The Redress of Poetry

by Seamus Heaney

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What is the theme of The Redress of Poetry?

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The Redress of Poetry has a dual theme: first, the restoration of poetry to its proper place in the cultural landscape, and second, the restorative power of poetry.

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The Redress of Poetry is based on Seamus Heaney's lectures as Oxford Professor of Poetry. This role, always occupied by an eminent poet elected by Oxford graduates, has tended to involve the occupant becoming a public apologist for the value of poetry. Rather than making the traditional "defense" of poetry in the tradition of Sir Philip Sidney, Heaney uses the slightly unusual word redress, which, as he notes, usually refers to a wrong being set right.

The theme of the book is twofold, and both parts of the theme are expressed in the title. The first is to put the case in favor of poetry and to insist that poetry deserves the central cultural place it once occupied but from which it has been ousted. The substance of this case involves the second part of the theme. Poetry, for Heaney, has a unique power of redress, a restorative power that it exercises through its hold on the imagination of the reader.

Heaney goes on to examine particular examples from poets including Christopher Marlowe, John Claire, Oscar Wilde, Philip Larkin, and Elizabeth Bishop. While he is not always sympathetic to the aims and viewpoints of the poets he considers, Heaney regards the skill of each as performing some form of redress, combining a public function of restoration with refreshment and delight in the mind of the individual reader.

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