Tony Curtis, ed., The Art of Seamus Heaney (Bridgend: Seren Books/Poetry Wales Press Ltd. 1982, rev. edn., 1985), 180pp., and Do., 3rd rev. edn. Bridgend: Seren; Chester Springs: Dufour 1994), 239pp.

CONTENTS, Tony Curtis, Introduction’ [7]; Roland Mathias, Death of a Naturalist’ [11]; Dick Davis, ‘Door into the Dark’ [27]; Philip Hobsbaum, ‘Craft and Technique in Wintering Out’ [35]; Anne Stevenson, ‘Stations: Seamus Heane and the Sacred Sense of the Sensitive Self’ [45]; Edna Longley, ‘The Manuscript Drafts of the poem “North”’ [53]; ‘North: “Inner Emigré or “Artful Voyeur”?’ [63; also in Poetry in the Wars, 1986]; Tony Curtis, ‘”A More Social Voice”: Field Work’ [97]; Anne Stevenson, ‘The Peace Within Understanding: Looking at Preoccupations’ [129]; Ciaran Carson, ‘Sweeney Astray: Escaping from Limbo’ [139; prev. printed as review in Honest Ulsterman, No. 76]; Barbara Hardy, ‘Meeting the Myth: Station Island’ [149]; Helen Vendler, ‘Second Thoughts: The Haw Lanthern’ [165]; Bernard O’Donoghue, ‘Heaney’s Ars Poetic: The Government of the Tongue’ [179]; Patrick Crotty, ‘All I Believed that Happened There was Revision’ [191; on Tony Curtis, ed., The Art of Seamus Heaney (1982)and New Selected Poems]; Douglas Dunn, ‘Quotidion [sic] Miracles: Seeing Things’ [205]; Bibliography; index of poems discussed; Notes on Contributors.

Curtis: ‘In his recent work the poetry becomes a tough legitimising force for language as the means by which we make sense of the world and ourselves - the world as philosophy and as the light by which to see around us.’ (Quoted in Tony Curtis, ed., The Art of Seamus Heaney, Bridgend: Seren Books 1982; 1994 [rev. edn.], p.8.)

Quotes: ‘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.’ [here p.9]

‘Colum McCartney, victim in ‘The Strand at Lough Beg’; Louis O’Neill, the victim in ‘Casualty’.

Sweeney Astray and Station Island, both publ. Autumn 1984; encounters 12 ghosts.

The poetry of the two last collections [Haw Lantern and Seeing Things] goes some way towards redressing the strained imbalance between fact and myth which both Edna Longley and Barbara Hardy found disconcerting in earlier work. [10]

Quotes: ‘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, here p.10]

‘Poem’ in Death of a Naturalist ded. to Marie, promises to perfect and put away the world of the childish and the natural experience and accept ‘new limits … the world/Within our walls.’

He is not concerned with the elucidation of any kind of biological order. The poet himself, and beyond him his family, his family’s tradition has been hacked out, so to speak, from the natural environment - these are at the centre of Heaney’s poetic intention. / What Heaney owes to Hughes, then, is a subject-matter that is rural, ungenteel and treated with force, not any kind of interpretation of that subject-matter.’ [Mathias, p.16]

In connection with Heaney’s profession that ‘the heavily accented consonantial noise’ of Hopkins ‘educated’ his ear, Mathias remarks that ‘the tautness of Hopkin’s line and the inventiveness of his vocabulary that most quickly strikes another reader, it is certainly the battery of consonants that attracts Heaney’ [17]

Note that Mathias politely refers to ‘bog’ as ‘peat moor’ [18]

[…] the impression given by these later poems collectively is of desultoriness, of lack of cohesion.’ [22]

‘scaresome’; calls “rhyme … to set the darkness echoing” an ‘opaque but exhilarating conclusion’.

Davis: ‘One of the chief reasons for the tang of authenticity which so much of Heaney’s poetry brings with it is the fitness of the language he uses for the vision he has to record. His subjects - the fecundity of the landscape, the packed density of darkness (geological, mythical historical) that [33] awaits the poet’s exploration, the intimately visceral emotions of fear, nausea and sudden wonder - are presented in almost wholly physical language.’ (pp.33-34).

Quotes “the redemptive quality of the dialect, the gutteral, the illiterate self” [34]

Hobsbaum: ‘This, however true it is, smells not of silage but the lamp: the lamp of a bright boy from St. Columb’s School, who studied Hopkins, Hardy and Frost at the right time and turned them to notable account. It is the snap-crackle-and-pop of diction; the very cud of memory. [37]

Heaney is not an intellectual. An intellectual, in the accepted sense, would not be able to present in this eidetic mode a contrast that can lead to conflict …. [38]

Kavanagh: ‘This was Heaney’s true predecessor, Patrick Kavanagh, whose craft occasionally wobbled a bit but whose technique, as Heaney himself has said, was certain.’ [39]; speaks of the ‘loose quatrain of Kavanagh in “The Great Hunger” and elsewhere’, with remarks: ‘The loose quatrain frees Kavanagh: he can play more tunes on it than any but the greatest poets have managed in free verse.’ [40]

One sign of his potential is the heuristic quality of his critical writing: such an essay as “Feeling into Words” is likely to be pondered when nearly all structuralist discourse is dead.’ [43]

Seamus Heaney has it in him to rival Robert Frost or Thomas Hardy, though he is unlikely to do so by taking any more from those particular poets than he has acquired already.’ [43]

Heaney’s 25 ‘Stations’ poems in Ormsby’s Ulster Publications ser. 1975;

Stebvenson: ‘For Stations is not a book of poems, as North is, but a collection of highly charged prose pieces which Heaney asks to do the work of poems. And this, for all their skill of language, they do not quite do. […/] We are left wanting either more autobiography or more art; or perhaps less art and more context, more “reality”.’ [50]

”Through red seas of July the Orange drumers led a chosen people through their dream. [&c.; ‘July’]

Stevenson writes: ‘For a man of sensibility and tenderness, it is too easy to take the soft option of a loving concentration on himself. Heaney is among the best poets living today, but if he is going to last, the self-bog, in the end, won’t preserve him. It is good to know he is translating Dante. That looks like the way out. [51; END]

Edna Longley, of poems in Wintering Out, ending with ‘A New Song’: ‘As a group the poems insinuate that the ghost of Gaelic, local idiom, te sound of the land itself, all united in Heaney’s own utterance, are compelling the tradition of Shakespeare and Spenser to go native.’ [70]

Edna compares Heaney’s version of the troubles in ‘Whatever you Say, Say Nothing’, with Derek Maohn’s ‘bleak earlier indictment’ [‘WE yield instead to the humorous formulae/The spurious mystery in the knowing nod/Or we keep sullen silence in light and shade,/Rehearsing our astute salvations under/The cold gaze of a sanctimonious God.’; adding the remark that ‘the mood of Heaney’s poem comes over as irritation, impatience, rather than grand indignation (perhaps partly as a result of his difficult gear change from poetic smoke-signaller to loud-speaker.)’ [73]

Notes that Bog Queen’ is the ‘one Bog poem with true Irish antecedents’ in as much as the body in question was found on Lord Moira’s estate in Co. Down in 1781. [79]

Quotes J. W. Foster: ‘Heaney’s conceit (landscape = body = sex = language) and the way it sabotages emotion leads him into … difficulties. [‘The Poetry of Seamus Heaney’, Critical Quarterly, Vol. 16, 1964, p.45.)

Given Heaney’s previous successful explorations of landscape, water, femaleness, what has gone wrong this time? His prose comments support the view than an obsession with stacking up parellels, has replaced flexible “soundings”. … Ireland is the straw that breaks the poems’ backs. [81]

In an essay of 1975 Seamus Deane found Heaney (and Derek Mahon) a-political in comparison with John Montague, whose The Rough Field (1972) had “politicised the terrain” of his native Tyrone; “it is Montague, with his historical concentration, that this fidelity [to the local] assumes the shape of a political commitment.’ (‘Irish Poetry and Irish Nationalism’, in Dunn, ed., Two Decades of Irish Writing, Carcanet 1975, p.16; here p.92.)

Longley remarks, ‘The Deane interview epitomises the intensive pressure on Heaney, including his own sense of duty: to be more Irish, to be more political, to “try to touch the people”, to do Yeats’s job again instead of his own.’ [93]

‘By plucking out the heart of his mystery and serving it up as a quasi-political mystique, he temporarily succombs to the goddess, to the destiny feared in Derek Mahon’s “The Last of the Fire Kings” where the people desire their poet-king “Not to release them/From the ancient curse/But to die their creature and be thankful.”’ [END; 93].

Longley [re Deane’s query about O’Brien] ‘Heaney demurs’

John Montague: ‘the final judgement on the new Ulster Renaissance may well depend on their ability to learn a style from despair: it is the last quarter of the century we are entering, not the Georgian first.’ (review of Penguin Book of Irish Verse, 1972; here 99.]

Ulster was British, but with no rights on/The English lyric: all around us, though/We hadn’t named it, the ministry of fear’. (‘The Ministry of Fear’) [101]

Tony Curtis: ‘Seamus Heaney has been working out his necessary loyalities over the previous four collections and tha ttook an explicit shape in “Singing School”. [102]; more oddly, Curtis later remarks: ‘Heaney is a member of a disadvantaged minority in the North of Ireland: he is a Catholic and a republican. Perhaps he needed to distance himself from Belfast to gain a perspective on the situation there.’ [105]

Note that the statue in Portstewart is the subject of ‘In Memoriam’ by Heaney (‘the loyal, fallen names on the embossed plaque’), as well as poems by Simmons, Mahon, and Andrew Waterman.

I think that Yeats’s 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 public’s 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.’ (Ploughshares interview with John Haffenden; n.p., here 125.]

Stevenson: ‘… all the essays in Preoccupations are conspicuously personal. They fall so far short of contemporary standards of “emotional systemisation” that we read them as we do Heaney’s poems, as distinctive perceptions of a humane[,] intelligence and eminently generous personality.’ [131]

What Heaney says about the language of these poets [Hughes, Hill, and Larkin] is incisive and true; but by putting their language first, before their meanings or their subject matters, Heaney achieves what distinctively inside perspective on their poetry that a purely academic critic might miss.’ [132]

For all his Irishness, what Heaney seems to be doing in Preoccupations is exploring in prose the vein opened up by Robert Lowell in Life Studies. After Life Studies it seemed possible … to break away with [for from] Eliot, with impersonality, with the stern patriarchal injunction to reduce the female-infected ego - at least in criticism - to pulp. … Rather than shutting out or abandoning the masculine mode of criticism, Heaney brings it to its natural feeling for mystery and divination … a femaleness which enriches his poetry to an extent not yet realised, possibly, by the more extreme protagonists of the feminist movement./ Nowhere

Nowhere is the strength of Heaney’s androgynous understanding [135] more apparent than in his essay on Gerard Manley Hopkins. […] (pp.135-36).

Of Heaney’s remarks on Keats and Hopkins: ‘Now, this is all most enlightening and informative. … It is all the more remarkable, therefore, that Heaney so perfectly realises the “congruence” Hopkins’s poetry builds between that poet and his faith, that he sees so clearly the “state of negotiation” (as Ted Hughes has put it) “between the man and his idea of a Creator” without which Hopkins’s poetry would never have come into being./ So perhaps the outstanding impression left by this essay, as by most of Preoccupations, is one wise man’s liberality which, though [136] personal, is perfectly unselfish. … Heaney’s openness is at times frightening; we almost fear for him, for he seems to have no defences - not even a faith. [136]

Further remarks on ‘the “hump” of the English literary tradition and from the fecund “bog” of his own and Ireland’s history. Out of these conscious and unconscious hemispheres he has constructed a habitable inner world which we may call understanding. [137]

Ciaran Carson refers to Dineen and to J. G. O’Keefe’s 1913 bilingual edition of Buile Suibne.

Note that Heaney quotes Stephen Dedalus’s sentence, ‘The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine …. I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit, as a preface to the poem “The Wool Trade”, in Wintering Out. (Cited by Carson, p.142, with the remark, ‘the book as a whole is informed by its concerns’; idem.)

Carson [quoting, ‘a staffer in air/as if a language/failed …’]: ‘The language in question is, presumably, Irish, whose ghost is subliminally present throughout the book; this is one wqay of trying to ease the unrest of the linguistic dilemma whih is, to a greater or lesser extent, the heritage of every Irish writer. Joyce invented a language; Beckett wrote in French; others translated, or received their inspiration from translation. We can see how Thomas Kinsella’s [141] version of the Tain, for example, with its violent narrative, its deep and prophetic utterances, mirrors Kinsella’s own work; it is an historical and linguistic imperative. Translating is one way of trying to come to terms with the already created conscience of the Irish language.’ (pp.141-42).

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