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, […]


  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 […]


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 […]


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 […]


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 […]