Seamus Heaney is one of Ireland's most prolific poets. He has published thirteen major volumes of poetry to date, and shares the honor of being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature with fellow Irish writers William Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett, and George Bernard Shaw. In his poetry, Heaney captures both the beauty of the Irish landscape and its brutal history; he finds his own identity as a poet in connecting himself with the land and desires to create a sense of national identity for Ireland in the same way. Heaney's poetry often reflects his nationalist ideals in addressing the violence and politics in Northern Ireland as he writes to unearth the violent nature that is deeply rooted in Irish history. His poetry stands as a testament to the historical struggles of such a tiny and volatile nation.
[...] When one visits the countryside of County Antrim, the location of Heaney's childhood home, it is not difficult to imagine the poet's deep connection with the land around him; the earth of Antrim itself is alive with Ireland's folk history that has struggled to survive in the wake of England's political and cultural influence. The volume's title poem, “Death of a Naturalist,” and “Personal Helicon” both illustrate Heaney's adult sense of the world beyond his childhood home and his awareness of the tension between Irish customs and British culture. [...]
[...] Heaney's political interests as a Roman Catholic and a nationalist become more apparent in the volumes following Death of a Naturalist. His second volume, Door Into the Dark, includes Bogland,” the first of many bog poems that Heaney wrote. For Heaney, as well as many nationalists who feel a strong tie to the land of their home country, the peat bogs are an intrinsic part of Ireland's landscape and provide a sense of national identity, much like the American prairie which he parallels in Bogland.” have no prairies / To slice a big sun at evening,” he writes. [...]
[...] Heaney's bog poems represent a national identity as found thorough nature and the land, but they also serve as a parallel for the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Wintering Out and North are volumes in which Heaney comes closest to directly addressing the political and violent troubles. The critic Jay Parini writes that “Heaney's Ireland (for which the bogs become metonymic representations) is richly and densely implicated; history perpetually threatens to burst through, to stain the present with the past” (26). [...]
[...] “Punishment,” another bog poem, introduces a new aspect to Heaney's “civilized outrage”; a sense of his own guilt and self-reflection (Hart 457). In this poem, the female victim which Heaney describes becomes a metaphor for the ravaged Ireland itself, and Heaney is the conflicted on- looker. poor scapegoat,” he writes, almost love you / but would have cast, I know, / the stones of silence.” Heaney had not been outspokenly political in his art; he “envisioned atrocities in [his] poems but avoided the sort of political activism that might put a stop to them” (Hart 458). [...]
[...] Heaney's affiliations permeate his poetry, but they do not obscure his purpose as a poet. His poetry contains a restorative quality, with a love of the land, an honoring of one's heritage. He believes, as he says, in poetry's ability to “appease [and] assuage” (qtd. in Andrews 368). Heaney's own vision for his art is an interweaving of personal history and contemporary issues, to reflect and not serve any particular momentary strategy that his political leaders, his para-military organization, or his own liberal self might want him to serve” (377). [...]
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