Glanmore Eclogue

Heaney moved his family from Belfast in Northern Ireland to Glanmore in Co. Wicklow (Irish Republic) in 1972. Initially a tenant he eventually purchased the property in 1988. The cottage became the family home and later an iconic refuge for composing poems. Heaney takes an active role in his eclogue (POET) exploring and commenting on issues that emanate from his dialogue with MYLES (whose name recalls the Latin miles (soldier/ warrior) suggestive of an active hiberno-centric spokesman, possibly Myles na gCopaleen, one of the pen-names of Brian O’Nolan or Flann O’Brien).   Initially the eclogue exposes Heaney’s conscience at living in the Irish Republic as an in-comer from the North; it ends with a delightful Gaelic-derived song of summer celebrating […]

Electric Light

In his interview with Daljit Nagra in the March 2001 edition of ‘Fine Lines’ Heaney commented: The title comes from ‘an actual pinpointed moment’… aunts and mother out,  child left with his grandmother, for the first time away from home and becoming scared, bewildered “what ails you child?” … made more homeless by this language … the phrase ‘dwelt in memory’ over nearly 60 years ‘a little aperture a little chink into English English, into the other English … the high art English I learnt when I went to Shakespeare and to Chaucer’. Heaney’s earliest memories of his grandma McCann are pre-electricity – of the old candle-lit order (grease congealed), with its smutty residues (dark-streaked … wick­soot).  His abiding memory […]

Clonmany to Ahascragh

in memory of Rory Kavanagh Heaney dedicates this touching sequence to the deceased son of a long-standing friend. The family is very well known to Heaney but only mentioned by name via the dedication. The loss of a child is completely alien to the poet. The title’s place names are indicative both of Rory’s parental origins and of the trek the couple made to share family with their individual families. The tears of Rory’s family and friends including the poet’s have ground to a halt (the rest of us have no weeping left). Reading and re-reading Heaney’s poem will provide a fitting requiem (do it for you) – peat bog trees that weep (willows … on Leitrim Moss), tears visible […]

Bodies and Souls

Heaney captures moments from his life as a boarder at St Columb’s college. 1 In the Afterlife When the school day came to an end for a bored schoolboy exiled far from home young Heaney entered a kind of afterlife. Wiling away long hours before lights-out, was not much of a life for him. Were he to awaken on the other side of death, the scene might bear a depressing resemblance to St Columb’s. The central character is ‘real name’ (Jim Logue, the caretaker), initially engaged in the fortnightly routine of sweeping up hair off that classroom floor behind the school barber (an actual person contracted to the school). With Heaney in tow (falling into step) Logue follows his upper-floor […]

Bann Valley Eclogue

Reading Virgil’s Eclogue IV (of 42 BC) Heaney spotted correspondences with the contemporary situation in Ireland 2000 years on. The poetic charge he felt resulted in an eclogue of his own, transposing the original into a contemporary Irish setting and focussing on the elusiveness of renewal. Whilst the original Virgil eclogues tend to feature humble rural folk depressed or repressed by injustices heaped on them from above and hoping for bards to make their public case, the Heaney version brings together two wise and learned men – POET (resembling Heaney himself) and VIRGIL. Their exchanges are conducted with due respect and deference. Heaney defines the seriousness of his eclogue using Virgil’s opening lines: Sicelides Musae, paulo malora canamus (‘Sicilian Muses, […]

Afterthoughts

  Heaney an extraordinary man in ordinary clothing Heaney the cordon-bleu cook Heaney the agent of change Heaney the orchestral composer Heaney the word painter Heaney the meticulous craftsman (including phonetic information) Thumbnails of poems (in alphabetical order) Stylistic devices   an extraordinary man in ordinary clothes Poets are a breed apart!  Unlike ordinary mortals such as you and I their consciousness is constantly tuned into things that give off a poetic charge and their vocation compels them to pounce on such sudden, involuntary moments before they fade away. Poets are constantly on the qui-vive; they have a way of recording these unpredictable, involuntary instances – poets are never far away from composition mode which transforms  electrical impulse into verse; […]

Ballynahinch Lake

for Eamon Grennan Godi. Fanciullo mio, stato soave, Stagion lieta è cotesta. The epigraph is from Leopardi’s ‘II Sabato del Villaggio’ (‘Saturday in the Village’): ‘Enjoy the sweet hour, my child, in this pleasant and delightful season’. Heaney spent countless hours behind the wheel of his car drinking in the surroundings. The sight and sounds of something that carried poetic charge might bring his journey to a temporary halt. Ballynahinch Lake is much more, however, than the richly textured description of water-birds taking to the air within an idyllic frame – it dips into the private subtleties of husband-wife relationship … of things said and unsaid … routines that may not always suit both parties. By poem’s end one wonders whether […]

Foreword

Seeing Things published by Faber & Faber in 2001 is Seamus Heaney’s tenth collection. He is in his early sixties. The book demonstrates the erudition and vitality of his earlier poems and adds a ‘literary’ strand and an elegiac strand that break the Heaney mould. Electric Light and subsequent collections over more than half a century confirm Heaney’s place at the very top of the premier league of 20th century poets writing in English and provide a hugely rich legacy and archive following the poet’s relatively sudden untimely death in August 2013 at the age of 74. The textual commentaries that follow seek to tease out what Heaney’s poems are intimating in Electric Light. It must be appreciated that Heaney […]

Audenesque

in memory of Joseph Brodsky Heaney pens a last message of respect, admiration and affection for a deceased friend and fellow Nobel Laureate whose ‘exhilarating’ company he had much enjoyed. He summed up his feelings in a posthumous tribute published in the New York Times: I first met him passing through London in 1972 on the second leg of his journey from dissidence in Russia to exile in the United States; he was a verifying presence. His mixture of brilliance and sweetness, of the highest standards and the most refreshing common sense, never failed to be both fortifying and endearing. Every encounter with him constituted a renewal of belief in the possibilities of poetry. In ‘Finders Keepers Heaney said that […]

Arion

from the Russian of Alexander Pushkin Read ‘Arion’, think ‘Heaney’ suggests Helen Vendler In her review of Electric Light (Irish Times of Mon, Jun 3, 2019) under the heading ‘Heaney the Survivor’: ‘Heaney’s poetry begins, now, to exhibit many elegies both for personal friends and for poets who have been important to him … Marking their disappearance, Heaney, the survivor, adapts a Pushkin’s poem in which Arion (saved from shipwreck by a dolphin) speaks a postlude’. Heaney presents his own version of the Russian poem. All is proceeding smoothly – a vessel riding high, every crewman on board fully occupied (all hard at it), some up aloft adjusting for greater speed (up tightening sail), others sweating at the oars (the […]

At Toomebridge

Heaney recounts the exhilaration he experiences on his return to the point where the Lower Bann river exits Lough Neagh and continues its journey northwards to the sea. Interviewed by Daljit Nagra in March 2001 under the heading ‘Fine Lines’, Heaney defined Toomebridge as ‘a radiant place with the’ radiant shine’ of first recall – a ‘terrific entrancement for me’ seen from the bridge as I was on the bus – an appropriate poem with which to start the collection; a miniature version of the collection as a whole ‘the poem is doing what the book is about … it pays attention, gives full acknowledgement to the usual, the data, what happens … it allows the shine of your own […]

Afterthoughts

Heaney the extraordinary man in ordinary clothes Heaney the cordon-bleu cook Heaney the agent of change Heaney the orchestrator Heaney the word painter Heaney the meticulous craftsman including phonetic information Summary versions of the contents Stylistic devices an extraordinary man in ordinary clothes Poets are a breed apart!  Unlike ordinary mortals, such as you and I, their consciousness is constantly tuned into things that give off a poetic charge and their vocation compels them to pounce on such sudden, often involuntary moments before they fade away. Poets are constantly on the qui-vive; they have a way of recording these unpredictable, involuntary instances – poets are never far away from composition mode which transforms  electrical impulse into verse poets are alchemists; Heaney […]

The Crossing

  (Inferno, Canto 111, lines 82-129) Seamus Heaney tops and tails Seeing Things with his own versions of passages from classical masterpieces, starting with ‘The Golden Bough’ borrowed from the pre-Christian classical mythology of Virgil and ending with a Dante passage from the Christian era. In both cases the narrative is not Heaney’s as such but he employs all his compositional skills to produce a polished translation. In conversation with DOD (p319) Heaney explained how the collection’s texts linked up:  the relation­ship between individual poems in the different sections has some­ thing of the splish-splash, one-after-anotherness of stones skittering and frittering across water. Thus the collection’s themes, motifs, moods and key words pop up at intervals just as a flat […]

Squarings xlviii

    (DODp.325) Heaney reported on a period of feverish activity as the Seeing Things collection was taking shape: I was pouncing for twelve lines on all kinds of occasions, chance sentences from my reading, chance sightings of dictionary entries, such as ( ) ‘offing’.  The final Squaring should be read as a complement to the previous piece in which ‘offing’ occurs for the first time. In Squarings xlvii Heaney signifies that his poetic radar is in constant scanning mode. When he assesses it he finds that the way his mind operates is odd (strange how …) The eye-scan data entering his consciousness (sensed) from distant reaches are  déjà-vu (things foreknown) … amorphous early recollections that crystallized, random events (what’s come […]

Squarings xlvii

  Heaney offers his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the Squarings sequence: You could think of every poem in ‘Squarings’ as the peg at the end of a tent-rope reaching up into the airy structure, but still with purchase on something earth­ier and more obscure (DOD 320); Heaney reported on a period of feverish activity as the Seeing Things collection was taking shape: I was pouncing for twelve lines on all kinds of occasions, chance sentences from my reading, chance sightings of dictionary entries, such as the words ‘lightening’ and ‘offing’ (xlvii xlviii), chance visits to places that unlocked the word hoard (DODp.325).  When you are a poet eager to pounce on something with a poetic charge, […]

Squarings xlvi

  Heaney offers his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the Squarings sequence: You could think of every poem in ‘Squarings’ as the peg at the end of a tent-rope reaching up into the airy structure, but still with purchase on something earth­ier and more obscure (DOD 320); The poet recalls what he might term the perfect moment. An end-of-summer event, alive and brimful: at the poet’s back the feel and sight of empty upland (Mountain air from the mountain); in front of him Irish landmarks (stone-walled fields … a slated house); in the air an unmistakable Irish music (the fiddle going) its unbroken momentum as persistent as the skittering ricochets across water of a flat stone skimmed […]

Squarings xlv

  Heaney offered his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the poems: You could think of every poem in ‘Squarings’ as the peg at the end of a tent-rope reaching up into the airy structure, but still with purchase on something earth­ier and more obscure (DOD 320); The poet discerns a chasm separating a ‘them’ and an ‘us’, certain ones and our ones identified in Squarings xlii as the Irish nearly blessed … gaunt ones. The other side of death will  be kinder to certain ones  … what was written may come true; their souls will be relocated , separate from the ‘us’ (in the distance), in an arcadian land of milk and honey (the mouths of rivers). No […]

Squarings xliv

  Heaney revealed to DOD (p.325) ‘Shortly after I came home. I was pouncing for twelve lines on all kinds of occasions, chance sentences from my reading, chance sightings of dictionary entries ( ) chance visits to places that unlocked the word hoard’. Heaney also offered his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the poems: You could think of every poem in ‘Squarings’ as the peg at the end of a tent-rope reaching up into the airy structure, but still with purchase on something earth­ier and more obscure (DOD 320); Heaney revisits an old ‘certainty’ and, using a fishing parallel, sets out how his convictions have changed. He pounces on a snippet from a Henry Vaughan poem he […]

Squarings xliii

  In conversation with DOD (p.325) Heaney revealed the period of intense creative activity that accompanied the genesis of Seeing Things:  I was pouncing on twelve liners on all kinds of occasions … chance sentences from my reading. They just turned up and he went with it. This poem pits the skills of the experienced tracker against a creature’s survival instinct; its ability to disappear was not unlike what became of an erstwhile drinking buddy. As a result of his reading, perhaps, Heaney offers a lesson to an imagined beginner in tracking hare via  prints in the snow. Initial progress is easy enough until a problem arises: the prints stop without warning (just like that). So, literally and metaphorically this is the end […]

Squarings xlii

  Heaney offers his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the poems: You could think of every poem in ‘Squarings’ as the peg at the end of a tent-rope reaching up into the airy structure, but still with purchase on something earth­ier and more obscure (DOD 320); Heaney blends events, emotions and thoughts that have graced his existential presence: Ulster landscapes and dialect; traditional turf cutting; Ulster mind-sets; old Ireland overtaken by modernism; environmental concerns. This poem highlights  the ghosts of Irish stock in an image of rare beauty. The lyrical scenes (Heather and kesh and turf stacks reappear) of Heaney’s Ulster spring still to his mind Summer by summer still, sight and sound alike (grasshoppers and all). […]

Squarings xli

  (DOD 325) Shortly after I came home. I was pouncing for twelve lines on all kinds of occasions, chance sentences from my reading, chance sightings of dictionary entries ( ) chance visits to places that unlocked the word hoard. Heaney also offers his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the Squarings sequence: You could think of every poem in ‘Squarings’ as the peg at the end of a tent-rope reaching up into the airy structure, but still with purchase on something earth­ier and more obscure (DOD 320); the poem will replace Heaney’s ‘tent-rope’ with trailing willow branches that cpmplete an electric circuit. HV (p.146), with reference to Squarings xli:  In Seeing Things almost every hieroglyph inscribes within itself […]

Squarings xl

  Heaney offers his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the Squarings sequence: You could think of every poem in ‘Squarings’ as the peg at the end of a tent-rope reaching up into the airy structure, but still with purchase on something earth­ier and more obscure (DOD 320); To DOD (p.325) Heaney revealed the period of intense creative activity that accompanied the genesis of Seeing Things:  I was pouncing on twelve liners on all kinds of occasions, chance sentences from my reading, chance sightings of dictionary entries ( ) chance visits to places that unlocked the word hoard. The Irish dwelling that Heaney recalls from 1943 (I was four) was Irish a thousand times over (I turned four […]

Squarings xxxix

  Heaney offers his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the Squarings poems: You could think of every poem in ‘Squarings’ as the peg at the end of a tent-rope reaching up into the airy structure, but still with purchase on something earth­ier and more obscure (DOD 320). Visiting a site on Ulster’s north Antrim coast, iconic both for its folkloric connections (Giant) and its extraordinary geology (Causeway), Heaney focuses on his wife’s reactions and ponders its impact on her. Whether from visual memory or snapshot, wife Marie is seated in the ‘Wishing Chair’, distant and preoccupied (far-eyed), exposed to the chill volcanic rock (cold) yet regal (throne), sitting sensibly (the small of your back erect)  and wisely […]

Squarings xxxviii

  In light-hearted, self-deprecating mood Heaney recounts a  moment spent amidst the fullness of classical Roman culture in the company of intimate friends. In the history-steeped setting (we knew it) of the Capitol by moonlight Heaney and his friends derive immense pleasure (transports) from what enticed them to take the climb (temptation on the height). They appreciate being there (privileged) albeit late in the day even, perhaps, in middle-age (belated). Heaney is suddenly taken by the desire (moved me) to express a personal view (prophesy against) aimed at the superior aloofness given out by the stone dear to the Romans (beloved stand-offishness of marble) and the self-congratulatory propaganda chiselled into it (all emulation of stone-cut verses). As if declaiming to Romans in […]

Squarings xxxvii

  Heaney revealed his sudden ‘feeding-frenzy’ to DOD (p,325) : Shortly after I came home (from a trip to Rome in 1989), I was pouncing for twelve lines on all kinds of occasions, chance sentences from my reading, chance sightings of dictionary entries, chance visits to places that unlocked the word hoard. I wanted, if possible, something nonchalant yet definite. ‘Unfussy  and believable’, as I say in the section about Han-Shan’s Cold Mountain poems .  Heaney offers his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the poems: You could think of every poem in ‘Squarings’ as the peg at the end of a tent-rope reaching up into the airy structure, but still with purchase on something earth­ier and more […]