Information about the poet.
Seamus Heaney’s new collection starts “In an age of bare hands and cast iron” and ends as “The automatic lock / clunks shut” in the eerie new conditions of a menaced twenty-first century. In their haunted, almost visionary clarity, the poems assay the weight and worth of what has been held in the hand and in the memory. Images out of a childhood spent safe from the horrors of World War II—railway sleepers, a sledgehammer, the “heavyweight / Silence” of “Cattle out in rain”—are colored by a strongly contemporary sense that “Anything can happen,” and other images from the dangerous present—a journey on the Underground, a melting glacier—are fraught with this same anxiety.
But District and Circle, which includes a number of prose poems and translations, offers resistance as the poet gathers his staying powers and stands his ground in the hiding places of love and excited language. In a sequence like “The Tollund…[more]
Seamus Heaney’s new collection elicits continuities and solidarities, between husband and wife, child and parent, then and now, inside an intently remembered present—the stepping stones of the day, the weight and heft of what is passed from hand to hand, lifted and lowered. Human Chain also broaches larger questions of transmission, of lifelines to the inherited past. There are newly minted versions of anonymous early Irish lyrics, poems that stand at the crossroads of oral and written, and other “hermit songs” that weigh equally in their balance the craft of scribe and the poet’s early calling as scholar. A remarkable sequence entitled “Route 101” plots the descent into the underworld in the Aeneid against single moments in the arc of a life, from a 1950s childhood to the birth of a first grandchild. Other poems display a Virgilian pietas for the dead—friends, neighbors, family—that is yet wholly and movingly vernacular. …[more]
Composed toward the end of the first millennium, Beowulf is the classic Northern epic of a hero’s triumphs as a young warrior and his fated death as a defender of his people. The poem is about encountering the monstrous, defeating it, and then having to live on, physically and psychically exposed in the exhausted aftermath. It is not hard to draw parallels in this story to the historical curve of consciousness in the twentieth century, but the poem also transcends such considerations, telling us psychological and spiritual truths that are permanent and liberating. In his new translation, Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney has produced a work that is both true, line by line, to the original poem and a fundamental expression of his own creative gift.
The Spirit Level was the first book of poems Heaney published after winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. Reviewing this book in The New York Times Book Review, Richard Tillinghast noted that Heaney “has been and is here for good…[His poems] will last. Anyone who reads poetry has reason to rejoice at living in the age when Seamus Heaney is writing.”
Seamus Heaney describes the haw lantern as “small light for small people” but there is more than tiny illumination emanating from one of Ireland’s premier poets. Heaney peppers this short collection of poems with crafty language and natural objects: “I heard the hatchet’s differentiated/Accurate cut, the crack, the sigh/And collapse of what luxuriated/Through the shocked tips and wreckage of it all.”
Electric Light travels widely in time and space, visiting the sites of the classical world, revisiting the poet’s childhood: rural electrification and the light of ancient evenings are reconciled within the orbit of a single lifetime. This is a book about origins (not least the origins of words) and oracles: the places where things start from, the ground of understanding—whether in Arcadia or Anahorish, the sanctuary at Epidaurus or the Bann valley in County Derry.Electric Light ranges from short takes (‘glosses’) to conversation poems whose cunning passagework gives rein to ‘the must and drift of talk’; other poems are arranged in sections, their separate cargoes docked alongside each other to reveal a hidden and curative connection. The presocratic wisdom that everything flows is held in tension with the fixities of remembrance: elegising friends and fellow poets, naming ‘the real names’ of contemporaries behind the Shakespearean roles they played at school. These gifts of recollection renew the poet’s calling to assign to things their proper names. The resulting poems are full of delicately prescriptive tonalities, where Heaney can be heard extending his word-hoard and rollcall in this, his eleventh collection.