Foreword (The Spirit Level)

Seamus Heaney – The Spirit Level Contents Foreword Main sources Key dates in Heaney’s biography post 1969 Grounds for optimism Attributed comments and reviews Unattributed comments and reviews The makings of a lyric poet Talismans , portraits and concerns The bricklayer’s spirit level Heaney puts human spirit to the test Living is not giving in History and ignorance All-seeing and in-between Translation’ and other variations on the prefix ‘trans’ ‘So walk on air’ Water, earth, fire and air The Poems: individual commentaries with footnotes and reflections on style and structure; Afterthoughts: finding the blend; the poet’s compositional skills; the poem as a ‘music pleasing to the ear’; the music of the poetry; using assonance: ‘coloured sound’ is an attempt to highlight recurrent sounds in the poems using phonetic symbols and colour shades; ‘same colour, same sound’; standard English vowel sounds and their phonetic symbols; using alliteration; standard English consonant sounds […read more….]

zz-Afterthoughts (The Spirit Level)

Afterthoughts Finding the blend. The most successful poets share much in common with the best chefs; the latters’ knowledge of the finest products supplemented by a talent that adds the individual flavours of spices, herbs and myriad ingredients in just the right amounts at just the right moment produces the unique, mouth-watering experiences capable of delighting and inspiring those who savour the result. The ‘knowledge’ is gleaned from experience and requires hard work; the ‘talent’ is a gift granted only to very few. In these respects Heaney is a craftsman pursuing a similar goal. In Spirit Level he is the ‘master-chef’. Whatever the initial stages in the process, the moment a poem ‘comes on’ or ideas with a poetic charge emerge, the stages by which these are translated into poetic form involve a deliberate and sometimes lengthy process of composition and revision, selection and rejection that determines the ultimate structure, […read more….]

Station Island Foreword

Foreword Station Island, published by Faber and Faber in 1984, is Seamus Heaney’s seventh collection. Heaney is in his mid-forties. The totality of his collections over more than half a century since Death of a Naturalist (1966) have confirmed his place at the very top of the premier league of poets writing in English. The textual commentaries that follow seek to tease out what Heaney’s poems are intimating in Station Island. Of course, the poet’s ‘message’ will have started life as an essentially personal one not intended primarily for his reader; there are moments when some serious unravelling is required. Thanks to the depth of Heaney’s knowledge, scholarship and the sincerity of his personal feelings, his poetry is rich in content. Digging into background-materials is both essential and edifying. In the case of a poet as accomplished, complex and focused as Heaney, the rewards for persevering are at once enriching, […read more….]

Afterthoughts (Station Island)

Afterthoughts Finding the blend. The most successful poets share much in common with the best chefs; the latters’ knowledge of the finest products supplemented by a talent that adds the individual flavours of spices, herbs and myriad ingredients in just the right amounts at just the right moment produces the unique, mouth-watering experiences capable of delighting and inspiring those who savour the result. The ‘knowledge’ is gleaned from experience and requires hard work; the ‘talent’ is a gift granted only to the very few. In these respects Heaney is a craftsman pursuing a similar goal. In Station Island he is the ‘master-chef’. A number of poems in the collection offer insights into the poetic process as Heaney experiences it. Whatever the initial stages in the process, the moment a poem ‘comes on’ or ideas with a poetic charge emerge, the stages by which these are translated into poetic form involve a deliberate […read more….]

Foreword (North)

Foreword North published by Faber and Faber in 1975 is Seamus Heaney’s fourth collection. Heaney was in his mid-thirties. The totality of his collections over more than half a century have confirmed Heaney’s place at the top of the premier league of poets writing in English. The textual commentaries that follow seek to tease out what Heaney’s poems are intimating in North. Of course, the poet’s ‘message’ will have started life as an essentially personal one not intended primarily for his reader; there are moments when some serious unravelling is required. Thanks to the depth of Heaney’s knowledge, scholarship and personal feelings, his poetry is rich in content; digging into background-materials is both essential and edifying. In the case of a poet as accomplished, complex and focused as Heaney, the rewards for persevering are at once enriching, fortifying and hugely pleasurable. In a very real sense Heaney both entertains and […read more….]

Afterthoughts (North)

Afterthoughts (North). Countdown to extremes of violence prior to the troubled period 1969 – 75. The following time-line seeks to set out some key dates before concentrating on the period during which North was taking shape. Whilst far from comprehensive it gives an idea of the tensions and fear that might exist on a day-to-day basis punctuated by the incidents listed below. 1801:Act of Union – Ireland and Britain formally united; 1905:Creation of Sinn Fein – a political party with the aim of freeing Ireland from British rule; 1913: Creation of Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) – formed of Protestants who opposed Irish Home Rule; 1916:Easter Uprising Irish Catholics proclaim an Irish Republic in Dublin, brutally suppressed by the British army. The Easter Uprising volunteers become known as the Irish Republican Army; 1920: Partition of Ireland. The 6 northern counties will remain part of the United Kingdom with a parliament in […read more….]

Foreword (District and Circle)

Foreword  (District and Circle). District and Circle is Seamus Heaney’s twelfth collection since Death of a Naturalist (1966), published in April 2006 by Faber and Faber. There are 44 titles including 5 sequences of more than one poem; 68 poems in all. Many had already appeared in some form or other in a variety of publications on both sides of the Atlantic.The volume includes some ‘found prose’ and a number of translations.   Heaney’s work since 1966 has lost none of its accessibility, erudition and vitality. The textual commentaries that follow seek to tease out what his poems are intimating in District and Circle. Of course, the poet’s ‘message’ will have started life as an essentially personal one, not intended primarily for his reader; accordingly, there are moments when some serious unravelling is required. In the case of a poet as accomplished, complex and focused as Heaney, the rewards for […read more….]

Afterthoughts (District and Circle)

Afterthoughts (District and Circle). Finding the blend. The most successful poets share much in common with the best chefs; the latters’ knowledge of the finest products supplemented by a talent that adds the individual flavours of spices, herbs and myriad ingredients in just the right amounts at just the right moment produces the unique, mouth-watering experiences capable of delighting and inspiring those who savour the result. The ‘knowledge’ is gleaned from experience and requires hard work; the ‘talent’ is a gift granted only  to the very few. In these respects Heaney is a craftsman pursuing a similar goal.In District and Circle he is the ‘master-chef’. In some earlier poems, for example North, Viking Dublin and Bone Dreams (from the collection North of 1975), Heaney offered insights into the poetic process as he experienced it. What becomes clear without specific comment from Heaney is that whatever the initial stages in the […read more….]

Foreword (Death of a Naturalist)

Foreword. Death of a Naturalist published by Faber in 1966 is Seamus Heaney’s inaugural collection. These early poems demonstrate accessibility, vitality and talent. Subsequent collections over more than half a century will confirm Heaney’s place at the top of the premier league of poets writing in English. The textual commentaries that follow seek to tease out what Heaney’s poems are intimating in Death of a Naturalist. Of course, the poet’s ‘message’ will have started life as an essentially personal one, not intended primarily for his reader; accordingly, there are moments when some serious unravelling is required. In the case of a poet as accomplished, complex and focused as Heaney, the rewards for persevering are at once enriching, fortifying and hugely pleasurable. There are issues, too, beyond ‘the text, the whole text and nothing but the text’: there is the question of ‘style’, that is, the combination of language and poetic […read more….]

Afterthoughts (Death of a Naturalist)

Death of a Naturalist – Afterthoughts Settings, subject matter and formats Digging Ulster home setting; composed ‘at home’ at The Wood in August, 1964. The poet is seated behind a window pen in hand, in the act of composition. Initial focus on the hand holding his squat pen, the symbolic tool of his poetic trade, contrasts it with the elegance of the spades used by father and grandfather; Heaney has abandoned the family farming tradition by going to University and choosing a different direction in life. 9 stanzas of varying length from 2 to 5 lines (31 lines in total); lines grouped largely around 10 syllables; stanzas end in half lines breaking the rhythm or adding emphasis; the rhyme scheme is equally diverse: starting formally aabbb the poem moves into free verse with the exception of a single distant rhyme; Death of a Naturalist Ulster home setting; lost domain of […read more….]

Foreword (Human Chain)

Seamus Heaney – Human Chain – 2010 Human Chain is Seamus Heaney’s thirteenth collection since Death of a Naturalist in 1966. His work over nearly half a century has lost none of its accessibility, erudition and vitality. The textual commentaries that follow seek to tease out what his poems are intimating in Human Chain. Of course, the poet’s ‘message’ will have started life as an essentially personal one, not intended primarily for his reader; accordingly, there are moments when some serious unravelling is required. In the case of a poet as accomplished, complex and focused as Heaney, the rewards for persevering are at once enriching, fortifying and hugely pleasurable.  There are issues, too, beyond ‘the text, the whole text and nothing but the text’: there is the question of ‘style’, that is, the combination of language and poetic devices deliberately selected by the poet to carry his narrative forward; then there is the matter […read more….]

Afterthoughts (Human Chain)

What is in a title?  Human Chain … Heaney is a master of title, whether for a collection or an individual piece. His sometimes enigmatic, often ingenious headings invite the attentive reader to seek subtly submerged attachments. As regards Human Chain, it emerges that Heaney was carried down the stairs of the accommodation he was sharing with friends when his illness struck en route to the ambulance; he is a hefty six-footer and recognises the physical challenge that this represented. Within a short time he had written Miracle based on a Bible story but featuring the stretcher bearers without whom there would have been no miracle! The metaphor seems to have germinated from this. The Human theme is about body and soul; it is all-encompassing: a personal journey through life is both a chain in itself and part of a wider chain; it features the inevitability, the emotional experiences, memories and sense of loss contingent to the human condition. […read more….]