Death of a naturalist critical essay

Seamus Heaney
Contents:
  1. Politics and Irish Poetry : Seamus Heaney's Declaration of Independence
  2. Death of naturalist Essay - Words | Bartleby
  3. Death of naturalist Essay

I had the uncanny feeling, reading [the poems in North ], of listening to the thing itself, the actual substance of historical agony and dissolution, the tragedy of a people in a place: the Catholics of Northern Ireland. Yes, the Catholics: there is no equivalent Protestant voice. Poetry is as unfair as history, though in a different way.

Seamus Heaney takes his distances—archaeology, Berkeley, love-hate of the English language, Spain, County Wicklow not the least distant —but his Derry is always with him, the ash, somehow, now standing out even more on the forehead…. Many people in Northern Ireland are in the habit of arguing that they 'have nothing against Catholics as such' or 'Protestants as such', as the case may be.

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The trouble is that neither lot, in practice, can remain just 'such', they have to be the much more and much less that it means to be Irish Catholics and Ulster Protestants: such-plus and seen as such-plus, inherently hostile and frightening. In these poems of Seamus Heaney's, Protestants are seen as such-plus: a matter of muzzles, masks and eyes.

About his own such-plusses he is neither sentimental nor apologetic. An Irish reader is not automatically reminded of Yeats by this cluster of characteristics, yet an English reader may perhaps see resemblances that are there but overlooked by the Irish—resemblances coming, perhaps, from certain common rhythms and hesitations of Irish speech and non-speech. One may, of course, be reminded, by the subject-matter, of Yeats's poems and of 'Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen' and 'Meditation in Time of Civil War'…. I am more struck with the differences than the resemblances.

As I read and re-read North , I was reminded, not so much of any other Irish poet, as of one of Rudyard Kipling's most chilling fairy stories, 'Cold Iron'. It is a story in which bright and tender hopes are snuffed out by ineluctable destiny, the hand of Thor. And the way in which Thor makes his presence felt is always 'a slow northeast wind'.

Heaney's imagination is as fascinated with language itself as the subjects and concerns which elicit language from him. Since he considers poetry to be "craft", or, in the language of Tel Quel, un travail , it was probably inevitable that Heaney's word-obsession should have grown into a conspicuous part of his past-orientated thematic sweep…. Heaney's is almost a poetry of "felt philology. What he appears to be doing [in North ] is to associate the craft of poetry itself with his identification of a native Irish culture, and the larger Northern civilisation of which it was, or is, a part.

One of the most remarkable qualities of his writing is that it is national in the most acceptable sense of the word. There is no deafening chauvinism; his meanings are gently pressed from the background to the front.


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  4. Death of Naturalist by Seamus Heaney Essay.

He saves the reader from having to think about his meanings as "claims" or arguments; instead, they are recognisably parts of poems. Seamus Heaney's new, widely-praised collection [ North ] has an untypically intelligent blurb did he write it himself? The workings of that myth, in North , seem to owe something to Black Mountain poetics: there's the same concern with unearthing history from geographical space, an archaeological rather than Romantic-humanist sense of historicity which excavates from the present hidden structures of a past stacked vertically, so to speak, beneath it.

It is interesting, incidentally, to compare this kind of poetic enterprise to the work of the French structuralist historians, not least the writing of Michael Foucault.

Death of a Naturalist annotation by Seamus Heaney

In North , such spiritual excavation assumes quite literal form: poem after poem focuses on the disinterring from Irish bogs of relics, bones and skeletons which are the remnants of foreign invasions. This is a fertile, deeply productive metaphor for Heaney, for a number of reasons: it licenses, as the blurb suggests, a more totalising vision than he has been capable of before, drawing landscape and history into complex unity; it furnishes the imagery for a self-exploration, as the movement of sinking into the bog becomes symbolic of a meditative psychological return to the roots of personal identity; and it does all this while preserving and deepening the kind of discourse which has always been Heaney's chief poetic strength—the discourse of material Nature itself.

Heaney's poetry has moved gradually away from the direct, sensuous encounters with Nature of the earlier work, towards a natural world which, while still insistently, materially present, is increasingly medicated by verbal categories. And this movement has roughly paralleled what Jon Silkin has termed, not altogether approvingly, the progressive 'deftness' of his poetic technique. What Heaney has tried to do, however, is to preempt the dangers of this by turning his lexical and phonetic interests to good use—by allowing the sound and sense-value of certain significant words to open out into cultural and historical perspectives, so that the very act of verbal articulation can become a metaphor of objects, processes, events….

The bleak, boggy terrain of these poems is gathered and transmuted by a devotion to the word into a kind of learned ceremony—just as, within the poems themselves, dead, frozen, disjointed things are rescued and revived from the black maw of landscape and history. The Irishness of North seems to me to lie in this conjuncture of material grimness and imaginative grace—to lie there, rather than in the generally inferior pieces offered by the book's second part about contemporary Irish politics.

Seamus Heaney comes from the north of Ireland, and his career has almost exactly coincided with the present span of the "troubles.

Politics and Irish Poetry : Seamus Heaney's Declaration of Independence

His first two books— Death of a Naturalist and Door into the Dark —charted the boundaries of a luxuriantly experienced private world. These two more recent books [ Wintering Out and North ] concede the presence of a large, violent, and public landscape which is inhabited sometimes by Norsemen, sometimes by policemen, as well as by Mr. Heaney himself—now ready, it seems, to enter into a subtly nuanced dialogue with them on the subjects of politics, culture, and poetry.

The ancient past and the contemporary present, myth and politics, are in fact analogues for one another in these books. Heaney is very much in the Irish tradition in that he has learned, more successfully than most, to conceive of his personal experience in terms of his country's history.

Even the names of the townlands of County Derry—Anahorish, Toome—lead him directly back to his childhood and into the depths of the area's past history. Accent, etymologies, old ritual murders and invasions, contemporary assassinations and security systems—these and other related elements swarm now more and more thickly, the lethal infusoria in this pellucid verse.

Some of Mr. Heaney's poems are about words, some about bogs and their well-preserved victims, some about love and marriage, some about the social and political tensions of the Irish situation. But these categories, initially useful, finally give way under sustained rereading. The poems express no politics and indeed they flee conceptual formulations with an almost indecent success. Instead they interrogate the quality of the relationship between the poet and his mixed political and literary traditions. The answer is always the same.

Relationship is unavoidable, but commitment, relationship gone vulgar, is a limiting risk. Nevertheless commitment is demanded during a crisis, and in a poem like "Exposure," the final poem in North , Mr. Heaney faces the further, less welcoming possibility that poetry is itself a commitment and therefore a limitation too. It is what makes the poet miss the comet, "the once-in-a-lifetime portent. He is called upon to assume responsibility. In doing so, he does not satisfy his critics, for whom his commitment is not of the sort they want; nor does he satisfy himself, for, in attempting to do "the whole job of culture," he may forget to live.

When we look again at the faces rising out of the Norse past or the violent present, we see that they are the most vivid renderings in Mr.

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Death of naturalist Essay - Words | Bartleby

Heaney's poetry of a deep sense of estrangement. In Wintering Out he associates himself with outcasts or lost remnants of a tradition, with victims in fact…. Remnants are the core of Heaney's treasure [in North ]. What is scattered in the culture is collected in the poetry. His fondness for the word hoard itself and for images or relics of the past bursting out of the skin of the all-preserving peat-bogs would sufficiently indicate this…. Seamus Heaney could be claiming the right [in the title poem "North"] to keep to what he knows; but I think he also means that the retention of such intimacy leads to a more profound deepening of knowledge, a deeper searching in the word-hoard.

In the end his varied relationships with his culture are for him a means toward poetry. At the end of every rainbow of association lies the word-hoard. So he assumes responsibility for language in language. It is a delicate matter since language is bearing the freight of history and tradition and Mr. Heaney is expert in the balancing of this cargo in the sensitive scales of his increasingly flexible verse forms and rhythms….

In North particularly it is notable that many of the poems find voices in which the poet is addressed—for Mr. Heaney wants to hear the sand sift in the hourglass, time's whisper in his Ireland, coming to him in the articulate speech of a poetry implicit in the very artifacts of his world, violently different though it may be from others. There is no point in avoiding the inevitable comparison. Yeats is hardly a presence in his work…, but Heaney has heard a spirit music no less distinct than that of his great predecessor…. It is primary with Heaney that he has…. In his 20s he began to find an accurate language, weighted and spare, for a physical universe as intensely given as that of some Ionian speculator pairing, in his wonderment, rough and smooth, soft and hard, dry and moist, hot and cold….

Thence, and tenacious thereof, the life of the mind. Heaney's Irish landscape flickered and reeked from the start with sensibility and a sense of the past, with pathos, fantasy and fear….

Death of naturalist Essay

Formally simple and conversational, a little clumsy and thick-tongued, Heaney's early poems were carefully guarded against the curse of lilt. But Heaney had a deeper affinity than Kinsella for their common progenitor in Irish writing, Joyce. His work was and would be incarnational, conceived in an objective and substantial world and embodied in forms respectful of it, no matter how various with learning and linguistic art the music of the spirit might become. For such a writer a good poem can be autotelic and autonomous only after a manner of speaking, for it owes its life above all to the life of men and only necessarily, if you like, to the life of poetry; it is utterance and artifact on equal terms.

In the Age of Criticism the cultivation of poetry as a superior amusement, superior indeed in the work of at least one master, has gone so far among later talents as to attenuate and trivialize the whole business. Heaney's best poems in their purity are certainly fresh esthetic objects; at the same time his manner is large and open, his intent a publicly conducted meditation among the living and the dead. The "great chambers of Boyne" are the megalithic tombs at New Grange, to which you drive from Belfast through the Gap of the North, skirting loughs with Scandinavian names.

Gunnar is a figure out of Icelandic saga at whose burial a cycle of vengeance was broken, at least temporarily, by a miracle of strange light and happiness beyond death. It is almost startling to think that the measured progression and elevation of this poem can do nothing for Northern Ireland. What about the pessimism, the determinism [in Heaney's North ]? The message is certainly there. Violence and death is the inheritance, in past, present and, seemingly, future.

Withdrawal stimulates guilt.