Heaney’s Poetry
Heaney’s Poetry

Heaney’s Poetry

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  • Pages: 6 (2887 words)
  • Published: October 17, 2017
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Seamus Heaney has identified the precise moment at which the process of writing poetry “moved from being simply a matter of achieving the satisfactory verbal icon to being a search for images and symbols adequate to our predicament.

“1 It was the “summer of 1969”, when the “original heraldic murderous encounter between Protestant yeoman and Catholic rebel was… initiated again”. 2 Thus the predicament to which Heaney refers in his statement is specifically the resurrection of the sectarian violence that has plagued Northern Ireland for centuries.However, the poetry of Seamus Heaney is not exclusively concerned with the political climate of his birthplace: it is merely one of a number of concerns that informs his verse.

The quest for symbols to communicate the crisis in Northern Ireland at that time forms only a part of the poet’s repertoire, and is primarily manifested in the collection North, although it does also find expression in other collections. In both earlier in later work, Heaney conducts a search for adequate expression of other concerns, whether this expression is through the conceived symbol or by way of a more unobtrusive conversational style. Requiem for the Croppies’ foreshadows Heaney’s fascination with the perpetuation of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. The poem implies that the seeds of rebellion were sown in the uprising of the United Irishmen of 1798, and further rebellions will inevitably occur. The word “barley” links the first and last lines of the poem, forming a perpetual circle of nature, and of human nature predisposed to violence.

With the ‘tr

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oubles’ in Northern Ireland at the forefront of Heaney’s mind from 1969, his poetry became suffused with notions of violence, division and struggle, and the sacrifice of the individual for the benefit of some greater cause. Heaney’s quest to effectively express the state of Northern Ireland was considerably aided by his discovery of P. V. Glob’s book entitled The Bog People. The book, with its images of ancient victims of sacrifice to the Earth Goddess known as Nerthus, provided Heaney with “befitting emblems of adversity”3 because they formed an imaginative parallel to the events in Northern Ireland.

Despite the disparate geography, culture and timescales that divide them, there is an analogy between these sacrificial victims preserved for thousands of years in the bogs of Jutland, and the victims of recent and contemporary bloodshed in Northern Ireland. Both have been subject to the barbarism of human nature in the name of some greater good, specifically to appease the Earth Mother – Nerthus and Kathleen ni Houlihan respectively.Because of the political climate at the time they were written, the poems that make up North are overwhelmingly influenced by the bogland emblem. I began to get an idea of the bog as the memory of the landscape, or a landscape that remembered everything that happened in and to it. “4 It provides a means of continuity between past and present, and between different cultures.

The landscape becomes, in effect, a physical memory: “I had a tentative unrealized need to make a congruence between memory and bogland and, for want of a better word, our national consciousness. “5 The bog poe

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‘Strange Fruit’ self-consciously considers the opinion that the poet should adopt towards a “girl’s head”.The poem depicts her “leathery beauty” and refers to her as a “perishable treasure”; but by the very act of describing her the poet stands in danger of revering the violence that rendered her a fascinating “strange fruit”, the same violence that has claimed more recent victims in Heaney’s country of birth and the very violence he wishes to condemn. Ambiguity of personal response is also dealt with in ‘Punishment’. Heaney takes the role of “the artful voyeur”, witnessing the desecration of the girl recovered from the bog who was once: flaxen-haired, undernourished, and your ar-black face was beautiful.There is a strong identification with the sacrificial victim on Heaney’s part, as the poet keenly feels her suffering: I can feel the tug of the halter at the nape of her neck, the wind on her naked front.

Heaney transcends the thousands of years that separate their lifetimes because of his ability to recognise the ritual brutality of man: “yet understand the exact/ and tribal, intimate revenge. ” The adoption of the emblem of the bogland enables him to “define and interpret the present by bringing it into a significant relationship to the past. 6 This strong identification with the anonymous girl stirs in the poet a social conscience, relating not only to the specific plight of this victim but generally, to all victims of violence.There is an acknowledgement that he has conspired in the deaths of these martyrs by remaining silent and allowing the reprehensible brutality to occur: “[I] would have cast, I know, / the stones of silence.

” Although the analogy of the bog, with its implications for the crisis in Northern Ireland, is concentrated in North, there are nevertheless several occurrences of this imagery in other volumes of Heaney’s poetry, albeit undeveloped.Bogland’, from Door into the Dark, discusses the preserving properties of the terrain of the title: Butter sunk under More than a hundred years Was recovered salty and white. This poem establishes the idea of the physical earth forming an important aspect of national identity. “We are not simply inhabitants of a geographical country”7; this terrain informs the mind and identity. ‘The Tollund Man’ which is featured in Wintering Out demonstrates how Heaney has seized the fecund symbol of the bog as one “adequate to our predicament”.

His fascination with the fruits of the bog is evident from the outset, with the promise that: “Some day I will go to Aarhus / To see his peat-brown head”. The poet closely identifies with the victim reclaimed from the earth; Heaney and the Tollund Man are closely aligned through the syntax of the poem. The delivery of the line: “I will stand a long time” is delayed until the end of the third stanza of the poem, so that until then there is no explicit distinction between the two men. Indeed, the reader is unsure as to whom Heaney is referring in the lines: “Naked except for / The cap, noose and girdle”.

Such firm alignment means that the Tollund Man is treated in a sympathetic

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