Navigating the ‘Station Island’ Collection

Contents Foreword followed by: Main Sources; the Structure of Station Island; biographical ‘events’ between 1976-1984; the collection and its moment; Heaney’s ‘book of changes’; ‘hampering stuff’; Catholic beginnings; loss of faith; breaking loose; the political dimension; ‘Troubles’ timeline; poetry and politics: retaining a neutral voice; reconciling the clash between politics and poetry; the redemptive power of Art; Irishness;   the […]

Foreword

  Station Island, published by Faber and Faber in 1984, is Seamus Heaney’s seventh collection. Heaney is in his mid-forties. The totality of his collections over more than half a century since Death of a Naturalist (1966) have confirmed his place at the very top of the premier league of poets writing in English. The textual commentaries that follow seek […]

Afterthoughts

  Finding the blend. The most successful poets share much in common with the best chefs; the latters’ knowledge of the finest products supplemented by a talent that adds the individual flavours of spices, herbs and myriad ingredients in just the right amounts at just the right moment produces the unique, mouth-watering experiences capable of delighting and inspiring those who […]

Navigating the ‘North’ Collection

Foreword Introduction Biographical ‘events’ between 1968-1975 Themes and issues Enrichment Dedications Lexical focus Comments contemporary to Publication Comments from main source authors (as below) Heaney’s further insights The structure of North The North Poems  individual commentaries with footnotes and reflections on style and structure Part I Act Of Union Aisling Antaeus Belderg Bog Queen Bone Dreams Come to the Bower […]

Foreword

North published by Faber and Faber in 1975 is Seamus Heaney’s fourth collection. Heaney was in his mid-thirties. The totality of his collections over more than half a century have confirmed Heaney’s place at the top of the premier league of poets writing in English. The textual commentaries that follow seek to tease out what Heaney’s poems are intimating in […]

Sunlight

The poem is a memorial to its central figure, a warm, nostalgic rural study from the poet’s past dedicated to his Aunt Mary. The first line introduces the motif and emotions of what follows: There was a sunlit absence. The phrase encapsulates: nostalgic feelings from childhood; the warmth of sunlight; warm relationships; irreversible time past; a scene and a person […]

The Seed Cutters

A second ‘word-canvas’ depicts an age-old routine practised in Heaney’s Ulster farming community. He is perhaps inspired by a memory or a photo, even literally a calendar picture depicting rural practice. Such groups of farm workers would be recognisable back in Breughel’s time: They seem hundreds of years away. Heaney addresses the Flemish artist who painted rural scenes in 16c. […]

Antaeus

A ‘giant’ figure from Greek/ North African mythology, Antaeus was invincible in combat as long as he retained contact with the earth that renewed his strength whenever he fell. Antaeus clarifies the myth but foresees the advent of a more skilful combatant who will find the means to bring him down. Antaeus knows that earth-contact renews his life-force: I rise […]

Belderg

A specific historical site in Ireland provides Heaney with the catalyst for exploring, in congenial dialogue, the linkage between artefacts, peoples, myths, cultures and ancient languages; the piece tells of doggedness, roots and recurrence. The speaker cites a comment from a ‘local’ about objects that regularly came to light (just kept turning up); given lack of education no thought was […]

Funeral Rites

A sequence of 3 poems; Heaney follows three lines associated with death and burial: natural causes; the result of sectarian strife; myth and legend. Ultimately the sequence seeks out a solution to the unbreakable cycle of murder and revenge. I The speaker describes one of a number of traditional Irish Catholic family funerals he has attended. These conferred a kind […]

North

Wrestling with questions about his current status and mindset Heaney has felt the need for solitude; he would benefit in his uncertainty from the reassurance of a counselling voice. The speaker revisits a stretch of the Donegal coast, a shod of a bay. The sounds he is hearing recall the god Thor who in Viking mythology hammered to create land, […]

Viking Dublin: Trial Pieces

‘Then there was the Viking Dublin exhibit in the National Museum, based on the dig being done by Brendán Ó Ríordáin at the Wood Quay site’ (DOD p.163); . Dublin was founded by the Norwegian Vikings in 841AD. A sequence of 6 poems; Heaney permits his imagination free rein in pursuit of Viking links with Dublin and by extension with […]

The Digging Skeleton

Scholars and students have long set themselves the challenge of translation. Heaney show-cases his skills in this version after Baudelaire. Heaney is loyal to Baudelaire’s picture of human misery and his rejection of belief in a better life after death. I The speaker is strolling along the dusty quays of the Seine, past the stalls of Parisian ‘bouquinistes’ still to […]

Bone Dreams

Heaney shed light on the genesis of his six ‘dream’ poems in conversation with DOD (p 157) ‘That summer of 1972, the month before we moved (to Glanmore Cottage in County Wicklow)…we did a lot of driving in the south-west of England, saw the white horses carved into the hills, visited Maiden Castle in Dorset and the old earthworks in […]

Come to the Bower

In this first of six titles referred to as the ‘bog poems’ in North the voice is that of the individual who has come upon the mummified corpse of a woman hidden beneath the surface of the the bog where it has been preserved. The initial ‘forensic’ examination of the mummy is overtaken by the finder’s reactions to what he […]

Bog Queen

A Bog Queen’s body lies dead yet sleeping at the interface between Nature and Man, waiting (the word is repeated from the previous piece) between turf face and demesne wall between the heathery levels below and glass-toothed stone above. Her body has been subjected to the destructive forces of nature: a touch-code for Nature’s sightless trespassers: Braille for the creeping […]

The Grauballe Man

The piece provides stunning close description of an iconic ‘bog body’ on display and reveals the poet’s emotional responses to it. The notion of man’s barbaric treatment of his fellows is never far away; associated ideas link the fate of Grauballe Man with contemporary events in Ulster. The body might have emerged from a mould As if …poured/ in tar. […]

Punishment

Heaney measures his sense of injustice against a stone-age community’s brutal intolerance of rules perceived to have been violated. He illustrates the troubling irony: stone-age justice that puts an adulteress to death is not so far removed from contemporary Ulster society that metes out punishment when sectarian rules are seen to be breached. Conflicting loyalties, pity and guilt, private and […]

Strange Fruit

A sonnet prompted by the bodiless head of girl similar to one retrieved from a Danish bog in the 1940s. The head is introduced with a sweep of the hand: Here is … its texture that of an exhumed gourd, an oval shaped face; skin and teeth have prune associations, the former its wrinkled exterior, the latter the smooth, stained […]

Kinship

Kinship describes affinity, fellow feelings and at-oneness. The six-poem sequence explores lines of connection, correspondence and closeness. The pieces sit in a landscape of which Heaney feels himself very much a part. The bog is the unifying factor and Heaney’s close relationship with it takes different forms. I the first piece is triggered by simply standing in its midst. The […]

Ocean’s Love to Ireland

Heaney summarises the sequence of 3 short poems and the two that follow in a response to DOD (p 169): an allegory involving the Elizabethan armies entering Gaelic Ulster (Smerwick below is in fact in Munster) and the ground being possessed by the planters – the whole ‘Aisling’ scenario – England being the male conqueror, Ireland the ruined maid and wee […]

Aisling

Crime and punishment: a different genre, a classical time; the ‘he’ and the ‘her’ from classical mythology feed myth and allegory. Actaeon’s attempts to possess Artemis (He courted her) are less physical than Ralegh’s towards the maid of Ireland but the arch flattery of his intentions, his decadent sweet art is judged equally unworthy. The peeping-Tom is given away by […]

Act Of Union

Heaney offers insights to DOD (p 169-70): The ‘speaker in the poem’, whoever he is, is deeply aware of his implication in being ‘imperially male’.. He lies like the island of Britain beside an expectant mother island who has her back turned to him. He’s experienced a certain guilt at having caused the pregnancy. Far from creating a bond, the […]

The Betrothal of Cavehill

A wedding is about to be celebrated; ordinary folk get on with their lives against the backdrop of a divided Ulster. In the troubled Belfast of the 1960s, hostile Gunfire barks its questions (of sectarian ownership) off Cavehill. The hill’s geographical features reflect the religious and political make-up of its immediate area: Cavehill is as hard and uncompromising as basalt; […]

Hercules and Antaeus

As predicted in the very first poem of the collection Hercules has invaded Antaeus’ space; they meet in single combat: superman versus child of earth, brain versus brawn. Antaeus’s fate will be the repeated fate of Ireland. Hercules is the golden boy with the god-sponsored future: Sky-born and royal. He comes fresh from Labours fulfilled: snake-choker (the nine-headed hydra); dung […]

Part II

In a 1973 conversation, Heaney said that the ideas behind Hercules and Antaeus led to Part II which was ‘an attempt at some kind of declarative voice’; In a 1975 article Heaney referred to ‘a need to be explicit about the pressures and prejudices watermarked into the psyche of anyone born and bred in Northern Ireland’; The language becomes more […]

The Unacknowledged Legislator’s Dream

In dialogue with DOD (p 181) Heaney had the following to say about his prose-poem: It’s a free-floating invention, that one. I remember writing it in a café in Bray as I waited for my Volkswagen Beetle to be serviced. It’s a corrective to the more tragic-elegiac scenario in ‘Exposure’… This particular unacknowledged legislator is fit as a fiddle, his […]

Whatever You Say Say Nothing

A poster put up during the ‘Troubles’, featuring a masked, uniformed paramilitary carrying a sten gun, bore the legend: ‘Loose-talk costs lives In taxis On the phone In clubs and bars At football matches At home with friends Anywhere Whatever you say – say nothing’. Composed of amateurish cut and pasted newspaper headings and snippets it was evidently the work […]

Freedman

Heaney unites title, epigraph and narrative to signal a transformation that liberated him from previous control: the gift of poetry awakened his dissatisfaction with his Catholic markings of tribe, caste and conditioning( and even, arguably, made him a more ‘useful member of society’). Initial focus illustrates the Catholic sway to which his nature, upbringing and training readily submitted him. He […]

Singing School

A sequence of 6 poems grouped under a title borrowed from WB Yeats’ Sailing to Byzantium: ‘Nor is there singing school but studying/ Monuments of its own magnificence’. The 2 epigraphs compare contrasting roots: the first is from Wordsworth, reflecting on his gentle apolitical, ‘English’, Church-of England childhood; the second from WB Yeats reflecting much more aggressively his ‘politicised’ Irish […]

1 The Ministry of Fear

dedicated to Seamus Deane. The initial interjection Well announces that Heaney is poised to speak of events from his personal biography: his important places is borrowed from Patrick Kavanagh’s Epic of 1938:important places, times/ When great events were decided. His first ‘monument’ (in the Yeatsian sense) is St Columb’s College in Derry (where billeted as a boarder Heaney lived out […]

2 A Constable Calls

Heaney provides the ingredients of a a compelling psychological drama: an atmosphere of threat; an attentive youngster; an interrogation; a father’s lie; a moral dilemma that tests the innocence of the listening child; the threat receding. The ‘poem-film-director’ employs all the zooms, pans and slow-motions of cinematic technique. The boy’s eye is the camera, his ear records the sounds. The […]

3 Orange Drums

Heaney composes the brash cartoon/poster image of a figure prominent in a Protestant Unionist parade. He allows his dislike of the event and what it stands for to leak out. Its central figure is an overpowering caricature: a drummer whose size and posture are complemented by the bulk and weight of his drum. The vocabulary of volume and weight makes […]

4 Summer 1969

Heaney was in Spain when the Ulster riots were happening. His personal discomfort paled into insignificance when compared with the events experienced by the Catholic community under fire in the Falls Road area of Belfast: I was suffering/ Only the bullying sun of Madrid. He was spending part of each day immersed in his research, perspiring in the casserole heat, […]