Singing School

Singing School A sequence of 6 poems grouped under a title borrowed from WB Yeats’ Sailing to Byzantium: ‘Nor is there singing school but studying/ Monuments of its own magnificence’. The 2 epigraphs compare contrasting roots: the first is from Wordsworth, reflecting on his gentle apolitical, ‘English’, Church-of England childhood; the second from WB Yeats reflecting much more aggressively his […]

1 The Ministry of Fear

The Ministry of Fear dedicated to Seamus Deane. The initial interjection Well announces that Heaney is poised to speak of events from his personal biography: his important places is borrowed from Patrick Kavanagh’s Epic of 1938:important places, times/ When great events were decided. His first ‘monument’ (in the Yeatsian sense) is St Columb’s College in Derry (where billeted as a […]

2 A Constable Calls

A Constable Calls Heaney provides the ingredients of a a compelling psychological drama: an atmosphere of threat; an attentive youngster; an interrogation; a father’s lie; a moral dilemma that tests the innocence of the listening child; the threat receding. The ‘poem-film-director’ employs all the zooms, pans and slow-motions of cinematic technique. The boy’s eye is the camera, his ear records […]

3 Orange Drums

Orange Drums, Tyrone, 1966 Heaney composes the brash cartoon/poster image of a figure prominent in a Protestant Unionist parade. He allows his dislike of the event and what it stands for to leak out. Its central figure is an overpowering caricature: a drummer whose size and posture are complemented by the bulk and weight of his drum. The vocabulary of […]

4 Summer 1969

Summer 1969 Heaney was in Spain when the Ulster riots were happening. His personal discomfort paled into insignificance when compared with the events experienced by the Catholic community under fire in the Falls Road area of Belfast: I was suffering/ Only the bullying sun of Madrid. He was spending part of each day immersed in his research, perspiring in the […]

5 Fosterage

Fosterage For Michael McLaverty Heaney recounts a brief encounter thirteen years earlier with one of Ireland’s finest writers; he selects a quotation from Wallace Stevens in support of his acknowledgement that McLaverty had much to teach him, a modest ‘rookie’ still searching for his poetic voice. A quotation, a time and a place pinpointing a meeting with a benefactor etched […]

6 Exposure

Exposure In conversation with Henri Cole as published in The Paris review no 75, Heaney spoke about his move to Wicklow in 1972: ‘… leaving the north didn’t break my heart. The solitude was salubrious. Anxiety, after all, can coexist with determination. The anxiety in a poem like “Exposure” is about whether the work that comes out of this move […]