The Singer's House

by Seamus Heaney
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Themes

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 561

Irish Culture and Mythology
Heaney’s primary goal in the poem is to inspire a rebirth in the native culture of Ireland. Heaney laments the loss of old traditions such as the salt mining in Carrickfergus, noting that this way of life is nothing but a “frosty echo.” Using Carrickfergus as a springboard, Heaney illustrates that the salt mines are not the only abandoned tradition. Many Irish nationalists lack a cultural identity. Some of them, having been driven out of Northern Ireland, either by force or by choice, as in the case of Heaney’s own self-exile, do not have anywhere to call their cultural home. Much of the Irish way of life throughout the island has been transformed. Like the “drowned souls” that live in the seals, many Irish men and women have had their identities drowned by the influence of English language and tradition. These influences have transformed Irish life into a routine, much like that of the farming seasons, which lack the “tang,” or spice of the old Irish ways. Heaney invokes one Irish legend in particular, the legend of the Selchies, when he notes that “People here used to believe / that drowned souls lived in the seals.”

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Artistic Responsibility
With this poem, Heaney is acknowledging the artist’s responsibility to help resurrect and maintain a national identity. Heaney issues a challenge to Hammond, and to himself, in the second stanza, asking “What do we say any more / to conjure the salt of our earth?” This poem is Heaney’s response for himself. He is using his poetic abilities to address the issue, and enlist help, mainly from Hammond. Heaney details the situation in detail for Hammond, explaining that if they are not careful, the Irish identity could slip away forever, instead of being “crystal and kept.” The displaced Irish men and women, symbolized in the seals, need Hammond’s help. In the last stanza, Heaney is more direct with this request, saying that “When I came here first you were always singing.” In other words, Heaney is trying to remind Hammond that he has a duty to do, as he has done in the past. However, now the situation is more dangerous, and music has become an “attack,” a fight to save the last remnant of Irish identity and build it up again. As Heaney notes in the last line, “We still believe what we hear.” If Hammond follows his artistic responsibility and sings his Irish songs once again, Heaney tells him he will help to inspire a movement among the culturally displaced Irish citizens.

Cultural Healing
Although Heaney ends the poem with some combative language, emphasizing the “attack,” the poem is for the most part a peaceful attempt at resurrecting and rebuilding the national Irish identity. Heaney does not want to fight in the literal sense, as there has been enough violence in Northern Ireland already. In fact, it was this violence that caused Hammond to put down his guitar and stop singing, so Heaney takes a different approach with this plea to pick it up again. He recognizes that what Ireland needs is healing, not more fighting. As a result, even though he is nostalgic about Carrickfergus, he puts aside these memories from his life in Northern Ireland and sets about trying to affect a change where he can—by rescuing the language and culture.

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