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 was in the persona of Sweeney.’; there was a ‘sense of rebellion… lashing-out might have been more difficult to represent in your personal voice’ (ibid, p262 ).

I got a lot out of my system, for instance, in the Northern response to North … and the resentment at my ‘runner-in’ status in the south is there in The Scribes But there’s positive stuff secluded in the poems as well. ‘The Master’ for example is a transmogrified account of meeting Czeslaw Milosz … thee character as I imagine him – unhistrionic, unmysterious clear spoken, his authority deriving from veteran rather than visionary experience (ibid, p262).

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.

Heaney confirms the hybrid character to DOD: he felt that Australian poet friend Vincent Buckley didn’t altogether like the Sweeney Redevivus poems especially the clean pair of heels Heaney/ Sweeney was showing in ‘First Flight’ and ‘Drifting Off’ (p261);

In Part 3 Heaney attempts to transcend the present by flying back into the past to ‘re-collect’ and ‘re-member’ a world once whole ; Sweeney is the vehicle through which to explore his own sense of displacement MP (p205).

At moments when Heaney despairs that so little has changed in Ulster in the intervening period, the French epigram Plus ça change plus c’est la même chose (first used by Jean-Baptiste Karr in 1849 and literally translated ‘the more things change, the more they are the same) springs repeatedly to mind in the Sweeney Redevivus section.

Sweeney ‘a presence was a fable which could lead to the discovery of feelings in myself which I could not otherwise find words for ( ) a dream or possibility of myth across the swirl of private feelings: an objective correlative (Heaney speaking to DOD circa p260);

General unattributed comments:

  • If, in the12 poems of Section Heaney and his pilgrim-self faced Irish ghosts with views to give and axes to grind, the Sweeney Redevivus section, ‘voiced for Sweeney’ provides a stage where both Sweeney and Heaney perform;
  • Self scrutiny via an anti- or parallel-self ;Heaney adopts a disguised, ventriloqual mode;
  • Sweeney’s story in Sweeney Astray was described by Robert Graves as ‘the most ruthless and bitter description in all European literature of an obsessed poet’s predicament’;
  • The 7th century was a crucial moment in the movement from pagan to Christian culture in Ireland ;
  • Heaney ’s voice is stronger than Sweeney’s, on the whole;
  • In this sequence allegory and parable, the puzzling and the occult are constant modes
    ‘Sweeney’s scepticism and mistrust’;
  • Twine’ metaphor is important in this sequence which defines different stages in the process of unwinding, and reviewing life and reputation in newly unexpected and suspicious circumstances;
  • Sweeney may be the name for a restless dissatisfaction with work already done as he continues to tap his morse through subsequent work;

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