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. […]