Seeing Things

The imagery of archaeology pervades the verse of Seamus Heaney. Digging tools, post-holes, grids constructed with tools and string, trenches and furrows appear, however, in farmlike settings. This is only natural, for Heaney synthesizes memories of the bog-side farm on which he was reared with his lifelong interest in the Iron Age cultures of northern Europe. Farmers upturn the soil and uncover old growth when they plant anew. Heaney uses pen for spade and searches for the roots of his past in order to understand the present.

SEEING THINGS continues the search. This collection differs from Heaney’s earlier verse in the sense that it goes beyond family or generational past. It is, in essence, poetic archaeology. The author’s translations of Vergil’s AENEID 6.98-148 and Dante’s INFERNO 3.82-129 frame the collection. Vergil influenced Dante: INFERNO uses Vergil as the Pilgrim’s guide; Aeneas searches for his dead father Anchises; the Pilgrim seeks a clear purpose for life. Heaney’s verse also evokes a dead father and seeks pattern and meaning in life. His quest goes beyond literary legacy. Heaney would consider it instinctive, rooted in universal memory.

Consequently, many of the poems in SEEING THINGS evoke a familiar response. Squared-grids mark the perimeter of a family’s new home. A forty-year old leather schoolbag continues in service. A bolt-lock opens welcomingly to admit one who belongs. Altering the sacred precinct (a...

(The entire section is 428 words.)