Seamus Heaney Heaney, Seamus (Vol. 7)

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Heaney, Seamus (Vol. 7)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Heaney, Seamus 1939–

Heaney is an award-winning Northern Irish poet.

Of all the newer tight-lipped poets Mr. Heaney is the hardest case, and the tight-lipped critics whose praise is not usually easy to get have been sending quite a lot of approbation his way. His technique is hard-edged: a punchy line travels about two inches. The subject matter is loud with the slap of the spade and sour with the stink of turned earth. Close to the vest, close to the bone and close to the soil. We have learnt already not to look to him for the expansive gesture: there are bitter essences to compensate for the lack of that. Door into the Dark confirms him in his course, its very title telling you in which direction that course lies. I will show you fear in a tinful of bait. It should be said at the outset that poetry as good as Mr. Heaney's best is hard to come by. But it is all pretty desperate stuff, and in those poems where we don't feel the brooding vision to be justified by the customary dense beauty of his technique we are probably in the right to come down hard and send our criticism as close as we can to the man within. The man within is at least in some degree a chooser. If he chose to be slick, to let his finely-worked clinching stanzas fall pat, there would be a new kind of damaging poetry on the way—squat, ugly and unstoppable….

Human characteristics tend to be referred back to animals and objects. As with Ted Hughes, it takes a visit to the zoo, the game reserve, or an imaginary dive below the sod before the idea of personality gets any showing at all. The people themselves are mostly clichés disguised in heroic trappings….

Things live; animals almost live; humans live scarcely at all…. It's a roundabout way for passion to get into print….

The spirits lift to the flash of wit. There ought to be more of it. Nobody in his right mind would deny that Mr. Heaney's is one of the outstanding talents on the scene, or want that talent to settle in its ways too early.

"Fear in a Tinful of Bait," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd., 1969; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), July 17, 1969, p. 770.

The first thing to know about Ireland is it's wet…. Seamus Heaney knows that, and has written a good moist book about Eire [Door into the Dark]—I can see it mildew on my shelf. At least the boards are warping. Wet clay ("It holds and gluts"), eels crossing a road, salmon, peat ("the bogholes might be Atlantic seepage./The wet centre is bottomless"). Even his fairies are undines. A lot of them are magazine poems in the sense that the thinking doesn't go very deep—but the peat does, squishy as a leaky boot. (pp. 98-9)

Gerald Burns, in Southwest Review (© 1970 by Southern Methodist University Press), Winter, 1970.

[In Wintering Out] Heaney has revaluated the powerful picture of rural Northern Irish life he drew in Door into the Dark in more consciously political terms. The poet … doesn't harp on the war, though its background presence is acutely felt. Instead, he has turned his attention to the maintenance of the ancient Irish identity of his people through a renewed appreciation of their own language,… which he feels has been buried under the influence of an imposed, essentially alien culture. (p. 117)

The same incredible precision, originality, and depth of language continue, intensified if anything; but it's as though Heaney had suddenly become aware of a wider audience and other trends in the wind. His pre-occupation with the Ulster tongue involves the adoption of a new interpretive role and a less immediate identification with Irish life per se, which may prove a narrowing influence on the work of undoubtedly the most talented younger poet writing in the British Isles. (p. 118)

Jonathan Galassi, in Poetry (© 1973 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), November, 1973.

Seamus Heaney [is] one of a number of poets who seem to have been affected by the 'Nature...

(The entire section is 5,965 words.)