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Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney


This paper intends to explore the role of Heaney as a poet. The main focus of this paper is to discuss the concept “Heaney (like Milton, Wordsworth and Yeats) could not escape the political convulsions of place and time… In his writing the public and the private compete for space.” Further, it discusses the Heaney's poetic response to 'The Troubles'.

Almost from the beginning of his poetic career, Seamus Heaney gained public recognition for poems rooted deep in the soil of Northern Ireland and flowering in subtle rhythms and nuanced verbal melodies. In many respects he pursues a return to poetry's foundations in Romantic meditations on nature and explorations of the triple relationship among words, emotions, and the imagination. Heaney's distinctive quality as a poet is that he is at once parochial and universal, grounded in particular localities and microcultures yet branching out to touch every reader. Strangely, this unusual “here and everywhere” note remains with him even when he changes the basic subject matter of his poetry, as he has done frequently. His command of what William Blake called “minute particularity” allows him to conjure up a sense of the universal even when focusing on a distinct individuality to see “a world in a grain of sand” (O'Brien, 2002). He makes the unique seem familiar. Because his success at this was recognized early, he was quickly branded with the label “greatest Irish poet since Yeats” an appellation that, however laudatory, creates intolerable pressure and unrealizable expectations. Neoromantic he certainly is but not in William Butler Yeats's vein; Heaney is less mythic, less apocalyptic, less mystical, and much more material and elemental.


Critics place Heaney in the Northern School, a loose affiliation of Irish poets who grew up during The Troubles, a period of conflict between various nationalist and unionist forces in Ireland beginning in the late 1960's. This group saw their country torn by political and religious strife for nearly three decades, and their poetry offers a varied response to the events of the times, acts of destructive and deadly violence. Among the writers associated with this group, including Derek Mahon and Michael Longley, Heaney offers the most intimate response. Many of Heaney's poems focus on history, politics, and personal identity; in particular, he examines the individual self both avoiding and embracing broader cultural concerns. For Heaney, the cultural and the personal are separate but bound aspects of a single identity, an idea reminiscent of English poet John Keats's theory of inseparable, but irreconcilable, opposites. Frequently, memory functions in Heaney's poetry as the linking element between self, history, and culture (Moloney, 2007).

Much of Heaney's poetry is written from the first-person perspective and the poet directs his attention to events in his own life and immediate environs. “Digging,” the first poem in his first volume, metaphorically connects his father and grandfather's labors breaking turf to the pen that Heaney hoists. “I'll dig with it,” he notes in the final line of the poem, and does, into the landscape of his elders ...
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