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 […]

The Rain Stick

for Beth and Rand First published in the New Republic in 1993 Heaney describes the ‘music’ produced by a cactus stalk. He recounts a moment of unexpected pleasure that may be repeated at will; in so doing he introduces the message of the collection’s final piece (Postscript), that of opening the heart and the senses to the simple delights that […]

To a Dutch Potter in Ireland

  for Sonja Landweer The poem is dedicated to Sonja Landweer, born in 1933 in Amsterdam, resident in Ireland since the late 1960s; a creator of ceramics, jewellery and sculpture, Landweer exhibited in Ireland and internationally. She and Seamus Heaney shared a mutually inspirational friendship over many decades including a joint exhibition in Kilkenney entitled ‘Out of the Marvellous’. Heaney […]

A Brigid’s Girdle

  for Adele The poet communicates with a friend he has known from Harvard days offering her a gift that he hopes will help alleviate a condition that is threatening her; the poem’s increasingly elegiac tone is ominous. The poet has been in contact with Adele before, in early Spring as he sat in a garden at a rustic table […]

Mint

Heaney admires the survival instinct of a herb that, for all its lowly appearance, graced the family’s Sunday lunch table. As an adjunct he points out the danger of radicalizing groups who see themselves as marginalised. Mint might not be anything to look at (like a clump of small dusty nettles) just an invasive plant Growing wild at the gable […]

A Sofa in the Forties

  A sequence of four poems set in the living area of the Heaney family’s farm at Mossbawn. Heaney reflected on this early period of his life in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech: In the nineteen forties, when I was the eldest child of an ever-growing family in rural Co. Derry, we crowded together in the three rooms of a […]

Keeping Going

  A ‘sandwich’ of six poems dedicated to the poet’s younger brother Hugh. Whilst the top and the tail are warm, compassionate and palatable pieces, the ‘filling’ is disturbing. HV(p164) ‘the poem is in part an investigation of the qualities that go to make up that sort of emotional stamina (remaining equable/ living in peace with his neighbours), in part […]

Two Lorries

  In this virtuoso lyric Heaney adds the challenge of the sestina form (see note below) to a creative lyric routine that establishes a symbolic base, builds a structure that expresses the message it carries, makes appropriate choice of vocabulary and syntax, weaves together an interplay of senses and emotions that are essentially his own, scores the music of the […]

Damson

  For Heaney-as-a-boy the bricklayer was king of the post-war building site and therefore a giant of the world. In ‘Sandpit’ (from Station Island, 1984) he referred to his ‘demobbed bricklayer’, to the ‘merriment in the spirit level’s eye’ and the ‘song of his trowel’; he will return to the figure in ‘District and Circle’ of 2006: Mick Joyce is […]

Weighing In

The title is teasingly equivocal: contestants ‘weigh in’ before a contest; ‘weighing in’ suggests ‘actively taking sides’; ‘weighing’ has to do with balancing one force against another, adding force to an argument so as to tip the balance. Often troubled by his placatory responses to events, there were moments when Heaney’s customary urbanity, generosity of spirit and sense of fair […]