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Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013: ‘me in the place and the place in me’ Contemporary Literature in English Natália Pikli ELTE.

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Presentation on theme: "Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013: ‘me in the place and the place in me’ Contemporary Literature in English Natália Pikli ELTE."— Presentation transcript:

1 Seamus Heaney, : ‘me in the place and the place in me’ Contemporary Literature in English Natália Pikli ELTE

2 Irish poet/British poet? – international acclaim - Nobel Prize in Literature (1995) ”I had my existence. I was there. Me in the place and the place in me.” (from A Herbal, publ. in Human Chain, 2010, 12th volume of poems) places - Born in Northern Ireland (Mossbawn, 1st of 9 children, belonging to the Catholic minority), education: Anahorish Primary School, St Columb Catholic School in Derry, Belfast Queen’s University celebrated poet in UK, living in Dublin (1972), Harvard and Oxford Prof. of Poetry ( )

3 Places/belonging/identity - when included in The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry in 1982 by Andrew Motion – ‘be advised:/ My passport’s green’ (An Open Letter) - Aosdána, the national Irish Arts Council, established in 1981, Heaney was among those elected into its first group, he was later elected a Saoi, one of its five elders and its highest honour, in Turning down the offer to be the Poet Laureate: his "cultural starting point" was "off centre" Poet’s task – to speak for all, not taking sides, ’to stand on all sides’ and accept Search for some stable centre – for/in the land/people 1970s volumes Wintering Out, North – search for common ground – from personal to national past/present/future (In 1969, British troops were deployed in Belfast, marking the beginning of The Troubles.) Heaney: ‘the problems of poetry moved from being simply a matter of achieving a satisfactory verbal icon to being a search for images and symbols adequate to our predicament.’

4 aesthetics and ethics Language = memory = history – „word-hoard” (Beowulf) history, objects and peoples speak through the poet CRITICAL ESSAYS: The Government of the Tongue (1988), The Redress of Poetry (1995), Finders Keepers: Selected Prose, 1971–2001 (2002) Nobel Comittee: "works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past"

5 Poetic works Poetry 1966: Death of a Naturalist, Faber & FaberDeath of a Naturalist 1969: Door into the Dark, Faber & FaberDoor into the Dark 1972: Wintering Out, Faber & FaberWintering Out 1975: Stations, UlstermanStations 1975: North, Faber & FaberNorth 1979: Field Work, Faber & FaberField Work 1984: Station Island, Faber & FaberStation Island 1987: The Haw Lantern, Faber & FaberThe Haw Lantern 1991: Seeing Things, Faber & FaberSeeing Things 1996: The Spirit Level, Faber & FaberThe Spirit Level 2001: Electric Light, Faber & FaberElectric Light 2006: District and Circle, Faber & FaberDistrict and Circle 2010: Human Chain, Faber & FaberHuman Chain Poetry: collected editions 1980: Selected Poems , Faber & FaberSelected Poems : New Selected Poems , Faber & FaberNew Selected Poems : Opened Ground: Poems , Faber & FaberOpened Ground: Poems

6 Digging Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun. Under my window a clean rasping sound When the spade sinks into gravelly ground: My father, digging. I look down Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds Bends low, comes up twenty years away Stooping in rhythm through potato drills Where he was digging. The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft Against the inside knee was levered firmly. He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep To scatter new potatoes that we picked Loving their cool hardness in our hands. By God, the old man could handle a spade, Just like his old man.

7 Digging, cont. My grandfather could cut more turf in a day Than any other man on Toner's bog. Once I carried him milk in a bottle Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up To drink it, then fell to right away Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods Over his shoulder, digging down and down For the good turf. Digging. The cold smell of potato mold, the squelch and slap Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge Through living roots awaken in my head. But I've no spade to follow men like them. Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests. I'll dig with it.

8 Digging Uncovering the past/ of family traditions/ of the nation – digging: a central metaphor for Heaney, ars poetica (cf. Ted Hughes’s The Thought-Fox, Carol Ann Duffy’s Little Red Riding Hood – gramdmother’s bones) exterior and interior (cf. The Thought-Fox) proposing a moral / a method grandfather, father, son – craftsmen and poet – is poetry a craft? (proverbial ‘the pen is lighter than the spade’ vs ‘the quill/pen is mightier than the sword’) spade v pen: common and differentiating features (lines of digging/writing, one letter/push after the other, rhythm needed, necessary for new birth/crops, difficulty-gruelling, physicality vs intellectuality, etc.) alienation by education AND origins bog, peat, soil, potato – Irishness – fuel and food

9 Blackberry-Picking Late August, given heavy rain and sun For a full week, the blackberries would ripen. At first, just one, a glossy purple clot Among others, red, green, hard as a knot. You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam- pots Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots. Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills We trekked and picked until the cans were full Until the tinkling bottom had been covered With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's. We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre. But when the bath was filled we found a fur, A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache. The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour. I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot. Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.

10 Blackberry-Picking rural childhood - sensual description (metaphors, similes, assonance, onomatopoeic words) child’s vivid imagination and eagerness (rhythm of 3s: ‘milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots’) vs adult ‘lust’/’stain’ and Bluebeard innocence vs experience, alternating viewpoints (child v adult) disillusionment at the end (rat, stinking, sour) blackberry-blood, lust/greed and sensuous recalling of the taste of the fruit

11 Death of a Naturalist: child’s naive curiosity (home, classroom, fairy tale) – fear of the monster /sexuality All year the flax-dam festered in the heart Of the townland; green and heavy headed Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods. […] Here, every spring I would fill jampotfuls […] Miss Walls would tell us how The daddy frog was called a bullfrog And how he croaked and how the mammy frog Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was Frogspawn. […] Then one hot day when fields were rank […] a coarse croaking that I had not heard Before. […] The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting. I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it

12 Death of a Naturalist humour in the title – the boy, a would-be naturalist, at-home with nature realises his detachment, the strangeness in the familiar (lilttle tadpoles – frightening, repelling bullfrogs), together with his nascent sexuality: sexuality, grown-up body seems revulsive, the frogs now control the boy, the young adolescents’s embarrasment at his body words loaded with sexual overtones four-/five stress line only approximating iambic diction; slowing down with extrasyllables, ceasures to create distance Universal experience of maturation – though the community/particulars are specific (R.King: Nine contemporary poets. A critical introduction, London, Methuen, 1979 ) structure: similarly to Blackberry-Picking,extended descriptive first stanza + shorter, more compact 2nd stanza of disillusionment/disgust

13 Bogland, The Tollund Man, Punishment Heaney: ” So I began to get an idea of the bog as the memory of the landscape, or a landscape that remembered everything that happened in it and to it.” Also a symbol of Ireland’s troubles and violence, past and present Peat bog – both family and national symbol, preserving objects, sacrificial victims, the past intact layer upon layer: digging, which is the ‘authentic’?

14 Bogland – vs England (undefined, mythical, rural, in- sight, fertile depths) […] Melting and opening underfoot, Missing its last definition By millions of years. They'll never dig coal here, Only the waterlogged trunks Of great firs, soft as pulp. Our pioneers keep striking Inwards and downwards, Every layer they strip Seems camped on before. The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage. The wet centre is bottomless.

15 Bog people P.V. Blog: The Bog People, 1969 Iron Age victims of ritual murder, sacrificed to mother earth – preserved in peatbogs, skin tanned but intact ancient and modern violence – sacrifice or murder – Ireland/bogland/mother earth devouring her children to understand ”the exact/ and tribal, intimate revenge” (Punishment)

16 Tollund Man Some day I will go to Aarhus To see his peat-brown head, The mild pods of his eye-lids, His pointed skin cap. In the flat country near by Where they dug him out, His last gruel of winter seeds Caked in his stomach, Naked except for The cap, noose and girdle, I will stand a long time.

17 The Tollund Man, cont. Bridegroom to the goddess, She tightened her torc on him And opened her fen, Those dark juices working Him to a saint's kept body, […] Watching the pointing hands Of country people, Not knowing their tongue. Out here in Jutland In the old man-killing parishes I will feel lost, Unhappy and at home.

18 North I faced the unmagical Invitations of Iceland, The pathetic colonies Of Greenland, and suddenly Those fabulous raiders, […] ocean-deafened voices Warning me, lifted again In violence and epiphany […] It said, 'Lie down In the word-hoard’ Ireland-Iceland- Greenland: a common past – present geography Poet’s revelation – cherishing and upholding the past through language (cf. Beowulf) myth, fable and reality of violence/menace (”compose in darkness”)

19 Beowulf 1999 – bestseller vs 10th- century highbrow, hardly accessible Anglo-Saxon epic past and present concerns: violence, brutality, funeral rites, tribal warfare the common ‘word-hoard’ (thole-suffer) – philological archeology

20 The Republic of Conscience 1980s: more universal/more direct politically - paradox (cf. Sándor Kányádi: There is a land/Vannak vidékek) imaginary/virtual border-crossing - ‘dual citizen’ a feeling of ‘home’ – ‘homespun, grandfather, traditional cures and charms’ ”Their sacred symbol is a stylized boat. The sail is an ear, the mast a sloping pen, the hull a mouth-shape, the keel an open eye.” ”He therefore desired me when I got home to consider myself a representative and to speak on their behalf in my own tongue. Their embassies, he said, were everywhere but operated independently and no ambassador would ever be relieved.” - responsibility – language/life-time commitment

21 The Disappearing Island Medieval legend: Saint Brendan and monks arriving at an island that turns out to be the back of a sleeping whale → Irish nationalism/patriotism ”The land sustaining us seemed to hold firm Only when we embraced it in extremis. All I believe that happened there was vision.”

22 The Aerodrome Childhood memory – Toome military airport in WW2 The young girl in charge of the boy – infatuation with American bomber pilots Last stanza – a more general view: ”If self is a location, so is love: Bearings taken, markings, cardinal points, Options, obstinacies, dug heels and distance, Here and there and now and then, a stance.”

23 Blake Morrison on Heaney the poet "has written poems directly about the Troubles as well as elegies for friends and acquaintances who have died in them; he has tried to discover a historical framework in which to interpret the current unrest; and he has taken on the mantle of public spokesman, someone looked to for comment and guidance... Yet he has also shown signs of deeply resenting this role, defending the right of poets to be private and apolitical, and questioning the extent to which poetry, however 'committed,' can influence the course of history." Heaney’s place?

24 Epilogue In 2003, the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry was opened at Queen's University Belfast. It houses the Heaney Media Archive, a record of Heaney's entire oeuvre, along with a full catalogue of his radio and television presentations latest Hungarian translation: Hűlt hely. Válogatott versek, Kalligram, 2010


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