Part Three: Sweeney Redivivus

To critics who judged the Station Island sequence to be ‘dark’ and ‘sullen’ Heaney responded as follows: I don’t think I could have done it any other way… The poet in me just had to work through the material that was lying piled up in the middle of the road. Then, if you’ll excuse the expression, he lightened up and got a bit of lift-off in Sweeney Redevivus (the legendary exiled Sweeney spends most of his time airborne)(DOD p240). Heaney confirms a ‘far more confident and unapologetic ( ) tone) than the Station Island sequence; I felt ‘up and away ( ) at full tilt. Reckless and accurate and entirely Sweenified as capable of muck-raking as of self-mockery. The poetry […]

The First Gloss

Heaney takes the first poetic step in ‘change and revival’ mode, the ‘lift-off’ anticipated from the new Heaney Sweeney relationship. This short, clever piece alludes to the poet’s principal weapon the pen that featured in the first poem of Death of a Naturalist written in August 1964. The original ‘digging’ imagery is replaced by words used in the text editing process. The speaker gives himself two instructions: take hold (a firm grip to show new intent, to demonstrate mental preparation and determination); then subscribe, declare ownership of, sign up to the first downstroke of, say, a signature. This will represent the first step taken in the move from the orthodox justified line into hitherto fringe areas: the margin. Heaney deploys […]

Sweeney Redivivus

The Sweeney Redevivus poems are fascinating in terms of voicing. In his notes Heaney indicates that they are ‘voiced for Sweeney’ but this does not and cannot exclude the poet’s participation. Each poem resembles a piece of music with a background accompaniment and two voices that pick up the melody in turn or together; the mood of each piece varies as does its ensemble effect on the listener’s ear and the reader’s sensibility. Change is stirring. Enter Sweeney himself revived, homeless and/or the Heaney look-alike we met in Loaning III (I stirred wet sand and gathered myself)preparing for an imminent uphill struggle. A new position has to be established despite the mind-set of old that resembles a ball of wet […]

Unwinding

The Sweeney Redevivus poems are fascinating in terms of voicing. In his notes Heaney indicates that they are ‘voiced for Sweeney’ but this does not and cannot exclude the poet’s participation. Each poem resembles a piece of music with a background accompaniment and two voices that pick up the melody in turn or together; the mood of each piece varies as does its ensemble effect on the listener’s ear and the reader’s sensibility. A further stage in the process of untangling the twine-ball of old existence; the search for self-definition continues. The speaker’s conditional If ponders a complete clearing of the decks (the everything of l.8). The total unwinding of the twine to the very end will reveal from beneath […]

The First Kingdom

The Sweeney Redevivus poems are fascinating in terms of voicing. In his notes Heaney indicates that they are ‘voiced for Sweeney’ but this does not and cannot exclude the poet’s participation. Each poem resembles a piece of music with a background accompaniment and two voices that pick up the melody in turn or together; the mood of each piece varies as does its ensemble effect on the listener’s ear and the reader’s sensibility. Heaney and Sweeney share a joint exile the first as result of a conscious decision to ‘clear the decks’ of what went before, the second imposed by a bishop’s curse. The speakers paint a caricature of the culture and hierarchies of the Irish amongst whom they lived. […]

Alerted

  The Sweeney Redevivus poems are fascinating in terms of voicing. In his notes Heaney indicates that they are ‘voiced for Sweeney’ but this does not and cannot exclude the poet’s contribution. Each poem resembles a piece of music with a background accompaniment and two voices that pick up the melody in turn or together; the mood of each piece varies as does its ensemble effect on the listener’s ear and the reader’s sensibility. The speaker outlines a moment of enlightenment and the animal that awakened him to an alternative world to the one he has been brought up in. From childhood the lucky speaker (his family life was a happy experience) has been subject to a rigid routine (challenged […]

Drifting Off

The Sweeney Redevivus poems are fascinating in terms of voicing. In his notes Heaney indicates that they are ‘voiced for Sweeney’ but this does not and cannot exclude the poet’s participation. Each poem resembles a piece of music with a background accompaniment and two voices that pick up the melody in turn or together; the mood of each piece varies as does its ensemble effect on the listener’s ear and the reader’s sensibility. Sections 40 and 49 of ‘Sweeney Astray’ celebrate flora and fauna. Heaney’s title offers multiple possibilities: floating on the wind; thinking about other things; falling asleep; losing track; losing concentration. The speaker responds to the characteristics of the various ornithological families that cross his flight path. Firstly […]

The First Flight

The Sweeney Redevivus poems are fascinating in terms of voicing. In his notes Heaney indicates that they are ‘voiced for Sweeney’ but this does not and cannot exclude the poet’s participation. Each poem resembles a piece of music with a background accompaniment and two voices that pick up the melody in turn or together; the mood of each piece varies as does its ensemble effect on the listener’s ear and the reader’s sensibility. The poem comes closest yet to the language and events of Sweeney Astray. The speaker refers to their moment of transfiguration (Sweeney into a bird, Heaney into new determination) as more trance than bodily convulsion: more sleepwalk than spasm both locked into a period of social convulsion […]

In the Beech

The Sweeney Redevivus poems are fascinating in terms of voicing. In his notes Heaney indicates that they are ‘voiced for Sweeney’ but this does not and cannot exclude the poet’s participation. Each poem resembles a piece of music with a background accompaniment and two voices that pick up the melody in turn or together; the mood of each piece varies as does its ensemble effect on the listener’s ear and the reader’s sensibility. The Sweeney Heaney voice speaks from a treetop; below is Heaney’s pre-D-Day world of the 1943-4. The unseen bird-person imagines he is playing a strategic military rôle: a lookout posted and forgotten. Man-made new and rural old are side by side: the concrete road … the bullocks’ […]

In the Chestnut Tree

The Sweeney Redevivus poems are fascinating in terms of voicing. In his notes Heaney indicates that they are ‘voiced for Sweeney’ but this does not and cannot exclude the poet’s participation. Each poem resembles a piece of music with a background accompaniment and two voices that pick up the melody in turn or together; the mood of each piece varies as does its ensemble effect on the listener’s ear and the reader’s sensibility. An unseen observer looks down from the chestnut tree in which he has landed. The female figure who appears might have stepped straight out of a Renaissance painting, maybe one actually seen by Heaney and reworked as a canvas in words. The sylvan setting gives human presence […]

A Waking Dream

  The Sweeney Redevivus poems are fascinating in terms of voicing. In his notes Heaney indicates that they are ‘voiced for Sweeney’ but this does not and cannot exclude the poet’s participation. Each poem resembles a piece of music with a background accompaniment and two voices that pick up the melody in turn or together; the mood of each piece varies as does its ensemble effect on the listener’s ear and the reader’s sensibility. Sharing Sweeney status has changed everything. Old patterns will no longer work. The oxymoron of the title sets out the ease with which one forgets this new reality. An ‘old wives’ tale told that a bird could be caught by sprinkling salt on its tail; the […]

The Scribes

The Sweeney Redevivus poems are fascinating in terms of voicing. In his notes Heaney indicates that they are ‘voiced for Sweeney’ but this does not and cannot exclude the poet’s participation. Each poem resembles a piece of music with a background accompaniment and two voices that pick up the melody in turn or together; the mood of each piece varies as does its ensemble effect on the listener’s ear and the reader’s sensibility. Heaney’s voice is dominant in a poem set in a first millennium monastery where manuscripts are being copied and preserved thanks to the monumental efforts of monk-scribes. Allegorically the title alludes to a biblical grouping of people who set themselves up as judges, precursors perhaps of the […]

The Master

  The Sweeney Redevivus poems are fascinating in terms of voicing. In his notes Heaney indicates that they are ‘voiced for Sweeney’ but this does not and cannot exclude the poet’s participation. Each poem resembles a piece of music with a background accompaniment and two voices that pick up the melody in turn or together; the mood of each piece varies as does its ensemble effect on the listener’s ear and the reader’s sensibility. Heaney describes a ‘master-class’. The speaker pays tribute to an anonymous ‘master’ whose opinions are respected and valued and who is a giant against whom to measure himself. Heaney indicated he was reworking the meal at which he first met Czeslaw Milosz in California (note below). […]

The Hermit

The Sweeney Redevivus poems are fascinating in terms of voicing. In his notes Heaney indicates that they are ‘voiced for Sweeney’ but this does not and cannot exclude the poet’s participation. Each poem resembles a piece of music with a background accompaniment and two voices that pick up the melody in turn or together; the mood of each piece varies as does its ensemble effect on the listener’s ear and the reader’s sensibility. In contrast to the Ronan missionary figure of The Cleric (see previous poem) Heaney focuses attention on an equally emblematic figure of early Christian history. Hermits generally chose seclusion and ascetic self-sacrifice to the Ronan-style big-impact approach.. The anonymous hermit guards the plot of land he has […]

The Cleric

The Sweeney Redevivus poems are fascinating in terms of voicing. In his notes Heaney indicates that they are ‘voiced for Sweeney’ but this does not and cannot exclude the poet’s participation. Each poem resembles a piece of music with a background accompaniment and two voices that pick up the melody in turn or together; the mood of each piece varies as does its ensemble effect on the listener’s ear and the reader’s sensibility. Initially Sweeney’s is the dominant voice. His story and its aftermath are narrated in Sweeney Astray. Both poems focus on responses to the actions of a missionary priest, anonymous in this piece but identified as Ronan in Sweeney Astray. The advent of Christianity is portrayed in this […]

Sweeney’s Returns

The Sweeney Redevivus poems are fascinating in terms of voicing. In his notes Heaney indicates that they are ‘voiced for Sweeney’ but this does not and cannot exclude the poet’s participation. Each poem resembles a piece of music with a background accompaniment and two voices that pick up the melody in turn or together; the mood of each piece varies as does its ensemble effect on the listener’s ear and the reader’s sensibility . Heaney explores the emotional reactions of his exiled king whose voice is dominant in the poem. In Sweeney Astray exile has torn Sweeney away from his wife Eorann (who in the legend takes another partner).The frustration of his separation and the enduring nature of physical attraction […]

Holly

The Sweeney Redevivus poems are fascinating in terms of voicing. In his notes Heaney indicates that they are ‘voiced for Sweeney’ but this does not and cannot exclude the poet’s participation. Each poem resembles a piece of music with a background accompaniment and two voices that pick up the melody in turn or together; the mood of each piece varies as does its ensemble effect on the listener’s ear and the reader’s sensibility. A tale of two hollies, a ‘then’ and a ‘now’ that share a pagan symbol of Christmas-time. The outdoor landscape of an exiled Sweeney contrasts with the indoor comfort of Heaney’s living-room fireside. On the first occasion neither the weather nor the hollybush were of required standard: […]

In Illo Tempore

The Sweeney Redevivus poems are fascinating in terms of voicing. In his notes Heaney indicates that they are ‘voiced for Sweeney’ but this does not and cannot exclude the poet’s participation. Each poem resembles a piece of music with a background accompaniment and two voices that pick up the melody in turn or together; the mood of each piece varies as does its ensemble effect on the listener’s ear and the reader’s sensibility. From his location on the Dublin sea-front a man shakes his head with disbelief at the success of a religious practices that shaped him as a youngster once upon a time (in illo tempore) and cloned him with countless others. His imagination has settled on one of […]

On the Road

The Sweeney Redevivus poems are fascinating in terms of voicing. In his notes Heaney indicates that they are ‘voiced for Sweeney’ but this does not and cannot exclude the poet’s participation. Each poem resembles a piece of music with a background accompaniment and two voices that pick up the melody in turn or together; the mood of each piece varies as does its ensemble effect on the listener’s ear and the reader’s sensibility. Heaney will confirm he is on the path to renewal. He is adept at titles. The speaker is on a literal journey behind the wheel of his car. At the same time, in this his ‘book of changes’ (line 70), the poet is on his way, ‘on […]