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. Discuss how this is achieved with reference to two or more poems. All poets must balance their creative needs with the pressure to fill some sort of social role, and for Seamus Heaney, one of Ireland’s greatest and most well-known poets, this pressure is greater than ever. A poet must delight in the construction of beautiful tones and cadences, but simultaneously respond to the burdens society places on poets. These range from the simple ‘get a real job’ to ‘show me myself in your writing’ to ‘represent my views and ideas’ to ‘provide me with some insight into this crazy world’. However, according to Heaney, he views the role of the poet as ‘to remind us that we are hunters and gatherers of values, that our very solitudes and distresses … are an earnest of our veritable human being.’ This essay will examine how Heaney’s response to this balance varies as his reputation grows, and how, through the use of poetic conventions, he both relishes the ‘energy released by linguistic fission and fusion’, and deals with the terrible world around him, and the obligations that creates – that is, Heaney’s way of balancing these two pressures is by writing poetry itself. Heaney’s first collection, published in 1966, was written before the Troubles broke out, and deals mainly with his childhood fascination with nature, and his development into adulthood. This enthralment is evident in the very words he picks. In Death of a Naturalist we are treated to linguistic pop rocks – words that fizz in your mouth and excite your senses. There is a strongly onomatopoeic feel to this poem – saying ‘bubbles gargled delicately’, you can almost hear the faint popping, and the ‘warm thick slobber of frogspawn’ is recreated in the drawn-out vowel sounds and viscous b’s and s’s. These early poems are a celebration of the creative, an ode to the joy of language. When compared to later collections, these poems have very few political implications, but that is not to say Heaney has neglected his social role as a poet. Instead, we find in these poems a recognition of ourselves. Later in the same poem, the child has grown, seen more of the world. The words Heaney uses become harsher, with a forced attack to each syllable – ‘rank’, ‘angry’, ‘invaded’. The child now has an awareness of the world, and instead of being fascinated by the unknown, is scared of it. Heaney hangs the word ‘cocked’ over the edge of a line, building suspense and drawing on the connotations of guns, out of place in a child’s idyll. This connotation of war is continued in the likening of the frogs to ‘mud grenades’. We still recognise the childlike delight in the word ‘farting’, but now this older child runs from the frogs, escaping their vengeance. Death of a Naturalist fulfils Heaney’s social obligation to show his audience themselves in his poetry. We all recognise the child who, once he knows enough about the world, is scared of it. The child who can tumble off playground equipment with ease, but once the dangers are realised, never returns. Heaney fills his obligation to give us some insight into our selves through his poetry, which in itself satisfies his need to express himself creatively. A second obligation that society places on poets is our desire for our own views and ideas to be represented in their work. In Heaney’s Ireland, where lives were taken on a regular basis for the sake of these ideas, this pressure must have been immense. Heaney deals with this problem directly in The Flight Path, when he describes being approached by a fanatical Republican. ‘ ‘When, for fuck’s sake, are you going to write/ Something for us?’ ‘If I do write something, / whatever it is, I’ll be writing for myself.’ / And that was that. Or words to that effect.’ Heaney makes a determined effort not to ally himself with either party – although as part of the Catholic ‘minority’ it must have been tempting to do so. This sentiment is echoed in Whatever You Say Say Nothing, especially in the third section. ‘ ‘Religion’s never mentioned here,’ of course… ‘One side’s as bad as the other,’ never worse… Where to be saved you must only save face / And whatever you say, you say nothing’ Heaney compounds this idea of not saying anything by merely repeating a series of platitudes, rather than creating new meaning. However, this is not to say that Heaney nevcr makes political statements, and especially in his later works, the influence of the Troubles begins to bleed into his poems. In Act of Union, Heaney uses violent imagery and the extended metaphor of sex and pregnancy to leave the reader with a definite impression that England has used, if not raped Ireland, and that their colonialist relationship has been the father of the Troubles. This ‘act of union’ is not a loving and respectful relationship – Heaney’s use of violent words such as ‘bog-burst’, and ‘gash breaking open’ confirms the idea of the imperial male subjugating the female. It is clear that Heaney places the blame for the ‘parasitical and ignorant’ baby with the English – its is ‘my (the English speaker’s) legacy’. It is also, Heaney suggests, Ireland who must endure the lasting effects of this birth, the ‘stretchmarks’. Heaney’s
Through his creative means. and could be accepted by both sides. we become aware. and this self-awareness is crticial in our understanding of the world. at other times. pash of tallow. This theme is touched upon in Whatever you say say nothing in the first stanza. to help us to see and appreciate and cry. Heaney both fulfils his role and need for creative means. This journalist cares nothing for the people of Ireland. which are met by the poetry. these views aren’t partisan or sectarian – they aren’t related to religion. Yet because we cannot see a prevailing trend toward one political ideology. ‘sniff and point’ trivialises the suffereing. Clear message ‘Let the air at her leathery beauty. Poetry is both the problem and the solution – obligations arise out of society’s expectations of poet.’ Notably. he represents the views of certain groups and therein fulfils the obligation placed on him by those groups to take their side of an argument. powerful language in the last few lines makes it blatantly clear who the victim is in this situation – ‘the big pain/ that leaves you raw. Heaney also laments the effect of the Catholic religion on his society in Limbo. He uses the creative medium of poetry.simple. The English journalist ‘in search of ‘views on the Irish thing’ ‘ shows us what we risk becoming if we give up trying to understand the wrongness of the world – and in 1970s Ireland there was a lot of it. the greatest strength of the poem is ‘the power to persuade that vulnerable part of our consciousness of its rightness in spite of the evidence of wrongness all around it’ – to prevent us from becoming immune to the world. . Honesty and earnestness present in all his poems – his desire for us to see the world not just look at it. but is only interested in his next paycheck – betraying all this in just half a sentence. especially in his collection North. While not outrightly denouncing his religion. it is fairer to say that Heaney writes not for ‘them’ but for himself. to write FOR them. However. perishable treasure’ – laments our exhibitionism of the wrongness. Although Heaney may seem reluctant at times to come out with a strong opinion. ‘bad news is no longer news’ summarises the attitude Heaney wants us to avoid – by highlighting it. which fills the creative need. Diodorus Siculus confessed his gradual ease amongst the likes of these – first stpe is self awareness. Heaney uses creative techniques to make a statement and fill expectations. the accusation that women would be driven ‘by the sign of her cross’ to murder their own children would not have been easy to swallow. Beheaded girl. outstaring axe – simple language. although may appeal more to the antiEnglish Catholics. again. and the artistic potential of language to create these arguments. like opened ground. According to Heaney. Heaney also discusses this issue in strange fruits.
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