Nobel Prize winning Irish writer Seamus Heaney has been an ambitious critic as well as poet, publishing five books of literary criticism in the four decades of his career. This book surveys his critical essays, setting forth Heaneys poetics, his concept of what poetry should be and what its uses are and relating them to his practice as a poet.
What is the relationship between poetry and power? Should poetry be considered a mode of authority or an impotent medium? And why is it that the modern poets most commonly regarded as authoritative are precisely those whose works wrestle with a sense of artistic inadequacy? Such questions lie at the heart of this study, prompting fresh insights into three of the most important poets of recent decades: Robert Lowell, Geoffrey Hill and Seamus Heaney. Through attentive close reading and the tracing of dominant motifs in each writer's works, James shows how their responsiveness to matters of political and cultural import lends weight to the idea of poetry as authoritative utterance, as a medium for speaking of and to the world in a persuasive, memorable manner. And yet, as James demonstrates, each poet is exercised by an awareness of his own cultural marginality, even by a sense of the limitations and liabilities of language itself.
Discusses a critical element in the early poetry of Seamus Heaney: the question of poetic duty and responsibility, with specific reference to the poetry he published before moving from Ulster to the Irish Republic. The work demonstrates how his first four poetry collections exhibit a progression in how the poet, after coming to grips with his artistic vocation, finally discovers the means by which to address the terrible events that afflicted Northern Ireland at the time.
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