The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Casualty” is a lament for the unknown citizen, an anonymous victim not merely of the social violence of the poet’s native province but also of those tribal attachments that make the violence so aggravated, interminable, and difficult to understand—those elements that are referred to toward the second section of the poem as “our tribe’s complicity.” Since the poet himself was born and reared in Northern Ireland, he speaks with particular, if understated, eloquence and with an intimacy that is typical of his work as a whole on the complex of human inevitability and historical happenstance of which his subject has fallen foul.

The poem is one of a number of elegies in Field Work, a collection that also includes, among other poems of this type, one on a murdered cousin as well as an elegy on the American poet, Robert Lowell. In addition, Field Work—the author’s first book after leaving his native province and coming to live in the Republic of Ireland—contains numerous poems on the possibility of renewal. The collection’s overall concern with death and rebirth and the impact of that historical, social, and natural cycle on an individual consciousness is conveniently, if not necessarily definitively, condensed in the three parts of “Casualty,” making it one of the emblematic statements in a pivotal work in the poet’s development.

Although the poet has, in a biographical sense, left his native place, in...

(The entire section is 560 words.)