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ix Preface This book begins as an appreciation of Seamus Heaney’s prose. It never ceases to be that, but its main purpose is to set forth in a straightforward way matters that are anything but straightforward: Heaney’s poetics and his interactions with writers who have meant the most to him. These subjects go together, for it is always in relation to other writers that Heaney works out his thoughts about what he calls “proper living and writing.” The book discusses many writers whom Heaney finds exemplary (to use Neil Corcoran’s useful word), but emphasizes Eliot, Lowell, Dante, Larkin, and Yeats, not only because Heaney’s debt to all of them, save Larkin, is great, but also because his relationship to these particular writers is more than usually bound up with issues in his poetics and with motifs in his maturation as a poet. This is obviously a book for students of Heaney’s poetry and prose, but it is also written for students of the other poets who wish to know something about how their poets have been “translated” into Heaney’s work and into Heaney’s aspirations for poetry. In other words, the book is designed to be read through, but it may also be read in parts. The purpose of some of its repetition is to permit that kind of reading. Professing Poetry is written for readers who wish to learn something about Heaney’s prose criticism—in my opinion the best written by a poet since T. S. Eliot’s. But it is not an enchiridion or handbook for that criticism. It is heavily thematic, returning persistently to Heaney’s troubled, not wholly consistent, and yet ultimately profound and satisfying meditation on poetry’s justification, its “redress.” Although the work deals with theoretical matters, it is ev- x preface erywhere as concrete as the subject will permit, and it isn’t a work of literary theory as that term is commonly understood. I hope I have kept the book free of jargon. It is written in emulation of Heaney’s own prose. It attempts a style described by Heaney in Finders Keepers as one in which “there will be no gap between the professional idiom and the personal recognition.” This is not a book on Heaney’s poetry per se, for many fine books (by Henry Hart, Daniel Tobin, Robert Buttel, Helen Vendler, Elmer Andrews, Neil Corcoran, Michael Molino, Andrew Murphy, Bernard O’Donoghue, and others) have already devoted themselves to that end, but nearly every chapter of the book concerns itself with how “preoccupations” in Heaney’s poetics are reflected in his poetry. The book cites, therefore, many poems. It returns with special emphasis to Field Work, Station Island, and Seeing Things, for in those volumes the main issues of Heaney’s career as a critic congregate and his several influences meet. When citing Heaney’s poetry, I have usually referred to his most recent selection, Opened Ground (1998), because that is the largest selection Heaney has made of his poetry and the one most readers are likely to possess. Using it is convenient. Occasionally I must quote individual volumes for poems that Heaney didn’t later select for Opened Ground. However, since this is after all a book mainly about Heaney’s prose and the development of his poetics, I have, when citing essays, quoted individual volumes of essays rather than the selection of his prose included in Finders Keepers (2002), which doesn’t include all of Heaney’s essays and which cuts some of them down from their original size. Where previously uncollected essays appear in Finders Keepers, I have cited that volume. In some cases, such as “Envies and Identifications,” Heaney’s essay on Dante and the modern poet, I have gone to the original source—in this case, the Irish University Review. ...


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