Channel: Poetry | The Guardian
Mark channel Not-Safe-For-Work? cancel confirm NSFW Votes: (0 votes)
Are you the publisher? Claim or contact us about this channel.

Seamus Heaney, New Selected Poems 1966–1987 and New Selected Poems, 1988–2013 – review

Following his death last year, two selections of work from Heaney’s entire career offer an opportunity for reassessment and celebration

The atmosphere of grief and reverence that followed the death of Seamus Heaney was punctured recently when an Irish newspaper carried a spirited attack on his reputation by Kevin Kiely. For Kiely, Heaney was a peddler of nostalgia who owed his success to sponsorship by Faber and Faber, impressionable Americans and timid academics. As criticism, Kiely’s tirade was nugatory, but it did serve one useful purpose, offering a reminder that the words of the dead are modified in the guts of the living, as Auden said, that strange things can happen to the reputations of recently dead writers. The 20th century is full of poets whose reputations have collapsed posthumously like circus tents in a strong breeze: Vachel Lindsay, Archibald MacLeish, Edith Sitwell, Cecil Day-Lewis. Poets go out of fashion and come back (HD), suffer a temporary down-grading when the biography comes out (Philip Larkin), or get relaunched in new and unexpected forms (the “Radical Larkin” of John Osborne’s anti-revisionist critique).

The publication of Heaney’s New Selected Poems 1988–2013, and reprinting of New Selected 1966–1987, therefore marks an opportune moment for reassessment as well as celebration. A central aspect of Heaney’s work and its reception has been the encounter of the public and the private, most acutely in his treatment of the Northern Irish troubles. Heaney has been accused of an overcautious approach, aesthetically and politically, and of gravitating instinctively towards Parnassian inoffensiveness. Heaney, it is true, is no Bertolt Brecht or Hugh MacDiarmid, but to re-read Door into the Dark and Wintering Out is to be reminded of the febrile tension and unresolved conflict at work in apparently simple or innocuous poems. “In the shared calling of blood // arrives my need for antediluvian lore,” Heaney writes in “Gifts of Rain”, but where some see folksy piety, Heaney can just as easily be seen through the prism of modernist myth-making (he wrote enthusiastically in 1974 of the poetic psychogeography of David Jones’s “The Sleeping Lord”). The image of early Heaney as a pastoral ingenu is woefully in need of updating.

Continue reading...

Latest Images

Trending Articles