Seamus Heaney Heaney, Seamus (Vol. 91) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Seamus Heaney Nobel Prize in Literature

(Full name Seamus Justin Heaney) Born in 1939, Heaney is an Irish poet, critic, essayist, translator, and editor.

For further information on Heaney's life and career, see CLC, Volumes 5, 7, 14, 25, 37, and 74.

Widely considered Ireland's most accomplished contemporary poet, Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize for what the Swedish Academy proclaimed his "works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past." In his works, Heaney often considers the role and responsibility a poet should play in society, exploring themes of self-discovery and spiritual growth and addressing political and cultural issues related to Irish history. His poetry is characterized by sensuous language, sexual metaphors, and nature imagery. Many critics agree with Robert Lowell's assessment of him as "the greatest Irish poet since Yeats."

Biographical Information

The eldest of nine children, Heaney was raised a Roman Catholic in Mossbawn, County Derry, a rural community in Northern Ireland. He once described himself as one of a group of Catholics in Northern Ireland who "emerged from a hidden, a buried life and entered the realm of education." At age eleven, Heaney left his family's farm to study at Saint Columb's College in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, where he had received a scholarship. In 1957 he attended Queen's University in Belfast, where he was introduced to Irish, American, and English literature and was particularly influenced by such poets as Ted Hughes, Patrick Kavanagh, and Robert Frost, whose poetry was significantly informed by their childhood experiences. While in college, Heaney contributed poems to university literary magazines under the pseudonym Incertus. After graduating from Queen's University with a first-class honors degree in English language and literature and a teaching certificate, he held positions as a secondary school teacher and later returned to Queen's University as a lecturer. During this time he also established himself as a prominent literary figure with the publication in 1966 of Death of a Naturalist, his first major volume of poetry. As a Catholic living in Belfast when fighting erupted between Protestants and Catholics in 1969, Heaney took a personal interest in Ireland's social and political unrest, and he began to address the causes and effects of violence in his poetry. In 1972 Heaney moved from Belfast to a cottage outside Dublin and began writing full time. He returned to teaching in 1975 as head of the English department at Caryfort College in Dublin. Heaney has traveled frequently to the United States to give poetry readings and, from 1989 to 1994, he served as a professor of poetry at Oxford and was appointed Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University.

Major Works

Heaney's earliest works evince sensuous memories associated with nature and with his childhood on his family's farm. In such poems as "Digging," from Death of a Naturalist, Heaney evokes the Irish countryside and comments on the care and skill with which his father and ancestors farmed the land. Nature is also a prominent theme in his next volume, Door into the Dark (1969) in which several poems focus on the work of rural laborers. Critics have praised the poem "Undine," for example, in which Heaney describes the process of agricultural irrigation in the context of myth and sexuality. Much of Heaney's poetry addresses the history of social unrest in Northern Ireland and considers the relevance of poetry in the face of violence and political upheaval. Included in his collections Wintering Out (1972) and North (1975), for example, are a series of "bog poems" that were inspired by the archaeological excavation of Irish peat bogs containing preserved human bodies that had been ritually slaughtered during the Iron Age. Heaney depicts the victims of such ancient pagan rites as symbolic of the bloodshed caused by contemporary violence in Ireland. In such poems as "Ocean's Love to Ireland" and "Act of Union," Heaney portrays the English colonization of Ireland as an act of violent sexual conquest. Some critics believe that Heaney's most effective poetry emphasizes personal themes of self-determination and poetic imagination. While many of the poems in Field Work (1979)—including such elegies as "The Strand at Lough Beg," "A Post-Card from North Antrim," and "Casualty"—continue to address the unrest in Northern Ireland, they incorporate a personal tone as Heaney depicts the loss of friends and relatives to the violence. Irish history and myth are frequently incorporated in Heaney's works, including his prose poem Sweeney Astray (1984), which is based on the medieval Irish tale of King Sweeney, who was transformed from a warrior-king into a bird as the result of a curse. Some critics have interpreted the figure of King Sweeney as a representation of the artist torn between imaginative freedom and the constraints of religious, political, and domestic obligations, reflecting Heaney's concern with the role of the poet in society. Irish history is also an important motif in a sequence of allegorical poems entitled "Station Island," included in his 1984 collection of the same title. Patterned after Dante's Commedia (c. 1307-c. 1321; Divine Comedy) the sequence portrays a three-day spiritual pilgrimage undertaken by Irish Catholics to Station Island. While on the island, the narrator encounters the souls of dead acquaintances and Irish literary figures, who inspire him to reflect on his life and art. Critics have also praised the privately emotional tone of The Haw Lantern (1987), a collection that includes parables of Irish life and a series of poems entitled "Clearances" in which Heaney explores memories of his relationship with his mother. In such poems as "From the Republic of Conscience" and "From the Canton of Expectation," he meditates on spirituality in the context of a menacing political climate. Seeing Things (1991) also diverges from Heaney's previous emphasis on politics and civic responsibility, returning to the autobiographical themes of childhood experience and Irish community ritual. Feelings of loss and yearning are prominent motifs in the collection, as many poems evoke celebratory images of Heaney's deceased father, who appears frequently throughout the volume. Critics have cited "Squarings," a sequence comprising four sections each containing twelve twelve-line poems, as exemplary of Heaney's stylistic and technical virtuosity. Although some commentators have faulted Seeing Things for its presentation of elusive images and themes that eschew critical interpretation, many have praised the volume for its imaginative qualities and its focus on visionary transcendence experienced through ordinary life events.

Critical Response

Critical response to Heaney's work has been predominately positive and enthusiastic. Comparisons between his work and that of other Irish writers—William Butler Yeats in particular—but also James Joyce and Samuel Beckett have proliferated. Harold Bloom called Heaney's poem "The Harvest Bow," which praises marriage, "a perfect lyric." And John Gross has stated that Heaney "has all the primary gifts of a poet, and they are gifts put at the service of a constant meditation on primary themes, on nature and history and moral choice."

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Eleven Poems (poetry) 1965
Death of a Naturalist (poetry) 1966
Room to Rhyme [with Dairo Hammond and Michael Longley] (poetry) 1968
Door into the Dark (poetry) 1969
A Lough Neagh Sequence (poetry) 1969
Boy Driving His Father to Confession (poetry) 1970
Night Drive (poetry) 1970
Land (poetry) 1971
Servant Boy (poetry) 1971
Wintering Out (poetry) 1972
Boy Poems (poetry) 1975
Fire i' the Flint: Reflections on the Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins (criticism) 1975
North (poetry) 1975
Stations (poetry) 1975
In Their Element: A Selection of Poems [with Derek Mahon] (poetry) 1977
After Summer (poetry) 1978
The Making of a Music: Reflections on the Poetry of Wordsworth and Yeats (criticism) 1978
Robert Lowell: A Memorial Address and Elegy (nonfiction) 1978
Field Work (poetry) 1979
Hedge School: Sonnets from Glanmore (poetry) 1979
Ugolino (poetry) 1979
Poems: 1965–1975 (poetry) 1980; also published as Selected Poems 1965–1975, 1980
Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968–1978 (essays) 1980
Sweeney Praises the Trees (poetry) 1981
An Open Letter (poetry) 1983
Hailstones (poetry) 1984
Station Island (poetry) 1984
Sweeney Astray: A Version from the Irish [translator and adaptor] (poetry and prose) 1984
Verses for a Fordham Commencement (poetry) 1984
From the Republic of Conscience (poetry) 1985
The Haw Lantern (poetry) 1987
The Government of the Tongue: The 1986 T. S. Eliot Memorial Lectures, and Other Critical Writings (essays) 1988; also published as The Government of the Tongue: Selected Prose, 1978–1987, 1988
The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles' Philoctetes (drama) 1990
New Selected Poems: 1966–1987 (poetry) 1990
The Place of Writing (prose) 1990
The Tree Clock (poetry) 1990
Seeing Things (poetry) 1991
The Redress of Poetry (essays) 1995


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mary Kinzie (essay date Fall 1988)

SOURCE: "Deeper than Declared: On Seamus Heaney," in Salmagundi, No. 80, Fall, 1988, pp. 22-57.

[Kinzie is an American poet, critic, and educator. In the following excerpt, she analyzes the imagery and syntax of Heaney's poetry, focusing on the epic poem, "Station Island."]

"Was there a 'misalliance,'" asks Seamus Heaney of Robert Lowell, "between the gift and the work it was harnessed to do?" [see Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968–1978]. To ask the question is to suggest an affirmative reply: The vivid occasion in Lowell was ever straining toward meditation, the verbal breakdowns toward a state of Horatian health (and, one could say, vice versa). Heaney's sensitivity to this "misalliance" is revealing, since he, too, the best known poet to come out of Ireland since Yeats, hankers after a species of court dress and bardic intonation, for which almost everything in his unconscious music automatically disqualifies him. So, too, do Heaney's authentic gifts as a chronicler of the rough, marshy landscapes and family farms of Ulster ill prepare him to write the large-scale politico-religious work. Yet the misalliance is not without its hard-won triumphs.

"Station Island" is a curious poetic sequence, poignant in parts, powerful in others, but disjointed and bottled up, as if the poet could not commit himself to its deeper drift. Nor is emotion liberated by the liberal confidentiality of some of the poems. Feeling is still largely numbed with remorse, and the poems float in loose, nominal relation to one another despite Heaney's almost anxious reverence for nets and skeins of meaning. Allusions to more thoroughgoing systems of belief than his own are constantly made. Dante is present, both in the nagging background of current politics and in the variable terza rima of four of the twelve poems (the triplets of the fine poem about the young priest are near enough the terza rima norm to serve as a distant fifth); and Dante's presence is also felt in the grotesquerie of the premise that the dead masters and friends and political victims—those violently dead still bearing the marks of their deaths on their bodies—can come forward to speak with Heaney. But he does not judge, or assign his dead to circles, or give them activities that measure their sins, their expiation, or their blessedness. The afterlife is a convenient fiction, and Dante's influence a matter of shards, since his minor premise is honored, that the living may speak with the dead, but not his theism, let alone his theology. [In a Footnote, Kinzie continues: "Field Work is also haunted by Dante. The two longest poems are the Dante translation called 'Ugolino' and 'The Strand at Lough Beg,' which gives us a new 'reading' of Vergil's tender washing of Dante's face with his hands dipped in dew from the grass near the inexhaustible reeds, as Heaney pictures bathing his murdered cousin in the moss strikingly pictured as 'Fine as a drizzle out of a low cloud.' A third poem, 'An Afterwards,' is parodically based on Dante (the poet's wife consigns all poets to hell). There are three further allusions in the volume; the one in 'Leavings' lightly captures the whole Dantean feeling of fatedness—in the crime, the penance, and the instigating personality—as Heaney wonders how Thomas Cromwell will be punished for the crime of smashing the idols, replacing stained glass in all the chapels of England with clear panes: 'Which circle does he tread, / scalding on cobbles, / each one a broken statue's head?'"]

Similarly, Heaney is pursuing a series of expiatory "stations" traditionally aimed at placing the moral weaknesses of the "pilgrim" under avid, pious attack. But although this pilgrim regrets his failings, primarily those that stem from apolitical indifference or disengagement, he is not interested in examining the flawed instrument. He does not aim to school the ego, nor to pacify the will. His penitential guise is almost prideful, as if to prove Johnson's dictum that "All censure of a man's self is oblique praise. It is in order to show how much he can spare."

Finally, Heaney's "Station Island" poems obsessively fasten on the idea of mortality, without seriously questioning its meaning. Whenever ultimate meaning is required, Poetry automatically steps in. Indeed, it is hygienically described, in a passage where putrefaction and decay are celebrated, as the process of cleaning out life's wounds as by the action of maggots: "another life that cleans our element." But this purifying role of verse is asserted rather than argued. There is some disappointment, therefore, when we catch the notes of disembodied reverence with which the poet-pilgrim "faces into" his stations. For he does not address the redemptive function of this other ritual, either. The nearest he comes to acknowledging the purpose of the Station Island retreat occurs in the young missionary' elliptical suggestion that Heaney must be here on the Island not to humble himself to God but to bid God farewell. "'What possessed you?'" the dead priest asks the poet, his grammar twisting as his thought worms through:

'… all this you were clear of you walked into
over again. And the god has, as they say, withdrawn.

What are you doing, going through these motions?
Unless … Unless …' Again he was short of breath
and his whole fevered body yellowed and shook.

'Unless you are here taking the last look.'
("Station Island," IV)

Nowhere else in the sequence do we find God even nostalgically brought in. Not that the poems lack their Satanic figures. A little-known writer named William Carleton, Protestant convert, angry, bitter, blustering, is one, who undertakes the rough, stressed Anglo-Saxon attitudes familiar from Heaney's earlier volumes:

hard-mouthed Ribbonmen and Orange bigots
made me into the old fork-tongued turncoat
who mucked the byre of their politics.

Another minor demon is the tinker Simon Sweeney, who first appears with a bow-saw in his arms "held / stiffly up like a lyre," a gesture which should betoken blessing. But he shows his truer form when he reminds the poet of the latter's childhood fear of him in a simile that fairly shudders with the aversion his person inspired. When

woodsmoke sharpened air
or ditches rustled
you sensed my trail there
as if it had been sprayed.

Yet in the last six stanzas of this poem, which opens the "Station Island" suite, Heaney succumbs to the vaporous apparitions of shawled women moving in wet fields through the rags of moisture that make up this poet's atmospheric element. The women's chaunt convokes his dead in a "loosed congregation." We lose sight of the "old Sabbath-breaker"; a last chaffing command to "'Stay clear of all processions!'" is Simon Sweeney's only attempt to shed light on his encounter with the poet, whose mind he can read. This bending of the poems' design under the weight of tangent and digression is a particular mark of the "Station Island" poems, showing how delicate a task of convocation Heaney has set himself.

Demonic too are the shadowy assassins, both Protestant and Catholic, whose victims confront Heaney with their accusing wounds. In fact, one might conjecture that his real demons are these self-accusations emanating from the world where others act and die. Even his style grows demonic in its exorbitance:

Strange polyp floated like a huge corrupt
Magnolia bloom, surreal as a shed breast,
My softly awash and blanching self-disgust.

Self-disgust has a political cast, cowardice a wilting reminder of public reticence. "Forgive," he asks, "my timid circumspect involvement"; "I hate how quick I was to know my place." The affairs of Ulster (the older name of Northern Ireland that encodes the indigenous heroic tradition) press upon Seamus Heaney as matters of conscience, but no more strongly than it appears they have been pressed upon him by his more engaged readers. And "Station Island" was to have been the poem where he would "be facing the North and getting shut of it" [see Frances X. Clines, interview with Seamus Heaney, The New York Times Magazine (13 March 1983), p. 99]. Yet he draws a veil of inconclusive poignancy over the IRA killer whose whole life was lived in the context of weapons and guerrilla war. In a sleeping vision framed in elegant, moody pentameter whose unobtrusive and slant rhymes trace an equally unobtrusive sonnet pattern, Heaney sees the dead man laid out, smells the very mildew

From the byre loft where he watched and hid
From fields his draped coffin would raft through.
Unquiet soul, they should have buried you
In the bog where you threw your first grenade,
Where only helicopters and curlews
Make their maimed music, and sphagnum moss
Could teach you its medicinal repose.
("Station Island," IX)

Would his soul thereafter begin to be healed of its rancors, absolved of its crimes? Or would the invading helicopters, their blades slapping the air, drown even the interred one in their looming modern racket? The questions can be answered only by recognizing, first, how tempered the diction is, smoothing the roughness of helicopters by matching its consonants with a semantically more muffled lexicon whose sounds are metallic, but not whose meanings (unquiet, coffin, curlews), just as grenade is softened down among the wet places of bog and sphagnum. Next one would note how the metaphor of ghostly palimpsest lays future over past with an air of visionary mourning; the temporal carrier is the rural landscape, where the underground soldier grew up, and held out: "the byre loft where he watched and hid / From fields his draped coffin would raft through." The uncommon verb raft suggests not only the watery gliding of the bier but also the kindred sluicing audible in more common past participles like reft (bereft) and rift, both of which owe something to tearing, especially as extended to the heart.

Finally, one should remark how the natural world ironically opens to accept even insoluble paradoxes, burning them down to harmonies, recasting itself out of the contraries. The helicopters' cacophony is literally subdued to the level of the curlews' cries, the bog swallows the sound of the grenade, silence falls into the vacuum torn out by combat: "'an ambush / Stillness I felt safe in settled around me.'" At times, it appears the only constant in Heaney's world is the natural landscape, moist, overcast, luxuriant, which lends itself to the individual's terms without infringing on its own enormities. In the moving elegy on Barney Murphy that forms the major part of "Station Island," V (Murphy was Heaney's schoolmaster, whose school was razed to reclaim the land for farming), the old master's asthmatic breath "rushed the air softly as scythes in his lost meadows." The classical and biblical seriousness of the diction gives authority to the kindly overlap of natural with human processes. In a harsher style, the poor insurgent in IX speaks of his spiritual decay in somatic terms equally magnetized by the rural milieu; his tropes go back to Heaney's bog folk whose mummification in the peat was quite literal:

'My brain dried like spread turf, my stomach
Shrank to a cinder and tightened and cracked.
Often I was dogs on my own track
Of blood on wet grass that I could have licked.'

Here is an overlay of a different sort, as the thirsty, starving, bleeding outlaw changes places with his ravenous trackers—yet another example of nature's polymorphous sway. And in more daring elegiac fashion, the most tawdry items of contemporary technology (car, helicopter, gun, bomb, grenade) are subsumed by the seasonal-natural machine. The first part of "Station Island," IX can stand with "The Tollund Man," "Funeral Rights," and "Kinship"; with the two strong laments in Field Work, "The Toome Road" and "The Strand at Lough Beg"; and, from the more recent volume, with "The First Flight" and the superbly ironic "Sandstone Keepsake," as one of Seamus Heaney's finest politically oriented works.

But the rest of the poem raises the spectre of ambivalence on a second front as well. The entire last half, from the third sonnet to the fifth, makes no reference to the young warrior, but instead breaks into a medley of dream-anguishes with three different tenors and three different styles. First the dream shows the muddy flood of self-disgust (the polyp-breast image, quoted earlier), which is followed by a hiatus during which his heart revives, only to be oppressed by the tangential memory, still within the dream, of an old brass trumpet Heaney found in a barn but was too self-effacing to take ("a mystery / I shied from then for I thought such trove beyond me"—his boyhood persona is almost too good to be true). Then the last sonnet/paragraph, strewn with self-castigations, closes with the abrupt attempt, by means of a shorthand epiphany, to haul the whole complex weight of the preceding 70 lines under a dome of shining sweetness:

'I hate how quick I was to know my place.
I hate where I was born, hate everything
That made me biddable and unforthcoming,'
I mouthed at my half-composed face
In the shaving mirror, like somebody
Drunk in the bathroom during a party,
Lulled and repelled by his own reflection.
As if the cairnstone could defy the cairn.
As if the eddy could reform the pool.
As if a stone swirled under a cascade,
Eroded and eroding in its bed,
Could grind itself down to a different core.
Then I thought of the tribe whose dances never fail
For they keep dancing till they sight the deer.

To dance until something miraculous happens in the world, or until one drops, is a brave extreme to undergo, but I do not know that Heaney proposes to do this (he merely "thought of" it). Nor do I see the immediate link between the deer-invocation and the need to reform a weak character. There is a little casuistry under the attractive imagery of cascade and woodland dance, just as there is a little evasion in the stylishly flat self-confrontation in the shaving mirror, when Heaney at once mocks and approves his own chagrin. The question of responsibility is deflected, to one side determinism ("As if a cairnstone could defy the cairn"), to the other guilt ("Lulled and repelled by his own reflection").

Although they do not readily imply or support one another, the two halves of this poem do have the dim, infernal relation of photograph to negative. And perhaps what makes the young guerrilla of the first two sonnets attractive to Heaney is his complete lack of self-pity: His self-regard is of a cosmic sort, like the Croppies' of 1798: "The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave" ["Requiem for the Croppies," Door into the Dark (1969)]. The two Irishmen touch by virtue of their temperamental exclusions. The barn where Heaney found the brass trumpet eerily reminds us of the bog where the other boy threw his first grenade, one an object of white magic and sentimentality, the other of black magic and damnation. The polyp of self-disgust that luxuriates in sexual folds in the second half is the metaphoric and stylistic and, indeed, spiritual 'positive' of that dried-out brain and stomach tight as a cinder with which the poem strongly begins. It is as if action (dark, desiccated) were being opposed to thought (glistening and spongy).

But such oppositions are perhaps too beguiling in their dialectical neatness; they tend to smother thought. Had Heaney not known his place, for example (and who knows what conditions would have conspired in such a character change?), had he been more forthcoming, less docile ("biddable"), would he have joined the IRA and eschewed poetry? What, then? He hints, I think unconvincingly, that he might have been readier to make something of his tribal knowledge, to act or sympathize, independent of violent cadres—to dance—until he saw justice done. Although this might not have insured that justice was done, it would, the parable implies, have given him an easier conscience. Collaterally, the ambivalences that prompt such cutting of corners in the realm of self-knowledge rather mar this cumbersome second group of sonnets.

The same confrontation between beauty of thought and efficacy of deed—perfection of the work or of the life—occurs in the second half of another "Station Island" poem devoted to Heaney's cousin Colum McCartney, arbitrarily killed by Protestants. A kind youth who shied away even from the spent cartridges left by hunters, he accuses the poet of manipulating "artistic tact" until it becomes "evasion." He claims that his cousin, in his splendid elegy in Field Work, "The Strand at Lough Beg,"

'… whitewashed ugliness and drew
the lovely blinds of the Purgatorio
and saccharined my death with morning dew.'

The deprecatory judgment is half-hearted: It is undercut by Heaney's style. The beauty for which he has his dead cousin castigate him irrepressibly enters the rhetoric and the stately prosody of the condemnation itself. Reminiscent of Robert Lowell's dismissal of his high rhetorical mode in "The Dolphin" as mere "set-piece, set-piece," McCartney's speech in "Station Island," VIII is an attempt on the poet's part to devalue all fine speech, for it is not true grief. Then, as if to prove that he is not putting himself above his own experience, Heaney as the pilgrim lets his guard down and invites into the poem a note of whining and a flawed prosaism. When McCartney claims that even strangers showed more agitation than his cousin did, the poet replies in dialogue made doubly brittle by the recuperated grand cadences of the second pair of lines:

'But they were getting crisis
first-hand, Colum, they had happened in on
live sectarian assassination.
I was dumb, encountering what was destined.'

Heaney countenances this patent ineptitude of emotion, and of style, in an effort to absolve himself of the finished flourish of his earlier elegy and, by "standing up for life against art, implicitly defend [ ] the bulk and flux of the less finished work."

Like Lowell, whom he thus describes, Heaney also has phases in which he would commit himself to the fragmentary over the finished. For anything more than fragments will falsify the brokenness and insolubility of experience—and do so in a way that amounts to complicity with the forces of repression, inactivity, and decay. (The only poem acceptable to the Left may eventually be the completely ill-written and inchoate one. Memory, tradition, and especially the literary memory, are suspect: Over a dismantled lobster in "Away from It All," another poem of postprandial funk like the "Oysters" of Field Work, "quotations start to rise / / like rehearsed alibis.") Heaney is clearly ambivalent toward the grand modes and the traditional genres like elegy that permit breadth and sweep of utterance, because there one speaks from a stable position that can risk general statements, uphold with moderate confidence social and moral standards, relish aesthetic design, and reside in a context...

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Award Announcements

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

William Grimes (essay date 6 October 1995)

SOURCE: "Irish Poet Wins the Nobel Prize in Literature," in The New York Times, October 6, 1995, pp. B1, B18.

[In the following article, Grimes summarizes Heaney's life and career.]

The Irish poet Seamus Heaney has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. In conferring the prize, the Swedish Academy praised Mr. Heaney "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past."

It also praised Mr. Heaney, a Roman Catholic, for analyzing the violence in Northern Ireland without recourse to conventional terms.

The poet (whose...

(The entire section is 1698 words.)


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Seamus Heaney with The Economist (interview date 22 June 1991)

SOURCE: A conversation in The Economist, Vol. 319, June 22, 1991, pp. 98-102.

[In the following interview, Heaney discusses his philosophy of language and the influence his father and his home in Ireland have had on his poetry.]

Seamus Heaney is one of the best known and most widely read of modern poets. His latest collection of poems, Seeing Things, has been both praised and damned: the Spectator has called it "a glass precipice without toehold". In conversation recently, he explained himself to The Economist.

[The Economist]: You...

(The entire section is 3998 words.)

Review Of Heaney's Most Recent Work

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

John Bayley (review date 20 October 1995)

SOURCE: "Professing Poetry," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4829, October 20, 1995, pp. 9-10.

[In the following review of The Redress of Poetry, Bayley maintains that though Heaney's criticism is sound and fair, it offers no new startling insights.]

Seamus Heaney's slim book of offerings as Oxford Professor of Poetry gives the impression of being adjusted with courtly discretion to an audience who expect the familiar rather than the new. His most interesting essays are an introduction on the The Redress of Poetry, and its follow-up on Hero and Leander in an Irish context....

(The entire section is 918 words.)

Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Burris, Sidney. The Poetry of Resistance: Seamus Heaney and the Pastoral Tradition. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1990, 165 p.

Analyzes Heaney's work in relation to the tradition of pastoral poetry, a form outwardly concerned with nature but encompassing many other philosophical and social concerns. Burris calls Heaney "a deeply literary poet, one whose consolations often lie in the invigorating strains of the poetic tradition itself."

Guenther, Charles. "Strong, Singular Voice Thrives Amid Turmoil." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (5 April 1992): 5C

Positive review of Heaney's Seeing...

(The entire section is 199 words.)