A Drink of Water Critical Overview
by Seamus Heaney

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Critical Overview

(Poetry for Students)

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In his 1988 book The Poetry of Seamus Heaney, critic Elmer Andrews explores the development of Heaney's vision in Field Work. In poems like "A Drink of Water," Andrews writes, "Heaney's muse is no longer the mythological goddess of Irish history, the implacable 'black mother.' Instead he develops the image of the domestic muse or sibyl." "A Drink of Water" is a "haunting little poem," Andrews writes, and an example of Heaney's re-dedication to "the life-giving sources, to his role as diviner through whom the water used to broadcast its secrets." Here, the female figure present throughout Heaney's poetry has grown old, and as a result "the imagery suggests difficulty, noisy effort, disease and decline." But ultimately, Andrews argues, the poem centers on the notion of faith: "Despite the poet's faithlessness, the old woman still provides a drink of water. At the end the poet has 'dipped to drink again to be / Faithful.'" Robert Fitzgerald similarly observes in a 1976 New Republic article that the poem demonstrates "Heaney's piety toward the life of his boyhood" and calls "A Drink of Water" an "excellent" poem. The critic adds that "Heaney's best poems in their purity are certainly fresh esthetic objects; at the same time his manner is large and open, his intent a publicly conducted meditation among the living and the dead."