Does Heaney's poetry appeal to cultural outsiders and encourage readers to set aside ideological differences?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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If we use "Casualty" as an example, we can analyze Heaney's writing to see if and how his poetry transcends its time, meaning and place to rise above cultural ideology and attain universality.

In 'Casualty," Heaney begins by describing the subtle actions of a "sly" fisherman who directs others' actions to his benefit, allbeit only in a pub.  Heaney switches to describing a conversation between the fisherman and himself in which Heaney explains that his "other life" as an academician and poet is far beyond the understanding of the fisherman and then deftly turns the talk back to the everyday and mundane, with a reference to the political, "Provisionals" (IRA):

He mentioned poetry.   
We would be on our own   
And, always politic   
And shy of condescension,   
I would manage by some trick   
To switch the talk to eels   
Or lore of the horse and cart   
Or the Provisionals.

It is not until after Heaney has established this one man's singular humanity and the relationship the two had--universalities of unique humanity and relationship--that he mentions the issues that are particular to Ireland and "The Troubles."

He was blown to bits   
Out drinking in a curfew   
Others obeyed, three nights   
After they shot dead   
The thirteen men in Derry.   
PARAS THIRTEEN, the walls said,   
BOGSIDE NIL. That Wednesday   
Everyone held
His breath and trembled.

It is by developing universalities of life, humanity, experience and relationship--the uniqueness of human life is a universality--whether it be the life of a person or a "small mammal" ("Gifts of Rain"), before addressing the deeper political meaning of his poems that Heaney adds appeal that rises above dividing cultural and ideological differences.

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