A wonderful collection of the great Irish poet and critic’s learned yet down-to-earth prose.
Here, Nobel laureate Heaney (Electric Light, 2001, etc.) takes us on a tour of his intellectual concerns over the course of three decades. Culled from three past collections, including The Redress of Poetry (1995), as well as journals, newspapers, and lectures, the pieces tend to fall into three categories: autobiography, poetry, and politics. No matter the topic, however, Heaney retains the style, focus, and metaphors that make his verse so popular. His writing is always rooted in the everyday, as when he compares memory to village wells and bogs of Ireland, which preserve the sacrificial bodies of men dumped in them. At times these passages may give pause to the reader lacking an English degree. He comments of T.S. Eliot’s images, for example, “They are not what I at first mistakenly thought them: constituent parts of some erudite code available to initiates.” More complicated passages like these, which may beg re-reading, still make their mark because Heaney makes readers feel they are being included in such a welcoming and warm lesson. Some will grow tired of his conservative close readings, no doubt. Whether analyzing Sylvia Plath or Robert Burns, he takes an exacting, line-for-line approach that isn’t as flashy as more recent critical schools. But Heaney is a poet first, and his critical technique reflects his interests as a writer. He is less daunting when discussing the situation in his native Northern Ireland. There he describes the conflict between Catholics and Protestants from the perspective of the victimized citizenry, never as an aloof academic.
A must for poets and students of poetry and a good start for initiates seeking to understand the constituent parts of its erudite codes.