Seamus Heaney Exam Question
Lewis Alcorn 5T
Seamus Heaney is one of the most popular poets alive today. Discuss and explain why you think this is so.
Seamus Heaney is widely recognized as one of the major poets of the twentieth century. A native of Northern Ireland, Heaney currently lives in Dublin. Heaney taught at Harvard University from 1985 to 2006, where he was a Visiting Professor, and then Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University (1985-1997) and Ralph Waldo Emerson Poet in Residence (1998-2006). Heaney has attracted a readership in several countries and has won prestigious literary awards and honours, including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past". In fact, his books make up two thirds of sales of living poets in the UK today. Robert Lowell, a successful American poet, called him "the most important Irish poet since Yeats" and many others have echoed the sentiment that he is "the greatest poet of our age". Blake Morrison, a British author, poet and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, once noted in his work Seamus Heaney, “The author is "that rare thing, a poet rated highly by critics and academics yet popular with 'the common reader.’” Part of Heaney's popularity, in my opinion anyway, stems from his subject matter; the Troubles in Northern Ireland, its farms and cities beset with civil strife, its natural culture and language overrun by English rule, something which I personally find very interesting. The Troubles are a very personal thing in Ireland, something which, in my view, Heaney captures magically. Almost everyone in Northern Ireland, and most people in the Republic as well, has a direct link to the Troubles, either they have a relative, a neighbour, a friend, an acquaintance or a friend of a friend, that was directly or indirectly affected by the Troubles. Heaney also had a direct link to the Troubles and as such he has written poems directly about the Troubles as well as elegies for friends and acquaintances that have died in them. In my opinion however, the reason he is popular is not solely down to that. It is my belief that he is as popular as he as because many of his themes are universal, they deal with self development, with the nature of love (such as The Skunk and Sunlight), the mystery and ritual of death (The Tollund Man), the process of memory and the creative process and the importance of poetic imagination (such as The Forge). In my opinion, it is this universality that leads to his popularity. For example, in “The Forge”, remembers and honours the traditional skills and craftsmanship that surrounds him growing up, themes also seen in “A Harvest Bow.” The past is something Heaney holds close to his heart, once even going as far as saying “Our sense of the past, our sense of the land and perhaps even our sense of identity are inextricably woven.” In “The Forge”, Heaney describes a blacksmith’s forge. The craft of the blacksmith is portrayed as something magical and mysterious, something beautiful and marvellous. Heaney begins the poem by stating,
“All I know is a door into the dark.”
This door symbolises not just the door into the forge, but into the dark subconscious of the poet, from where, Heaney believes, poetry is created, in
“an unpredictable fantail of sparks.”
Heaney truly appreciates the craft of the blacksmith, describing his work as a type of “music” as he strikes the anvil, making it “ring”. Not only is the work of the smith a metaphor for the creative process itself and the forge is a metaphor for the poet’s subconscious, but the smith himself is a metaphor for the poet. In the way that the smith takes “old axels” and rusting “iron hoops”, items of no use to anyone, and transforms them into works of art and beauty, as well as functionality, so too does the poet take mere words and turns them into something beautiful. Something which I...
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