seeing Things, 1991): I didn't set out to avoid allegory and myth. Those modes are forever available, and Id hate to cut myself off from them. Its more that the Squarings were a given note. An out-of-the-blueness. The first one came through unexpectedly, but feeling as if it had been preformed. This was after I'd finished an assignment Id been worrying about, a selection of Yeatss poems with a long introduction for The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing. Id been working for weeks in the National Library in Dublin and on the day I finished, in the library, the first words of the first poem in Lightenings came to me, as if they had been embossed on my tongue: Shifting brilliances. Then winter light / In a doorway, and on the stone doorstep / A beggar shivering in silhouette. // So the particular judgment might be set ... I felt exhilarated. The lines were unlike what Id been writing. So I just went with it. The excitement for me was in a pitch of voice, a feeling of being able to make swoops and connections, being able to get into little coffers of pastness, things I had remembered but never thought of writing about. (Interviewed by Henri Cole, The Paris Review, 75, Fall 1997 - available online.)
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|On The Mud Vision, in The Irish Times [Sat. (28 Sept. 2013)
The Mud Vision is a poem embedded in memories of life in an older Ireland, but it also gestures towards an Ireland that is still coming into being. It has its origins in certain incidents in my personal past and has its meaning in intimations of what seems to be happening in the national psyche, at present and for the future.
The poem is a dramatic monologue, spoken by a member of a community that has the trappings of modernity but not the spirit of it. Then all of a sudden the people are visited by an apparition in the sky, something that looks like a great wheel of spinning, airborne mud. This vision speaks to something deep in the peoples make-up and attains a kind of religious aura for them, so as long as it is in evidence they experience a unique moment of self-belief, a kind of reawakening. Then the mud vision disappears and the people are back in a secular, workaday world.
Two experiences from my teenage years get worked into the story obliquely. Fundamental to the whole conception is the memory of the countryside in mid-Ulster in the 1950s - or the Catholic part of it at any rate - being brought alive by reports that the Virgin Mary had appeared to a woman in Ardboe in Co Tyrone, on the shores of Lough Neagh. For a whole summer the byroads around the place and the back garden of the womans house were crowded with people excited by the prospect of the apparition happening again. Busloads came from as far away as Cork, young women entered convents, vendors of religious objects set up on the roadside. There was a surge of excitement, a big emotional wave and at the same time an opposite but not equal scepticism - an attitude approved by the clergy.
The second experience happened earlier. During a local dramatic societys production of a play that told the story of another apparition of the Virgin, this time to the three children at Fatima, a lighting effect occurred that was sudden, brilliant and unforgettable. Melodramatic too, representing the sun changing colour, as it was supposed to have changed at Fatima.
In the fiction of the poem, the person who speaks belongs to a community like those around Ardboe and Fatima: religious, rural, superstitious, bewildered by the strangeness of their vision but, at the deepest level, at home with it. And yet the world that surrounds them is out of sympathy with all that: the people on the ground regard the secular commentary on what they have been through as jabber.
You could say they are people in whom the battle for the modern Irish soul is being fought. To quote something I once wrote about them in another context: They have been sprung from the world of the awestruck gaze, where there was belief in miracle, the sun standing still and the sun changing colour ... They have entered the world of media-speak and post-modernity. Theyve been displaced from a culture not unlike that of de Valeras Ireland - frugal, nativist and inward looking, but still tuned to a supernatural dimension; and they find themselves in a universe that is global, desacralised, consumerist ...
But what about the mud, you might ask. The vision is a semi-religious one, its shape like that of a rose window in a cathedral, and this was the shape that the artist Richard Long created on a wall of the Guinness Hop Store during the Rosc exhibition in 1984. Long dipped his hand in mud hundreds if not thousands of times to make a flower face of mudprints, and, in the free-ranging way of the imagination, my memory of it surfaced and coalesced with those other earlier occasions of wonder.
The poem ends with an intimation that there has been a loss of faith - not necessarily religious faith, more the peoples faith in themselves. Disappointment is general. Heretofore they had belief and a unique revelation; now they are left with the trappings of modernity in a world they understand but are no longer at home with. Alienated from what has been brought upon them, they crowd in for the big explanations&, rather like the Irish population in the wake of the Celtic Tiger, listening, bewildered, to experts. Economists. Regulators. Apologisers. Apologists.
The Home Place, in The Irish Times (28 Sept. 2013) rep. in The Gathering: Reflections on Ireland (Irish Hospice Foundation 2013); quoted in Richard Pine, The Disappointed Bridge [... &c.] 2013 - as infra.
- cf. The Mud Vision [poem], in The Haw Lantern, 1987; rep. in Opened Ground, pp.321-23.
|Abbrev. version quoted in Richard Pine, The Disappointed Bridge [... &c.] (2014):
embedded in memories of life in an older Ireland [...] The people are visited by an apparition in the sky [...] they experience a unique moment of self-belief, a kind of reawakening [...] bewildered by the strangeness of their vision but, at the deepest level, at home with it [...] You could say they are the peole in whom the battle for the modern Irish soul is being fought [...] They have been sprung from the world of the awestruck gaze, where there was belief in miracle [...] Theyve been displaced from a culture not unlike that of de Valeras Ireland - frugal, nativist and inward looking, but still tuned to a supernatural dimension. (Pine, Ireland and the Post-Colonial World, Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2014, p.158.)
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On literary figures ...
Dante Alighieri: The way in which Dante could place himself in an historical world yet submit that world to scrutiny from a perspective beyond history, the way he could accommodate the political and the transcendent, this too encouraged my attempt at a sequence of poems which would explore the typical strains which the consciousness labours under in this country. The main tension is between two often contradictory commands: to be faithful to the collective historical experience and to be true to the recognitions of the emerging self. (Envies and Identifications: Dante and the Modern Poet, in Irish University Review, Vol. 15, No.1, 1985, pp.15-19; Smith, op. cit., 1992, pp.47-48.1.)
W. B. Yeats: He merged his biographical self into the representative figure of the poet/seer, and he spoke as one both empowered and responsible beyond the limits of a private self. (W. B. Yeats, in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vol. III, 1991, p.788; cited in Gerry Smythe, Decolonisation and Criticism: The Construction of Irish Literature, Pluto Press 1998, p.75.) Also, I think that Yeatss example as a man who held to a single vision is tremendously ennobling - he kept the elements of his imagery and his own western landscape, the mythological images, and he used those and Coole Park, he used those as a way of coping with contemporary reality. I think that what he learned there was that you deal with public crisis not by accepting the terms of the publics crisis, but by making your own imagery and your own terrain take the colour of it, take the impressions of it. Yeats also instructs you that you have to be enormously intelligent to handle it. (interview with John Haffenden in Ploughshares, rep. in Haffenden, ed., Viewpoints: Poets in Conversation, London: Faber & Faber 1981, pp.57-75; quoted in Tony Curtis, A More Social Voice: Field Work, in Curtis, ed., The Art of Seamus Heaney, Brigend: Poetry Society of Wales, [rev. edn.] 1994, p.125.)
T. S. Eliot, in The Power of T. S. Eliot, Boston Review (Oct. 1989): As a schoolboy in a Catholic boarding school in Derry, I was daunted by T. S. Eliot and all that he stood for. Nevertheless, when an aunt of mine offered to buy a couple of books for me, I requested his Collected Poems. [...] For a long time that book represented to me my distance from the mystery of Eliots poetry and unfittedness – as reader or writer – for the vocation it represented. Over the years I could experience in its presence the onset of a lump in the throat and a tightening of the diaphragm, symptoms which until then had only affected me in math class. Later, during my first year at Queens University, when I read in E. M. Forsters Howards End an account of the character called Leonard Bast as somebody doomed forever to be familiar with the outsides of books, my identification was not with the privileged narrative voice but with Bast himself, pathetic scrambler on the edge of literacy. / Do I exaggerate? Maybe. Maybe not. The fact that I would not then have been able to put the matter in exactly these terms does not mean that the inarticulate ache towards knowing, towards adequacy, towards fitting oneself out as a reader of modern poetry, did not exist. It did exist and ached all the more for being unrequired, because one did not need to know any literary thing in particular in the 1950s to know that Eliot was the way, the truth, and the light, and that until one had found him one had not entered the kingdom of poetry. (Cont.)
Cont. [of Ash Wednesday]: Those qualities that created resistance in the first place now seem to meet the valuable things about this work. The sense that the poem stood like a geometry in an absence was what caused my original bewilderment. I sensed myself like a gross intrusion, all corporeality and blunder in the realm of grace and translucence, and this unnerved me. Nowadays, however, what gratifies me most is this very feeling of being privy to an atmosphere so chastely invented, so boldly and unpredictably written. Things like bones and leopards–which pop into the scene without preparation or explanation and which therefore discombobulated me at first–these things I now accept not as the poets mystifying whim but as his gift and visitation. They are not what I at first mistakenly thought them: constituent parts of some erudite code available to initiates. Nor are they intended to be counters for a cannily secluded meaning. Rather, they arose airily in the poets composing mind and reproduced themselves deliciously, with a playfulness and self-surprising completedness. (See full text in RICORSO Library, Criticism > Classics, attached.)
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Ted Hughes: A Wounded Power Rises from the Depths, review of Ted Hughes, Birthday Letters (1998), here called this awesome book; Heaney writes, What the book does is remind us of something so obvious that it is astonishing it has been for so long ignored: namely, that the hounding Hughes has undergone from the outside has been a conventional enough affair compared with the hounding he must have suffered within himself; For somebody who has always been one of those who only did, as a poem in Birthday Letters says, what poetry told us to do, it was a particularly cruel fate, but one which poetry has finally and absolutely resolved. In this book, the quotidian and the sacrosanct embrace and exult and spring repeatedly and unfailingly into the unshakeable order of the totally imagined. [End]. (Irish Times, Weekend, 31 January 1998.) Note that Heaney appeared prominently in the commemorative broadcast on Hughes transmitted on Christmas Day, 1998. Further, in his address at the Ted Hughes commemoration in Westminster Abbey, Heaney called the other a guardian of the land and language. Speaking near buried writers, kings and queens from Edward the Confessor and Chaucer to Henry V and Charles Dickens, he said, Its impossible not to think of Ted Hughes with figures in the tapestry of the permanent and the distant. (John Ezard, Hughes honoured at Abbey, in Guardian Weekly, 23 May 1999.)
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Sylvia Plath: reviewing Sylvia Plaths poetry, writes that her poem Daddy is so entangled in biographical circumstance and rampages so permissively in the history of other peoples sorrows that it overdraws its right to our sympathy, especially as regards the Jewish Holocaust ( Indefatiguable Hoof-taps, in Times Literary Supplement, 5 Feb. 1989; quoted in Gráinne Hanna, UG Diss., UUC 2000.)
T. P. Flanagan: … The pictures are the afterlife of experience. They advance and retire along the brink of the actual, sometimes close enough to be tinged with the bolder presences of colour, sometimes haunting the canvas like luminous mists. Occasionally the manifestations are dramatic and yearn openly back towards their local habitation, more often it is the name that reminds us that the ghosted forms once possessed the lineaments of place. See Brian ODoherty, ed., The Irish Imagination 1959-1971 (1971) [Rosc Exhibition Catalogue], p.58. See also Heaneys Foreword to S. B. Kennedy, T. P. Flanagan (Dublin: Four Courts 1995).
Robert Burns: Heaney argues that though Burns was congenial to him as a still fairly small [i.e., young?] native of Ulster, he is a world poet because of his genius, not because of his Scottishness. Further, I have always taken it to be a promising fact that the expression och lies every bit as deep in the Irish larynx as in the English or the Scots. (Essay on Burns, quoted in Karl Miller, review of Robert Crawford, ed., Robert Burns and Cultural Authority, Edinburgh UP 1997, in Times Literary Supplement, 9 May 1997, p.3.) Miller adds that the English throat refuses to say och. Note: Miller, a former editor of the New Statesman, frequently mentions Heaney in his autobiography Dark Houses (q.d.).
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Sorley MacLean: The trance and the translation, in The Guardian (Sat., 30 Nov. 2002), [
] Dain do Eimhir (Poems to Eimhir ), MacLeans first book, was published in 1942, a sequence of short love poems written in the 1930s, addressed to a figure named Eimhir. This Eimhir was in fact a composite of two women with whom MacLean had been desperately involved at the time, so the sequence was the sort of thing that had been written in Europe since Petrarch. It was the peculiar intensities of MacLeans situation that lifted it out of the conventional. [
] What gave the book its newness for its first readers was the way the traditional Gaelic love lyric was transformed by a charge of modernity: erotic drive and political conscience galvanised a mode of expression that had grown formulaic. Well into the 20th century, the idiom of 18th-century songs still prevailed in Gaelic verse and the music of the Sunday hymns remained strongly, communally influential. When MacLean had finished his sequence, however, Scots Gaelic was a language as tuned to the plight of Spanish Republicans as it had been previously to the plight of the highlanders after the clearances. / Still the poem I remembered best from MacLeans Abbey reading (and would eventually translate) was not one of the Eimhir poems. It was written later, in the 1950s, and is haunted by the great absence that the Highland clearances represent in Scots Gaelic consciousness. Hallaig is at once historical and hallucinatory, a poem in which the deserted homesteads of a little settlement on the Island of Raasay are repopulated by a vision of a fair field full of folk. It arises out of MacLeans sense of belonging to a culture that is doomed but that he will never deny. Its as local as anything in Thomas Hardy and as lambent as Rilkes Sonnets to Orpheus. / In fact, the myth of Orpheus, the singer who enchants all nature, provides a key to understanding MacLeans whole achievement. Or perhaps it would be truer to say that the key is to be found in Platos rejection of the Orphic. [
] This poets inherited equipment was perfectly Orphic. His aural and affective capacity came to him from ancestral and communal sources. His forebears included famous pipers and singers. The family were regarded as keepers of the Gaelic tradition of music and poetry, and this inherited role linked MacLean to a history of loss as well as to a body of lore. His love of pibroch, his socialism, the high lamenting register in his voice and in his stanzas were all part of his duchas, his sense of belonging. If he shut his eyes, he immediately entered the glen of his nativity, the singer of its traditional song; but the modern world asked him to open his eyes and see his way into subjectivity and individual choice.
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On sundry matters
Etymologies: One of the etymologies I like to make up about the word conscience is from con-scio, to will together, I will, You will, We will [
] by telling his own secrets the writer tells the secrets of the community … I think if things are brought out into open without aggression, as image rather than as accusation, then things are helped along. (Interview with Irish News, 2 July 1987; cited in Patterson, op cit. supra, 1996; note however that scio is I know in Latin.)
Putting it on record [on laying the foundation stone of the Heaney Library, QUB, April 1996]: I just want to put on record how much this means to me, as an alumnus of this university, as a native of this part of the world, and as one of a whole movement of Northern Irish writers, each of whom deserves to be every bit as opulently and individually celebrated as I am lucky to be celebrated here today. (Reported in The Irish Times, ?23 April 1996).
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English lyric: [I] wanted to take the English lyric and make it eat stuff that it has never eaten before
and make it sill an English lyric. (Quoted in Neil Corcoran, One Step Forwards, Two Steps Back, in Corcoran, ed., The Chosen Ground, 1992, p.213; cited in Edna Longley, The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1994, p.21.)
Poetry as divination: Poetry as divination, poetry as revelation of the self to the self, as restoration of the culture to itself; poems as element of continuity, with the aura and authenticity of archeological finds, where the buried shard has an importance that is not diminished by the importance of the buried city; poetry as a dig, a dig for finds that end up being plants. (Preoccupations, 1980, p.41; quoted in David Lloyd, Pap for the Dispossessed, Anomalous States, 1993 [q.p.], cited in Tom Herron, Spectaculars: Seamus Heaney and the Limits of Mimicry, Irish Review, August 1999, p.183-91, p.185.
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Poetry and politics: I think that poetry and politics are, in different ways, an articulation, an ordering, a giving of form to inchoate pieties, prejudices, world-views, or whatever. And I think that my own poetry is a kind of slow, obstinate, papish burn, emanating from the ground I was brought up on. (Unhappy and at Home, Interview with Seamus Deane, The Crane Bag, 1, 1, 1977.)
Cf., The fact is that poetry is its own reality and no matter how much a poet may concede to the corrective pressures of social, moral, political and historical reality, the ultimate fidelity must be to the demands and promise of the artistic event. [
] In one sense the efficacy of poetry is nil - no lyric has ever stopped a tank. In another sense, it is unlimited. It is like writing in the sand in the face of which accusers and accused are left speechless and renewed. (The Government of the Tongue ; quoted in Tony Curtis, ed., The Art of Seamus Heaney (Bridgend: Seren Books [rev. edn.] 1994, p.10.)
I have been writing poems out of history. It is [a] hump we live off. I have my tap root in personal and racial memory. The Famine, the 98 Rebellion, things like that have surfaced in my imagination and they are a living language there. (Q. source; cited in James MacKillop & Maureen Murphy, eds., Irish Literature, Syracuse 1978, p.380.)
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The Troubles (1): … be advised / My passports green. / No glass of ours was ever raised / To toast the Queen. (An Open Letter .) See also Frontier of Writing: In that same letter, I wrote that my passport was green, although nowadays it is a Euro-, but not an imperial, purple. I wrote about the colour of the passport, however, not in order to expunge the British connection in Britains Ireland but to maintain the right to diversity within the border, to be understood as having full freedom to the enjoyment of an Irish name and identity within that northern jurisdiction. Those who want to share that name and identity in Britains Ireland should not be penalized or resented or suspected of sinister motive because they draw cultural and psychic sustenance from an elsewhere supplementary to the one across the water. [
] (The Redress of Poetry, Faber & Faber 1995, p.210.)
The Troubles (2): [Civil rights marches] represented after all the grievances of the Catholic majority, unemployment, lack of housing, discrimination in jobs and gerrymandering in electoral affairs; [Craig showed] bland indifference … Alerted a reserve force. The rest was violence (Old Derry Walls, The Listener, 28 Oct. 1968, pp.521-3.)
Note also: It [Door in to the Dark] is meant to gesture towards the distresses that we are all undergoing in the country at the minute. It is meant to be, I suppose, comfortless enough, but with a notion of survival in it. (Mother Ireland; The Listener, 7 Dec. 1972, p.790.)
The Troubles (3): I had the great sense of release as they were being written, a joy and devil-may-careness, and that convinced me that one could be faithful to the English language - for in some senses these poems are erotic mouth music by and out of the Anglo-Saxon tongue - and at the same time be faithful to ones English origin, for me that is co. Derry. (Quoted in Harold Bloom, ed., Seamus Heaney, Modern Critical Views, NY: Chelsea House 1986, p.68.)
The Troubles (4): I think that the writers of my generation saw their very emergence as writers as part of the leaven [of the political situation in the North] (Ibid., in Andrews, op.cit., 1996, p.128.) When poets turn to the great masters of the past they turn to an image of their own creation, one which is likely to be a reflection of their own imaginative needs, their own artistic inclinations and procedures; The choice of Lough Derg as a locus for the poem [Station Island ] did, in fact, represent a solidarity with orthodox ways and obedient attitudes, and that very solidarity and obedience were what had to be challenged. (Envies and Identifications: Dante and the Modern Poet, in Irish University Review, Vol. 15, No. 1, 1985; q.p.)
The Troubles (6): Anyone who has lived for thirty years in the North of Ireland has the history layered into him. (Interview with Emma Cooke, Irish Times (28 Dec. 1973) [Emma Hall, 3rd Year Dissertation, UUC 1996.]; 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 The Crane Bag, No. 1, 1, 1977, pp.61-67; 62-63.)
The Troubles (7) [on the Belfast Agreement]: There is an Easter energy about it, a sense of arrival rather than wreckage, and what is nonpareil about the new conditions is the promise they offer of a new covenant between people living in this country. For once, at long last, the language of the Bible can be appropriated by those with a vision of the future rather than those who sing the battle hymns of the past. (The Irish Times, 11 April 1998; quoted in Michael Böss, Introduction, Karl-Heinz Westarp and Böss, eds., Ireland: Towards new Identities?, Aarhus UP 1998, p.7.)
The Troubles (8): Interview with Henry McDonald at his 75th birthday, Heaney spoke of his stroke in 2006, and the experiences of earlier times - remarking of the Troubles: These were very dangerous times. When the Provisional IRA began their campaign, people like myself, with a strong sense that things needed to be redressed, were excited. He soon realised the futility of the violence. There was a sense of an utterly wasteful, cancerous stalemate, and that the violence was unproductive. It was villainous, but you were living with it. Only after it stopped did you realise what you had lived with. Day by day, week by week, we lived through this, and didn't fully take in what was going on. Heaney said the Agreement has brought about a radical transformation in relations on the island and between the British and the Irish. You can have Irish identity in the north, and also have your Irish passport. As far as I'm concerned, the language has changed, the times have changed, and we have signed up to an open relationship with Sinn Féin.’ (Observer, 19 July 2009; online - accessed 02.08.2009.)
The Troubles (8): Protestant, Catholic - the point is to fly under or out and beyond those radar systems. Ideally our work is directed towards some just, disinterested point of reception. A locus of justice, a kind of listening post and final appeal court. I regard many of the things I know and have to tell about as deriving from my Catholic minority background in Northern Ireland, but I don't regard that as a circumstance that determines my audience or my posture. (Interviewed by Henri Cole, The Paris Review, 75, Fall 1997 - available online.)
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Native ground: […T]his time it was not so much a matter of attaching oneself to a living symbol of being rooted in the native ground; it was more a matter of preparing to be unrooted, to be spirited away into some transparent, yet indigenous afterlife. The new place was all idea, if you like; it was generated out of my experience of the old place but it was not a topographical location. It was and remains an imagined realm, even if it can be located at an earthly spot, a placeless heaven rather than a heavenly place. (The Placeless Heaven: Another Look at Patrick Kavanagh, in Government of the Tongue, p.4; quoted in Smith, op. cit., p.50.) Cf., We have to shut our eyes … to see our way to heaven … somehow the dark presides in the Irish Christian consciousness. (Quoted in Michael Packer, Seamus Heaney, The Making of the Poet, Gill & Macmillan 1993.) [See further under Kavanagh, infra.]
Ulster Literary magazines: In 1962
I had done an extended essay on the history of literary magazines in Ulster, as though I were already seeking a basis for faith in the possibility of our cultural existence as Northern, Irish and essentially ourselves. (Placeless Heaven [
&c.], in Government of the Tongue, 1988, p.6-7; cited in Edna Longley, The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1994, p.21; see further under Placeless Heaven, supra.)
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Maps of Ulster: It was a large map of this younger, smaller Ulster that hung in different shades of greens and blues and fawns in the first classroom I knew , with the border emphasised by a thick red selvedge all the way from Lough Foyle to Carlingford Lough. That vestigially bloody marking halted the eye travelling south or west; but travelling east, on slender dotted lines that curled fluently from Larne to Stranraer, from Derry to Glasgow … small black steamships lured the eye across the blue wash of the Northern Channel. Another emblem there [
]. (Heaney, Forked Tongues, Ceilís and Incubators, in Fortnight, 18 Sept. 1983; cited in Patrick J. Duffy, Writing Ireland: Literature and Art in the Representation of Irish Place, in Brian Graham, ed., In Search of Ireland: A Cultural Geography of Ireland, Routledge 1997, p.77-78.)
Culture & education: Culture is self-administered. You cannot take people along and give them an injection or a short [?] of a new mental process. It is a gradual process of education and self-education. (Opening Speech; Irish Academy of Cultural Heritages, University of Ulster, Magee, Oct. 2001; quoted in Mary Holland [column], The Irish Times, 1 Nov. 2001.)
On soul: There was a sense of an almost formal completion [at his parents deaths]. But also a recognition that nothing can be learned, that to be in the presence of a death is to be in the presence of something utterly simple and utterly mysterious. In my case, the experience restored the right to use words like soul and spirit, words I had become unduly shy of, a literary shyness, I suppose, deriving from a misplaced obedience to proscriptions of the abstract, but also a shyness derived from a complicated relationship with my own Catholic past. In many ways I love it and have never quite left it, and in other ways I suspect it for having given me such ready access to a compensatory supernatural vocabulary. But experiencing my parents deaths restored some of the verity to that vocabulary. These words, I realized, arent obfuscation. They have to do with the spirit of life that is within us. (Interviewed by Henri Cole, The Paris Review, 75, Fall 1997 - available online.)