Seamus Heaney


Seamus Heaney was born in the year of 1939 on a farm called “Mossbawn”, in the county of Derry, Ireland. In many of Heaney’s poems, we can see his own personal approach to the subject. In the four poems I am reviewing, his themes are that of :


- the Irish landscape


- prehistoric ritual killings and the contemporary killings of today in the North


- deep love for his wife


- fading tradition/ time and change


*I am starting off with Heaney’s poem called “Bogland”.


The themes of this poem are the wonders of the great Irish landscape and also the psyche of the Irish people. Heaney describes the bogland of Ireland very well in this poem. He illustrates the ground of the bogs as,


‘melting and opening underfoot..’


By saying this, he is giving us the feeling that the bogland of Ireland is dangerous, active and also a living presence.


‘The ground itself is kind.’


This line very much is contrasting to the above, as it states that the bog is caring. I am inclined to think that Heaney is really implying that the bog on the outside may look simple and kind, but underneath it is complex, holding a lot of the past, both pleasant and horrific.


A metaphor emerges in this poem of exploration and discovery in the word ‘pioneers’. Heaney points out that the Irish strike


‘inwards and downwards..’


By saying this, he tells us of how the Irish have a great past, in comparison to other countries, like America. The Irish people like to explore the depths of their history, whereas the Americans in a way do not really have such a history that they can explore.


He continues on this point,


‘The wet center is bottomless.”


The prospective for the ‘discovery’ of Irelands past is rich and definitely endless.


Heaney’s language in this poem is very descriptive. This becomes known in lines such as,


‘great furs, soft as pulp’


His language is also very opulent in lines two, four and five.


‘slice a big sun’


Overall I enjoyed the poem ‘Bogland’. It gave me an insight into Heaney’s view of the Irish landscape. How he described the bog was definitely interesting, and the metaphor in this poem gave it importance.


*The next poem I looked at of Heaney’s was his poem ‘The Tolland Man’.


The themes of this poem are death, both ritual and modern-day.


This poem is based in two different eras and in two different locations. The first is Jut land - in the Iron Age. The next is in Ireland – in the 1920’s-1970’s.


There are two different sets of victims in this poem as well – The Tolland Man, the laborers and also the four young brothers.


The deaths in this poem were meant to achieve fertility, growth, and renewal – The Tolland Man, or a united Ireland /British Ulster.


In this poem in particular, Heaney’s personal view comes across to a great degree. Heaney is feeling compassion for the victims, trying to find a meaning or reason for the deaths, and also giving his respect, admiration and tribute to these victims, and all victims of crime in general.


The opening line of this poem is very reverent and solemn,


‘Someday I will go to Aarhus..’


This tells us that someday in the future Heaney is planning to undertake a pilgrimage to Aarhus, which gives the impression Aarhus is a very important place to Heaney and it is vital that he visit there someday.


Stanza’s two and three of this poem gives us archaeological details. We find out that the Tolland Man was a sacrifice to the Goddess of the Earth. The word ‘seeds’ hint at the growth of life and also the word ‘naked’ gives the impression of vulnerability and innocence of the man, which brings out emotions of sympathy towards the victim.


In stanza four, the power of the Goddess and the concept of fertility and sexual union are suggested very graphically in such lines as, ‘she tightened her torc..’ and also,’ dark juices working..’


‘A saints body..’ links the poem to pre-Christian worlds.


In stanzas seven and eight, there is a very vivid and succinct evocation of the savage killings in the North of Ireland, both in past and present.


Heaney concludes the poem stating that when he does eventually travel to Aarhus, he will have a sense of recognition with