Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The penitent who traces Christ’s journey to the cross accepts the sins and lapses of his life as the burden of being human and attempts to reclaim and restore his faith by following the example of Christ’s teaching and essence. Although Heaney does not hew too closely to a traditional version of this experience, using twelve stations rather than fourteen because the poem takes its bearings at a mid-point on the road, he is concerned with what he called “poetry as divination” in a lecture he gave to the Royal Society of Literature in 1974. During that lecture, on the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, he elaborated, saying that “Christ’s mastering descent into the soul is an act of love” and then added, just as “the poetic act itself is a love-act,” using the poetry of Hopkins as an example of this action.

In “Station Island,” Heaney is trying to reach, as Hopkins’s poetry did, “a sacramental apprehension of the world,” and as Hopkins did in the poem “Heaven-Haven,” discover “the mystery of Christ’s efficacy and action in human life” by questioning his choices and decisions in conjunction with the terminal events of Christ’s life on earth. In his Nobel lecture, Heaney referred to “the Christian moralist in oneself,” and as much as his poetry has dealt with the immediate impact of political demands and personal preferences, he has made a conscious effort “to make space in my reckoning and imagining for the marvelous as well as the murderous.” The twelve sections of “Station Island” are a record of this impulse in action and a register of the moral and ethical standards that Heaney has tried to maintain.