Robert Crawford, The Computer and the Painted Pict, Times Literary Supplement (Aug. 15 1997), pp.4-5, characterises Heaney as Bog-Bard and Harvard professor and remarks on the association between primitive and sophisticated elements in poetry culture since the appearance of Macphersons Ossian with Hugh Blairs notes in 1759-1760 [see further under Macpherson, q.v.]
Catriona Clutterbuck, Gender and Representation in Irish Poetry, in Bullán: An Irish Studies Journal (Autumn 1998), pp.43-58, includes account of Digging: In the conclusion of the poem (Between my finger and my thumb / The squat pen rests. / Ill dig with it), the valorisation of the artist is generally read as an innocent by-product of the valorisation of the artistic process. However, the fact that this texts attention to form-as-theme naturalises the status of the speaker as artist is only the first part of its process. Although a sleight of hand is going on, whereby self-projection into the status of artist is disguised as mere self-representation in an already achieved position of authority, the poem at a deeper level wants its bluff to be called. What becomes apparent in Digging, if one looks at it closely, is an inversion of the vocational heritage it proclaims. Far from the speakers father and grandfather inaugurating a tradition of digging into the depths which the poet can follow, it is the speaker who has retrospectively created that tradition: he continues to look down from his airy vantage point [un]till he can imaginatively see his father in the past. He creates the memory to suit his purpose. Such a sleight of hand can only succeed if the author of the poem (the biographical Heaney) is taken by the reader to be precisely coterminous with the speaker of the poem (the writing self), and if this speaker is, in turn, taken to be exactly equivalent to the represented I in the text (the written self, the poet-figure). By fusing these three distinct identity functions and by ignoring the distance between them, the speaker writes himself, apparently conclusively, into the vocation of artist: snug as a gun. However, an innocence of his self-appointment as bard on the part of Heaney could only ever sustain itself through an equivalently dangerous innocence on the part of his audience. In fact, we and Heaney operate together as readers of the projection of identity on the screen of the text, and if we read what is two-dimensional as though it were full-blown three-dimensional reality after the show has ended, then that is at least as much our responsibility as Heaneys. The poem suggests as its underlying deepest theme, I think, that the creation of an individuals public authority is a communal phenomenon which carries dangers with it for everyone if this factor of collusion is unrecognised. (p.44.)
Tom Herron, Spectaculars: Seamus Heaney and the Limits of Mimicry, Irish Review (August 1999), p.183-91: argues that what he terms Heaneys postmodern, postcolonial productions elude David Lloyds criticism of Heaney as a vehicle of essentialist version of national identity; chiefly discusses On the Frontier of Writing (poem): it takes us to the verge of writing with all its attendant anxieties an instabilities. (p.187); employs Bhabhas concept of the scopic drive and its object of desire in tracing Heaneys tracing of the complex strategies of insistence and resistance (p.189). Quotes David Lloyd, Pap for the Dispossessed: Seamus Heaney and the Poetics of Identity , in Anomalous States (Duke UP 1993): criticises [the] crucial insufficiency in the poetic itself, one which permits Heaney to pose delusory moral conflicts whose real form can better be understood as a contradiction between the ethical and aesthetic elements of bourgeois ideology. Heaneys inability to address such contradictions stringently stems from the chosen basis of his poetic in the concept of identity. Since this concept subtends the ethical and aesthetic assumptions that his poetry registers as being in conflict, and yet thoroughly informs his work, he is unable ever to address the relation between politics and writing more than superficially, in terms of thematic concerns, or superstitiously, in terms of a vision of the poet as a diviner of the hypothetical pre-political consciousness of his race. (p.14); [the aestheticisation of Irish politics:] an original identity which precedes difference and conflict and which is to be reproduced in the ultimate unity that aesthetic works both prefigure and prepare. The naturalisation of identity effected by an aesthetic ideology serves to foreclose historical process and to veil the constitution of subjects and issues in continuing conflict, while deflecting both politics and ethics into a hypothetical domain of free play. (p.17); [Heaney] uncritically replays the Romantic schema of a return to origins which restores continuity through fuller self-possession, and accordingly rehearses the compensations conducted by Irish Romantic nationalism (p.20); Place, identity and language mesh in Heaney, as in the tradition of cultural nationalism, since language is seem primarily as naming, and because naming performs a cultural reterritorialisation by replacing the contingent continuities of an historical community with an ideal register of continuity in which the name (of place or of object) operates symbolically as the commonplace communicating between actual and ideal continua . The name always serves likeness, never difference. (p.24.)
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John Bayley, Professing Poetry, review of The Redress of Poetry (1995), along with Helen Vendler, The Given and the Made: Recent American Poets, and Soul Says, On Recent Poetry, in Times Literary Supplement (20 Oct. 1995), pp.9-10: Redress gives the impression of being adjusted with courtly discretion to an audience who expect the familiar rather than the new; follow-up on Hero and Leander in an Irish context; political correctness [comes] as naturally to him as breathing; Heaney considers Yeats and Beckett, as opposed to Larkin, to be on the side of life; infallible courtliness; on Dylan Thomas, who finally lacked tonal rectitude … taking tone in the radically vindicating sense attributed to it by Eavan Boland originating in a suffered world rather than a conscious craft; the power of a poets undermusic comes from a kind of veteran knowledge which has gathered to a phonetic and rhythmic head, and forced an utterance; it is, for example, the undermusic of just such knowledge that makes Emily Dickinson devastating as well as endearing, and makes the best of John Ashberys poetry the common unrarified expression of a disappointment that is beyond self-pity; Bayley wonders does he possess tonal rectitude as an excuse for political correctness and considers that it dissolves into mere concept confronted with real poetry; Frontiers of Writing, final lecture, includes a poem; calls Louis MacNeice an Irish Protestant writer who managed to be faithful to his Ulster inheritance, his Irish affections, and his English predilections; notices homely touches that humanise the elegantly Ovidian and androgynous antics of Marlowes Hero and Leander, the lukewarm place that Leander slips into under the bedclothes was probably never warmed again, in exactly the right way, until Molly Bloom jingled the bedsprings more than three hundred years later. (p.10.)Helen Vendler, Seamus Heaney (Harvard UP 1998; 2000) - excerpt from Anthropologies [3rd Chap.], pp.54-77.
Helen Vendler , review of Seamus Heaney, Electric Light (Faber & Faber), in The Irish Times [Weekend] (24 March 2001), gives an account: the volume contains 38 poems and two trans. of Virgils Ecologue IX with another from Old Irish; elegies for Ted Hughes, Joseph Brodsky, Zbigniew Herbert, Norman MacCaig, Sorley MacLean, George Mackay Brown; quotes: The helmsman and the sailors perished. / Only I, still singing, washed/Ashore by the long sea-swell, sing on, / A mystery to my poet self, / And safe and sound beneath a rock shelf / Have spread my wet clothes in the sun. Further speaks of the first poem Toomebridge as an inventory of memory at a single site and memory cluster[s] where negative ions in the open air / Are poetry to me [Heaney]. Further, Increasingly, Heaney has found that an expansive sequence ranging over a wide terrain is the rightvehicle for such memory-layers. These poems do not aim at the crystal-lattice effect of the brief lyric, nor at the expository-narrative effect of, say, Station Island. Instead, they show us the ruminative associations that surprise even the thinker as, in later life, one moment recalls another, and another.; Heaney is Wordsworthian in his determination that peotry must include the ordinary language of the day, but he is equally Wordsworthian in his affirmation of the right to compose a pure lyric of the natural world. Quotes from poem written at Olympia, seeing a bas-relief of Hercules preparing to divert a river to clean the Augean stables: And it was there in Olympia, down among the green willows, / The lustral wash and run of river shallows, / That we heard of Sean Browns murder in the grounds / Of Bellaghy GAA Club. An imagined / Hose-water smashing hard back off the asphalt / In the car park where is ahtletes blood ran cold. Concludes: What is surprising is that Heaney, post-60, continues to hold tenaceously to his gladder intuitions of summer, shimmer, perfect days (as his translation from the old Irish puts it). Vendler characterises the book as marking the end of a full harvest of the 1990s [which] records, for the future, how the closing chapter of the century was experienced by one extraordinary sensibility. [END].
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Karl Miller, review of Opened Ground in Guardian Weekly (20 Sept., 1998), quotes Stockholm address, while the Christian moralist in oneself had been impelled to deplore the IRAs atrocities, he had felt that there had to be change in Northern Ireland; but he had also felt that the very brutality of the means by which the IRA was pursuing change was destructive of the trust upon which new possibilities would have to be based.
Fintan OToole, Poet Beyond Borders, review of Seamus Heaney, Opened Ground and Helen Vendler, Seamus Heaney, in New York Review of Books [11 Feb. 1999]: [.. T]he evocation of violence in these phrases [gun, grenades, armoury, blood, bombs ] is not untypical of the early Heaney. Time and again, fear, murder and sexual disturbance insinuate themselves into what seem, at first glance, to be innocent idylls. OToole quotes Heaneys account of the effect of the poetry of Ted Hughes in turning him from the private county Derry childhood part of myself rather than the slightly aggravated young Catholic male part. ([Crane Bag interview with Seamus Deane, 1977).
Fintan OToole, One Voice, Two Places, interview-article in The Irish Times (30 Oct. 1999): His voice [ ] comes to us in stereo, one channel issuing from an Irish, Cahtolic, nationalist background, the other from the English language in its most formal, heavily laden guise. In moving between those two registers, and in finding ways to blend them in a personal note, he has managed to be true both to the small community of Ireland and to the larger community of poetry itself. (Further: quotes Heaney on power & culture.)
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Benedict Kiely, Seamus Heaney [Chap.], in Raid into Dark Corners, Cork UP 1999), pp.45-54, quotes Heaney: I think this notion of the dark centre, the blured and irratonal storehouse of insights and instincts, the hidden core of the self - this notion is the foundation of what viewpoint I might articulate for mystlf as a poet (q. source). Kiely remarks: That is accepable in aesthetics may be a little off-putting in theology, if, that is, one at all desires a theology and heaney here may be a conscious victim of an Irish obsession which he can describe so well. For his childhood and adolesceence, the equivalent of the dark Gallarus was the confessional. [ ] Of all this, as I have indicated, Heaney is perfectly aware with the strong, balanced, humorous mind that he displays in poetry, in talk and in comment. (Kiely, op. cit., p.52.)
Maurice Harmon, Maurice Harmon, Seamus Heaney: Digger of the Middle Ground, in The Harp, 13 (Japan 1998) [pp.1-13] - on community versus individual in Northern Ireland troubles: [I]t is in the balancing accounts of two funerals, one for the thirteen dead killed in Derry by British paratroopers, the other for the fisherman blown to bits by a bomb, that Heaney raises a question that will pervade his work for many years ... Was he guilty because he refused to obey the curfew but was drawn instinctively to the pubs warmth? The answer is clear. Heaney is on the side of the individuals right, including his own, not be commanded by our crowd. (p.5.) Further: The most sustained engagement with the challenges of the Northern Troubles comes in Station Island (1984) which creates a series of encounters between the self and incidents and figures in the past. What is under scrutiny is the appropriate poetic response to political violence. By confronting certain obsessions and pressing issues the poet hopes to exorcise them from is imagination. The poem puts the self into situations that accuse, drives him into the underworld of guilt, surrounds him with the voices of those whom he is supposed to have failed and for a while exposes his feelings of failure and neglect. Then from the pit of abasement and confessional guilt it rises to an affirmation of the integrity of the artists untrammelled state. The rigour of the poets penitential journey to St. Patrick s Purgatory serves to heighten the sense of self-examination. (Ibid., p.6; the foregoing both quoted in Chloe McKinney, UU Diss., UU 2011.)
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Daniel G. Donoghue, Beowulf in the Yard: Longfellow, Alfred, Heaney, in Harvard Magazine (March 2000), pp25-32, writes: [ ] Heaneys Beowulf succeeds in preserving the flow without sacrificing the vigorous alliterative rhythm of the original lines. (p.28); The Irish thumbprints can be subtle: mosts of the lines use a poetic idioom that would be at home in any variety of English. In the first 150 lines, only two words that can be considered distinctly Hiberno-English appear, but they are enough to serve as important reminders. The first, tholed , is a very meaning suffered , which Heaney remembers that older and less educated people used when he was a child. The second is bothies , an Irish  word that Heaney uses for the small huts or cottages outside Hrothgars main hall, Heorot. Each of them signals in different ways what might be called Heaneys reappropriation of English. It turns out that thole has Old English roots, and that it was introduced into Ireland through the English of the Ulster plantation in the seventeenth century. [ ] Bothy , by contrast, is a straighforward borring from the Irish. Between the two, Heaney signals that his Ulster dialect is both ancient and innovative, a viable medium that has as much affiinity with the Old English spoken in Winchester or Kent or Northumbria as any other variety of English. (pp.29-30.) [Cont.]
Seamus Deane, The Famous Seamus: the author recalls growing up with Irelands Nobel laureate in Literature, in New Yorker (March 2000) [Life and Letters], pp.-79: Each of us could caricature himself happily: Heaney, slow, calm, solid, country-cunning; Deane quick, volatile, city-smart. Musically, he was hopeless: he liked comic ballads and knew all the words, and did the céilí dancing - a kind of traditional crossroads dancing - whereas I liked anything from Peggy Lee to the jazz of Django Rheinhardt and Cannonball Adderley and the arias of Caruso, Björling, and Tagliavini. I knew the opera music from 78 r.p.m. records belonging to one of my fathers brothers. Each could be the others Other, the other Seamus. (p.59.) Speaks of really beginning to know each other in the last two years when, having received university scholarships, they delayed taking them up to study a transitional year unser Sean B. Kelly, a man of such sweetness and enthusiasm that even at sixteen or seventeen years of age we appreciated how fortunate we were to have him. (p.61.) Gives an account of reading phrases of Hardy, and adds of their different responses: I recognised then - also for the first time - why Heaney responded so fully, with such timbre, to Wordsworth. Like Wordsworth, Heaney was of the healing school of readres and writers. (p.62.) Gives an account of life in the period when the IRA resumed its campaign in 1957: discrimination, with a Sten gun behind it, was what we knew of British democracy - with one glorious exception. That was the introduction of the welfare state [which] guaranteed secondary education for every British subject up to the age of fifteen [ &c.], and adds that the Unionists resisted this, though in the end it was London not Belfast that ruled Northern Ireland: Quite appropriately, it was education that delivered the first serious injury to the unionists blind bigotry [ ]. [Cont.]
A. N. Wilson, Beowulf? He wasted years of my life, in Sunday Telegraph (20 Feb. 2000), complains about award of Whitbread to Seamus Heaney for his translation of Beowulf: [ ] The Beowulf poet was created by Victorian and early 20th century Eng Lit scholars who wanted to show that, just as we could build better battleships than the Germans, so we could produce better epics than the Nibelungenlied. / Heaney, like the Beowulf poet, is a minor talent, grossly overpraised for political reasons. His talents as a poet wouldnt, in a sane world, have taken him further than the parish magazine, but he is hailed as a Nobel Prize winner because hes - Glory be to the Father - a Catholic from Northern Ireland. It was no accident that he was discovered by a guilt-ridden Ulster Protestant editor at Faber, the bachelor Charles Monteith, who died some years ago [ . &c.] Further alleges that the award was denied to J. K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter books) because Anthony Holden threatened to make a row [ ]
James Shapiro, A Better Beowulf: Seamus Heaney strives for a close translation that is also good poetry in its own right, in NY Times (27 Feb. 2000), quotes: On a height they kindled the hugest of all / funeral fires; fumes of woodsmoke billowed darkly up, the blaze roared / and drowned out their weeping, / wind died down / and flames wrought havoc in the hot bone-house, / burning it to the core. They were disconsolate / and wailed aloud for their lords decease. / A Geat woman too sang out in grief; with hair bound up, she unburdened herself / of her worst fears, a wild litany of nightmare and lament: her nation invaded, / enemies on the rampage, bodies in piles, slavery and abasement. Heaven swallowed the smoke. Shapiro remarks, Though he never says so, it will be obvious to anyone with the sketchiest knowledge of recent Irish history that the Troubles have also given Heaney access into the Beowulf poets profound understanding of internecine strife. A striking example occurs when Beowulf predicts what will happen at a wedding feast intended to reconcile two peoples locked in an unyielding cycle of violence: Then an old spearman will speak while they are drinking, / having glimpsed some heirloom / that brings alive / memories of the massacre; his mood will darken / and heart-stricken, in the stress of his emotion / he will begin to test a young mans temper / and stir up trouble. Quotes Heaney: Putting a bawn in Beowulf seems one way for an Irish poet to come to terms with that complex history of conquest and colony, absorption and resistance, integrity and antagonism, a history which has to be clearly acknowledged by all concerned. (pp.6-7.)
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Elmer Kennedy-Andrews, Seamus Heaney: A Readers Guide to Essential Criticism [Icon Critical Guides] Cambridge 1998, 2003 edn.) - on The Haw Lantern: Transportation, at both the carnal and spiritual levels, is one of the books main themes; and its pages are therefore crowded with vehicles. Among other things, Heaney looks increasingly like one of the great travel writers – writers, that is, who relish the physical sensations of travel. From the early Night Drive to the relatively recent From the Frontier of Writing, has anyone else, even Proust, even Kerouac, written as sensually about the modern experience of being in a car? (p.173; quoted in Chloe McKinney, UG Diss., UUC 2011.)
Elmer Kennedy-Andrews on Mycenae Lookout by Seamus Heaney, in Irish University Review: A Journal of Irish Studies [Special Irish Poetry Issue, guest ed. Peter Denman] (Sept. 2009): [...] The title of the collection in which the poem appears, The Spirit Level, alludes to the importance of balance, equilibrium, flow, redress. Against the pressure of history and politics, Heaney reasserts eternal values of order, meaning, and beauty. Mycenae Lookout is a poem that matters because it demonstrates the audacity of hope, the courage to challenge nihilism and despair, to affirm an unquenchable human spirit in the face of death and destruction. It is a poem with the power to do good, to encourage, and to heal. This power derives from the poets faith, not religious faith in any conventional sense, but faith in a transcendent, ethical order of being which is anterior to, independent of, our-all-too fallible human models of reality and meaning. Countering the contemporary distrust of the word, the poststructuralists rejection of the possibility of truth and meaning, Heaney reasserts the metaphysics of presence. His poem is informed by belief in a transcendent metaphysical order which is pre-literary, pre-rational, and ultimately mysterious. In an age obsessed by the historical corruption of language and dominated by the corrosive influence of cultural relativists and postmodern sceptics, Heaney refuses to give up on the possibility of truth and meaning, however difficult they may be to come by. He re-works an old-fashioned vocabulary of the sacramental and the mystical which he first absorbed through his Catholic upbringing and education. Mycenae Lookout is a great poem because it succeeds in making that faith real and convincing (at least for the duration of the poem), even for readers who may not think of poetry in terms more usually associated with religion - as redemption, solace, healing, redress, transcendence. Mycenae Lookout, Heaney himself has said, was expressive of a rage for order. (Citing Dennis ODriscoll, Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney, London: Faber and Faber 2008, p.350). [See full-text version in RICORSO Library, Library > Journals > Critical > IUR, via index, or attached.]
Terry Eagleton, Hasped and Hooped and Hirpling: Heaney Conquers Beowulf [review of Beowulf, 1999], first published in London Review of Books (11 Nov. 1999, pp.15-16), and rep. in The Guardian (3 Nov. 1999): "The celebrated materiality of a poet like Heaney is really a linguistic trompe loeil, a psychological rather than ontological affair, a matter of association rather than incarnation. The density of his discourse does not embody material process, as we post-Romantics are prone to think; it is just that the one phenomenon brings the other to mind. Poetry is a sort of trick, whereby an awareness of the textures of signs puts us in mind of the textures of actual things. But the relation between the two remains quite as arbitrary as in any other use of language; it is just that some poetry tries to iconicise that relation, make it appear somehow inevitable. This - what Paul de Man referred to as the phenomenalisation of language - is the mark of ideology, and it is ironic that poets should typically regard themselves as the antidote to ideologists, giving us the feel and pith of things rather than the delusory abstraction. It is hard to imagine, however, that de Man is bedside reading for the theory-allergic Heaney. /Words may not be things, but the poet, like the small child making its first sounds, is one who invests them as though they were. There is thus something regressively infantile as well as dauntingly mature about poetry, rather as the grandeur of the imagination is embarrassingly close to libidinal fantasy. Does language transport the writer to the heart of reality, or does messing about with the stuff substitute for that reality like a childs Plasticine? How can the erotic mouth-music of the babbling toddler become somehow cognitive" [Cont.]
Terry Eagleton, Unionism and Utopia: Seamus, Heaneys The Cure at Troy, in Theatre Stuff: Critical Essays on Contemporary Irish Theatre, ed. Eamonn Jordan (Blackrock: Carysfort Press 2000), pp.172-76: [...] For utopia to be conceivable at all it must, in Habermasian terms, be somewhere prefigurable in the flesh-and-blood of the present, in the shape of an instinctive creaturely response to mothers needs. But the fullest realisation of this humanity is equally, ineluctably deferred to the just city of the future, which only political practice can bring about. For Heaney, this means deferring it not beyond the threshold of history, but (in terms of the myth) to the conquest of Troy and the final transcendence of all the old sectarian strife. It is on this glimpse of utopia that the plays Epilogue boldly, beautifully touches [quotes Human beings suffer, [... &] - as in Quotations - attached.] / If theres a moving utopian hope here, theres also some notable confusion at the level of allegory. Is it really going to take a miracle to dislodge the British from Ireland? That was well enough for the Greeks, who had a magic bow conveniently at their disposal, whereas we just have Seamus Mallon, Sinn Fein and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The myth, in other words, covertly determines its own kind of contemporary political stance, which amounts to an openness, to the utterly inconceivable as nebulous at it is courageous. Resolution, as Heaneys naturalising imagery intimates (tidal wave, sea-change, arrives as miraculous gift rather than as political construct, iturficulable epiphany rather than political strategy. (p.174.)
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Robert OByrne, review of The Rough Field, 2 CDs (Claddagh Records), in The Irish Times (21 July 2001), Weekend, p.12: At times the performances, no doubt in response to the immediate audience, how have the effect of making the poets satire appear a little too broad, his inherent romanticism seem dangerously tinged with sentimentality - surely Montague is being slightly disingenuous when he declaires No Wordsworthan dream enchants me here?; praises glorious richness of diverse Ulster accents.
Megan Rosenfeld, Going Gaga for the aga: Seamus Heaneys Translation Makes Beowulf a Bestseller [NY Review of Books ] (6 March 2000), Arts, C1, C6; marking the fifth and sixth printings (ringing total to 45,000), and notes that more than 2 million copies of Angelas Ashes have sold at date; the Heaney translation became part of the Norton anthology a year ago and is used by Patrick Connor of the West Virginia University to teach the ancient poem. I had a fixe purpose whenI put out to sea./As I sat in my boat with my band of men,/I meant to perform to the uttermost/what your people wanted or perish in the attempt,/in the fiends clutches. And I shall fulfill that purpose, prove myself with a proud deed,/or meet my death here in the mead-hall. Notes that Tolkien revived interest in Beowulf in an essay of 1936, while John Gardner prepared an audience for Heaney by telling the story from Grendels viewpoint in 1971. A Comparison with the translation by Robin Katsua-Corbet and the original (Hwaet we Gar Dena, &c.) is also printed; So, The Spear-Danes, in days gone by and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness. / We have heard of those princes heroic campaigns. / There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes, / a wereakcer of meadbenches, rampaging among foes. This terror of the hall-troops had come far. / A foundling to start with, he would flourish later on / as his powers waxed and his worth was proved. / In the end each clan on the outlying coasts / beyond the whale-road had to yield to him / and began to pay tribute. That was one good king.
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Robert Hass, Beowulf as an Ecological Epic (US source), writes: Seamus Heaneys poems of the bogs and soaked turfs of the farm country around Belfast brought him to the worlds attention, and so did his language; turned his attention to archaeology, to the bones mercilessly preserved in the green carbon-rich earth of the north country [sic], and he used language like a spade to meditate on the ancestral roots of human violence [ ]. Further: : The temptation to read Beowulf as an ecological poem is deepened by the final battle [ ] Beowulf is a poem of the end of the first millenium. It is also both for its themes of intra-tribal violence and the troubled human relation to the eart strangely contemporary.
Peter McDonald, Faiths and Fidelities: Heaney and Longley in Mid-Career, in Last Before America: Irish and American Writing: Essays in Honour of Michael Allen, ed. Fran Brearton & Eamonn Hughes, Belfast: Blackstaff Press 2001): . [...] The poetry in which Heaney has tried to register a kind of secular faith is not always his strongest, and some of the more programmatic pieces in The Haw Lantern (1987) are dull affairs by comparison with the luminous sonnets of the Clearances sequence in that volume, or with the long series of poems grouped as Squarings in Seeing Things (1991) – a series which is unfortunately cut down in length for Opened Ground (unlike Station Island, included in its entirety). It may well be that Heaney as self-editor is doing himself few favours here. More and more, it comes to seem that Heaneys most startling successes require quantities of largely programmatic, or sometimes slightly obvious poetry as back-up material, or limbering-up exercises; wonderful poems in The Spirit Level, like Mint or Postscript, stand dramatically apart from a good deal of their surrounding material. It is in the most successful of his poems, though, that Heaney reaps the benefits of the religious sensibility which his more routine work registers more dutifully: the lyric medium at these points can seize as its own moments of visionary brilliance, or make such moments out of the given material in life, without need for validating theory or any voiced ambition. In The Skylight, in Seeing Things, a loft conversion triggers an unlofty, but utterly convincing conclusion: But when the slates came off, extravagant / Sky entered and held surprise wide open. / For days I felt like an inhabitant / Of that house where the man sick of the palsy / Was lowered through the roof, had his sins forgiven, / Was healed, took up his bed and walked away. [Opened Ground, p.350.] / Poetry like this is completely sufficient to itself, and is not a promise of something else to come hereafter; its authority as poetry (to use for a moment a concept of which Heaney has been perhaps too fond over the years) comes from its ease with the authority of its biblical source-text, and its satisfaction with that text as something shared with others, and held in common rather than believed in exclusively. / Longleys poetry is not capable of this kind of comfort, partly because it draws so much of its strength not from the shared and communal, but from the unique and the unrepeatable. (p11-12; for longer extract see RICORSO Library, Criticism, via index or attached.)
Thomas Kilroy, A Young Girl Before the King [review-article], in The Irish Times (10 April 2004), Weekend. […] It is best, I think, to look upon The Burial at Thebes as a contemporary poets possession of a classic in which he makes something new and personal out of the material, writing, in effect, a play for our time […] beautifully written, filled with lines of arresting pithiness and the exchanges of sister and sister, niece and uncle, father and son, have a true freshness to them. Looks at the relationship of the new play to its original and noting that that Heaney has created in The Cure at Troy some memorable, consolatory lines (hope and history rhyme) which were taken up by Bill Clinton as part of the Peace Process and attributing this warmth to the benevolence of the man himself, to the capacious humanism of the poet and a particular view of what these tragedies have to say. Discusses George Steiners view of the simplicity of Antigones, and also the conflict between father and daughter which has read been variously read over the centuries as: the ultimate expression of the conflict between the private and the public, between the call of personal feeling and the call of duty, between the domestic and the political, the traditional and the modern, between female and the male and remarks that it is extremely difficult for us to get back to the Greek play itself, especially its language, exemplifying the problem in relation to the first stasimon or choral ode, translated by Heaney in a splendidly phrased couplet: Among the many wonders of the world / Where is the equal of this creature, man? Kilroy points to the problematic word wonders for which the original in deina with the added connotation of terror or horror and notes that the choral list of great human attributes is found in a play of human savagery, incest (the womb-brood of Oedipus and Jocasta), fratricide, a putrefying corpse, live immurement in a cave and triple suicide. Further: As the chorus offers its list of great human attributes, Sophocles puts two stoppers in place. One is that for all his achievement man remains subject to death. For some reason Heaney omits this. At the end of the passage Sophocles pulls up the flow of praise once again with a reminder of mans evil and the need of civilised society to shun the perpetrator. Maybe because of his benign tone, Heaneys ending of the ode, to these ears at least, carries something less bleak than this human capacity for monstrous violation. […] Kilroy commends Heaney for reinstating the drama of Antigones exit two-thirds of the way through the play, after which were left with the retribution visited upon Creon - a problem for modern audiences [s]aturated, as we are, with simple-minded narratives: By skilful tightening of the original he [Heaney] seems to bring Antigones exit and Creons suffering closer together. This creates a powerful frisson, something close, Im sure, to the effect originally intended. Further remarks equate Heaneys Creon, with the current White House and compares the allegorical effect with the famous political Antigone of Jean Anouilh  which electrif[ied] both collaborationists and members of the Resistance movement. [&c.; see full text.]
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Jenny McCartney, Seamus Heaney: Hes seen it all, in Telegraph (9 Sept. 2007): [ ] The Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company is currently staging The Burial at Thebes, Heaneys 2004 translation of Sophocles Antigone. The play describes the clash between Creon, the Theban king, and Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus, that unfurls after Antigones brothers Eteocles and Polyneices die fighting one another. The plot seethes with timeless questions about the conflict between public order and private honour. / Heaneys translation was originally commissioned by Dublins Abbey Playhouse, just as what Heaney calls the deplorable Iraq/Bush business was underway, and inevitably the poet glimpsed parallels between Creons blinkered rigidity of purpose and the stance of President Bush. The New Yorker was looking for something to publish so I gave them the chorus and called it Sophoclean, but it could equally have been called An Open Letter to President Bush. Heaney is wary, however, of labouring the application. I didnt want Creon to be a figure of mockery, because in the end theres a kind of head prefect in me, too. But Antigone goes too far and Creon goes too far. I have a kind of Sophoclean position in between them all. It is small wonder that Heaney is so expert at navigating the plays shades of grey in Sophocles: its matter - honour, death, the friction between family custom and the mores of the state - has been the very stuff of his life and poetry. [ ] In his 1995 Nobel address, Heaney related a story about the 1976 Kingsmills massacre, at which masked men stopped a bus full of workmen going home, lined them up outside, and asked each to declare their religion. There was only one Catholic in the group, and it was presumed that the gunmen were loyalists. One Protestant worker squeezed the Catholics hand, as if to say well not betray you but he declared himself anyway. He was promptly thrust aside, and the Protestants were gunned down: the gunmen were from the IRA. Heaney remarked that the future of Ireland lay, not in the gunfire, but the hand-squeeze. […]. Quotes The Cure At Troy: But then, once in a lifetime / the longed-for tidal wave / Of justice can rise up. / And hope and history rhyme.] Heaney scrunches his face up slightly in recognition when I cite the lines, as though they are too artlessly positive to feel entirely comfortable: That at least is choral stuff. I would never have allowed myself that in propria persona. Its a chorus speaking so you have to have that class of rhetoric and uplift and so on. Hope. I quoted with great pleasure Vaclav Havel on hope. His view is that its not optimism but its something worth working for. What does he make of the new set-up in Northern Ireland, I ask, with Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness in government together? Its the best that can be managed, and possibly workable, he says, cautiously. Nobodys going to start being amorous with each other, but institutions, the polis, might have a chance. (Online; supplied by Kevin Whelan, NDU Irish Studies Program; at date.) [See full text, in RICORSO, Library > Criticism > Reviews, via index or attached. - incls. remarks on Ted Hughes.]
Colm Tóibín, review of Human Chain, by Seamus Heaney, in The Guardian (21 Aug. 2010): In the early 1990s Seamus Heaney began to contemplate how to deal with time passing and the death of family and friends. In a lecture, he contrasted Philip Larkins poem Aubade, in which death comes as something dark and absolute and life seems a trembling, fearful preparation for extinction, with Yeatss The Cold Heaven, which allowed a rich dialogue between the ideas of life as a cornucopia and life as an empty shell. Heaney saw poetry itself, no matter what its content or tone, standing against the dull thought of life as a great emptiness. When a poem rhymes, Heaney wrote, 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, and rebels at limit. / In his 1991 collection Seeing Things he included a poem, Fosterling, which seemed like a blueprint for how he himself might proceed, speaking of a heaviness of being producing poetry / Sluggish in the doldrums of what happens. And then writing of a change which had come: Me waiting until I was nearly fifty / To credit marvels. Like the tree-clock of tin cans / The tinkers made. So long for air to brighten, / Time to be dazzled and the heart to lighten. / The blueprint, however, has turned out not to open the way for an easy lightness, or a tone of bright hope [...] The most ambitious poem in the book [Human Chain] is an ingenious and moving encounter with Book VI of the Aeneid, with a description of finding a used copy of the book in Belfast and taking it on Route 110 across Northern Ireland (Cookstown via Toome and Magharafelt). Slowly the poem moves into the underworld (It was the age of ghosts), where it meets, among others, Louis ONeill, one of the murdered dead in the Troubles, who is the subject of Heaneys earlier poem Casualty and wanders in a world of shady memory to emerge in a final poem about the birth of a first grandchild. / Sometimes, it seems, it is enough for Heaney that he remembers. Throughout his career there have been poems of simple evocation and description. His refusal to sum up or offer meaning is part of his tact, but his skill at playing with rhythm, pushing phrases and images as hard as they will go, offers the poems an undertone, a gravity, a space between the words that allows them to soar or shiver. [...; see full-text version in RICORSO Library, Criticism > Reviews, via index, or attached.)
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Kevin Kiely, Books: Digging for the real worth of Seamus Heaney: Kevin Kiely offers a possibly controversial view of the Nobel Prize-winning poet, in Irish Independent (9 Nov. 2014): [...] It is this reviewer's opinion that it is high time for a new assessment of Heaney, not least because his work has also influenced Irish poetry. For better or worse, is the question. And there are many questions about the poet, the poetry and the reputation that need objective assessment. / Above all, Heaney was a poet of nostalgia for home and hearth, the turf-fire, the hen house and the bicycle. With the farmyard as subject matter, his poems are like exhibit notes in an agricultural museum. One of the results of this was to give his work an accessibility that compared well to Maeve Binchy, although her popular fiction was slightly more modern in content. / Another fundamental aspect of Heaneys appeal was that although he was a poet from Northern Ireland who was writing during the Troubles, he managed to keep his distance from the sectarian horror, like most of his readers. Instead he adopted mythology and archaeology. He chose to write about ancient bog bodies rather than the more recent burials in Northern bogs of the bodies of victims of the war. / In Exposure he admitted having moved to Wicklow in 1972 and escaped from the massacre in the North. His preoccupation with pre-history and bogs distanced him from the sectarian war. I found it more convincing to write about the bodies in the bog and the vision of Iron Age punishment. / Heaney was always repressed and reticent about the North, as in Summer 1969. While the Constabulary covered the mob/Firing into the Falls, I was suffering / Only the bullying sun of Madrid. That poem concludes with his retreating for the cool of the Prado to look at Goyas painting Shootings of the Third of May. This pretence to sympathy while on holiday, cooling off in exotic cities, was typical of his lazy political content. Thus a Heaney poem entitled Thatcher is not about politics. [...]
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Seamus Perry, We did and we didnt, in London Review of Books [LRB] (6 May 2021): [...] The young Heaney was very taken with the thought that poetry might draw on older and deeper levels of energy; indeed, you could say that one of his achievements was to grasp such modernist ambivalences and to reimagine them in his own terms, setting them within an Irish imaginative space made habitable largely by the example of Patrick Kavanagh, and finding a thick, costive, consonantal music for the task (the squelch and slap/Of soggy peat). He was especially struck by a book called The New Poetic (1964) by the New Zealand poet C.K. Stead that portrayed an Eliot very different from the forbiddingly cerebral writer of popular reputation. Steads Eliot spoke of the origins of poetry in the unconscious and the irrational, its material breaking through from a deeper level of the poets mind, growing from what Eliot called that dark embryo within him which gradually takes on the form and speech of a poem. Heaney often cited that dark embryo in his own accounts of the poetic process, and the related concept of the auditory imagination, by which Eliot meant the feeling for syllable and rhythm, penetrating far below the conscious levels of thought and feeling, invigorating every word; sinking to the most primitive and forgotten, returning to the origin and bringing something back, magically fusing the most ancient and the most civilised mentality. Poems began in a part of the mind so primeval as to be pre-linguistic even. These remarks of Eliots were, Heaney said solemnly in one interview, most important. Eliot was the one whom I entered into and who entered into me. [Cont.]
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