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Seamus Heaney's Regions

Richard Rankin Russell

Publication Year: 2014

Regional voices from England, Ireland, and Scotland inspired Seamus Heaney, the 1995 Nobel prize-winner, to become a poet, and his home region of Northern Ireland provided the subject matter for much of his poetry. In his work, Heaney explored, recorded, and preserved both the disappearing agrarian life of his origins and the dramatic rise of sectarianism and the subsequent outbreak of the Northern Irish “Troubles” beginning in the late 1960s. At the same time, Heaney consistently imagined a new region of Northern Ireland, where the conflicts that have long beset it and, by extension, the relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom might be synthesized and resolved. Finally, there is a third region Heaney committed himself to explore and map—the spirit region, that world beyond our ken. In Seamus Heaney’s Regions, Richard Rankin Russell argues that Heaney’s regions—the first, geographic, historical, political, cultural, linguistic; the second, a future where peace, even reconciliation, might one day flourish; the third, the life beyond this one—offer the best entrance into and a unified understanding of Heaney’s body of work in poetry, prose, translations, and drama. As Russell shows, Heaney believed in the power of ideas—and the texts representing them—to begin resolving historical divisions. For Russell, Heaney’s regionalist poetry contains a “Hegelian synthesis” view of history that imagines potential resolutions to the conflicts that have plagued Ireland and Northern Ireland for centuries. Drawing on extensive archival and primary material by the poet, Seamus Heaney’s Regions examines Heaney’s work from before his first published poetry volume, Death of a Naturalist in 1966, to his most recent volume, the elegiac Human Chain in 2010, to provide the most comprehensive treatment of the poet’s work to date.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

I am grateful to the many people who have answered questions, offered suggestions, and given emotional, mental, and spiritual support during the writing of this book. A portion of it originated in my dissertation on Northern Irish literature and identity, which was directed by the beloved Weldon Thornton at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, to whom I will always be thankful for his belief in me and my work, and for...

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pp. 1-40

Seamus Heaney observed, “John Keats once called a poem [of his] ‘a little Region to wander in,’”1 and notions of the region lie at the heart not only of his concept of poetry but also of his understanding of politics, culture, and spirituality. Regional voices from England, Ireland, and Scotland inspired...

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Chapter One: The Development of Northern Irish Regionalism

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pp. 41-65

As John Wilson Foster has recently observed, “Many college students of Irish Literature, clamoring to write their essays on Seamus Heaney and ‘the North,’ apparently believe that Northern Irish literature began ab ovo with the publication of Death of a Naturalist in 1966. . . . But then, only recently (say in the past quarter-century) did serious criticism discover that there were Irish writers of the Revival other than Yeats, Synge,...

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Chapter Two: Recording Bigotry and Imagining a New Province: Heaney and BBC Northern Ireland Radio, 1968–73

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pp. 66-100

Commentators on Heaney’s work have generally not acknowledged his earlier dramatic work that preceded his translation of Sophocles’ Philoctetes, The Cure at Troy, in 1990. For example, in an otherwise fine essay from 1992, Alan Peacock claims that The Cure “is in a number of ways a latest stage in the realization of certain key aspirations in his poetry. Heaney has always, in one way or another, been moving further...

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Chapter Three: Heaney’s Essays on Regional Writers: The 1970s

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pp. 101-129

This chapter draws upon Heaney’s substantial essays and book reviews on Northern Irish, Scottish, Welsh, English, and even Ameri - can regional writers from the 1970s, as he continued to suggest how an expansive concept of regionalism, set in a dialectic with other emerging regional writing from the Atlantic archipelago, might prove an inclusive, viable concept to which those in the North might give allegiance, rather...

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Chapter Four: Wounds and Fire: Northern Ireland in Heaney’s 1970s Poetry

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pp. 130-161

Heaney told Seamus Deane in 1977 that “my first attempts to speak, to make verse, faced the Northern sectarian problem. Then this went underground and I became very influenced by [Ted] Hughes and one part of my temperament took over: the private County Derry part of myself rather than the slightly aggravated young Catholic male part.”1 That “slightly aggravated young Catholic male part” of the poet had reared its...

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Chapter Five: Darkness Visible: Irish Catholicism, the American Civil Rights Movement, and the Blackness of “Strange Fruit”

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pp. 162-186

The blackness of that cauterized limb in “Stump” from “A Northern Hoard” forms part of a whole host of other images of blackness in additional poems from Wintering Out and North that are often connected to the trope of woundedness. I draw on these images and other statements by Heaney during the 1970s to show how he subtly implies the...

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Chapter Six: Border Crossings: Heaney’s Prose Poems in Stations

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pp. 187-211

If Heaney’s poems from the 1970s, expressed in the form of the quatrain or, much less often, the sonnet, drew extensively on images of woundedness and blackness to convey his negative impression of Northern Ireland as a region and of Northern Catholics as “black,” he was also experimenting with an altogether more experimental and malleable form during the early to mid-1970s—the prose poem. Many of the prose poems...

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Chapter Seven: Joyce, Burns, and Holub: Heaney’s Independent Regionalism in An Open Letter

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pp. 212-239

Heaney critics commonly argue that his supposed conversion to focusing on spiritual subjects and turning away from the messy matter of the region of Northern Ireland in the 1980s is heralded by his increasing interest in W. B. Yeats. Heaney himself contributed to this belief, noting in his 1988 lecture “The Place of Writing: W.B. Yeats and Thoor Ballylee” that “the poetic imagination in its strongest manifestation imposes its vision upon a place rather than accepts a vision...

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Chapter Eight: Affirming and Transcending Regionalism: Joyce, Dante, Eliot, and the Tercet Form in Station Island and The Haw Lantern

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pp. 240-278

Station Island (1984) simultaneously registers the pervasive violence in Heaney’s home region and seeks to articulate a wider regionalism, particularly by nearly framing the central, titular section through the literary figures of William Carleton and James Joyce (Carleton appears in the second lyric and Joyce in the twelfth and last lyric). It also gestures toward the third strand of Heaney’s regionalism—the spirit region beyond...

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Chapter Nine: The Northern Irish Context and Owen and Yeats Intertexts in The Cure at Troy

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pp. 279-309

Joyce (along with Dante), with his blend of local idiolects and cosmopolitanism, was a major regional exemplar for Heaney in the 1980s as his regionalism became gradually more expansive in its outlook. If Joyce desired to Hellenize the island of Ireland by using the Homeric parallels in Ulysses, Heaney would turn by 1990 to a Hellenized island— Lemnos—and Hibernicize it, finding parallels to its loneliness and the...

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Chapter Ten: Guttural and Global: Heaney’s Regionalism after 1990

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pp. 310-355

The Cure at Troy’s titular emphasis on miraculous healing, which is mitigated by the caution expressed by the chorus in the play’s conclusion, remained alluring to Heaney in subsequent years even as he continued to reject such instantaneous cures for deep cultural and societal wounds. As we will see in this chapter, his second strand of regionalism— the decades-long attempt to develop a reinvigorated sense of the common...

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Chapter Eleven: “My Ship of Genius Now Shakes Out Her Sail”: The Spirit Region and the Tercet in Seeing Things and Human Chain

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pp. 356-392

In his seminal essay “The Regional Forecast,” Heaney argues that regional writers like Joyce and presumably himself have a task before them that is essentially formal and visionary: “The writer’s task will ultimately be visionary rather than social; the human rather than the national dream...

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Afterword: Visiting the Dead and Welcoming Newborns: Human Chain and Heaney’s Three Regions

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pp. 393-404

If well over half the poems in Seeing Things were tercets— fifty-four of the eighty-one poems in that volume were fully in tercets and several more used the tercet form at least once—Heaney uses the form almost exclusively in the last major collection published before his death, Human Chain. Twenty-four of the twenty-nine poems in this volume employ only tercets, and several more use them at least once. There are...


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pp. 405-460


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pp. 461-486


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pp. 487-498

About the Author, Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780268091811
E-ISBN-10: 0268091811
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268040369
Print-ISBN-10: 0268040362

Page Count: 536
Illustrations: 3 halftones
Publication Year: 2014