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Song -- Seamus Heaney

       
(Poem #61) Song
  A rowan like a lipsticked girl.
  Between the by-road and the main road
  Alder trees at a wet and dripping distance
  Stand off among the rushes.

  There are the mud-flowers of dialect
  And the immortelles of perfect pitch
  And that moment when the bird sings very close
  To the music of what happens.
-- Seamus Heaney
This delicately lovely poem has always reminded me of a haiku - there is the
same ethereal yet etching-precise economy, the wealth and evocativeness of
the images, with every word worth a thousand pictures. The interweaving of
images and music captures the very essence of poetry, lending the poem a
self-referentiality that is no less real for being unstated.

Glossary:

immortelle [alien sense]
  imOrtel. [Fr. (short for fleur immortelle), fem. of immortel immortal.]
  A name for various composite flowers of papery texture (esp. Helichrysum
  orientale, and other species of Helichrysum, Xeranthemum, etc.) which
  retain their colour after being dried. -- OED

Biographical Notes:

  b. April 13, 1939, near Castledàwson, County Londonderry, N.Ire.

  in full SEAMUS JUSTIN HEANEY, Irish poet whose work is notable for its
  evocation of events in Irish history and its allusions to Irish myth. He
  received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995.

  Heaney's first poetry collection was the prizewinning Death of a
  Naturalist (1966). In this book and Door into the Dark (1969), he wrote in
  a traditional style about a passing way of life--that of domestic rural
  life in Northern Ireland. In Wintering Out (1972) and North (1975), he
  began to encompass such subjects as the violence in Northern Ireland and
  contemporary Irish experience, though he continued to view his subjects
  through a mythic and mystical filter. Among the later volumes that reflect
  Heaney's honed and deceptively simple style are Field Work (1979), Station
  Island (1984), The Haw Lantern (1987), and Seeing Things (1991). His
  Selected Poems, 1966-1987 also was published in 1991. The Spirit Level
  (1996) concerns the notion of centredness and balance in both the natural
  and the spiritual senses.

  Heaney also wrote essays on poetry and poets, including such figures as
  William Wordsworth, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Robert Lowell. Some of
  these essays appeared in Preoccupations: Selected Prose,A collection of his lectures at Oxford was published as The Redress of
  Poetry (1995). The Cure at Troy (1991) is Heaney's version of Sophocles'
  Philoctetes, and a later volume, The Midnight Verdict (1993), contains
  translations of selections from Ovid's Metamorphoses and from Cúirt an
  mheadhon oidhche (The Midnight Court), a work by the 18th-century Irish
  writer Brian Merriman.
        -- EB

Assessment:

  1995 Nobel Laureate in Literature "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical
  depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past."
          -- The Nobel Foundation

  Robert Lowell has deemed Heaney "the most important Irish poet since
  Yeats." Critics have been largely positive about his verse, and he is
  undoubtedly the most popular poet writing in English today. His books sell
  by the tens of thousands, and hundreds of "Heaneyboppers" attend his
  readings. His earliest influences, Robert Frost and Ted Hughes, can be
  seen throughout his work, but most especially in his first two volumes,
  where he recollects images of his childhood at Mossbawn. Other poets,
  especially Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Wordsworth, Thomas Hardy, and
  even Dante have played important roles in his development.
  [...]
  Some critics have placed Heaney in a no-win situation; he is condemned
  either for confronting too strongly the situation in his homeland, or
  taken to task for remaining aloof from it. Nevertheless, some of his most
  convincing elegies deal with friends and family he has lost to the
  Troubles. "Casualty," a poem about a Catholic friend murdered by a bomb
  set by the Provisional Irish Republican Army in a Protestant pub, gives us
  another look at the tribal warfare in Northern Ireland. His questioning of
  his friend's responsibility for his own death realizes the ambiguous
  nature, the muddling of right and wrong, that grips Northern Ireland
  today. And yet, what is important is not placing blame, but the
  recognition of what remains to those who live, memories and sadness.

  It is easy to get the impression that Heaney is a provincial poet,
  concerned only with the happenings of his island and his memory. That
  conclusion, however, would be misleading. He is not merely a one-note
  minstrel; his birthplace does not completely occupy his mind. "Song"
  demonstrates his exploration of the poetic process. Like "Digging" and
  "Personal Helicon," this short lyric attends to his own imagination.
  His descriptive powers are akin to Wordsworth's, and his attention to
  the world around him and the details of language make this poem a
  small success.
  [...]
  Heaney's work is filled with images of death and dying, and yet it is also
  firmly rooted in the life of this world. His tender elegies about friends
  and family members who have died serve many purposes: they mourn great
  losses, celebrate those who have gone before us, and recall the solace
  that remains to us, our memories. When asked recently about his abiding
  interest in memorializing the people of his life, he replied, "The elegaic
  Heaney? There's nothing else."

        -- Joe Pellegrino, excerpted from
        <[broken link] http://metalab.unc.edu/dykki/poetry/heaney/heaney.bio.html>
        (and do go and read the whole thing)

Websites of interest:
  <[broken link] http://educeth.ethz.ch/english/readinglist/heaney,seamus.html> - highly
  recommended, along with all its links.

m.

49 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Ollie Hawes said...

This poem is what first introduced me to heaney. I feel that it creates the atmosphere desired and, if others were to read it, inspire them to read more heaney

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Great poem! I think that when I finish my career in philosophy I would dedicate my life to write poems! Keep up the good work.

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