North (poetry)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
North
NorthHeaney.jpg
First edition
Author Seamus Heaney
Language English
Genre Poetry
Publisher Faber and Faber
Publication date
1975
Media type Print
Pages 73
Awards 1975 Duff Cooper Prize
ISBN 0-571-17780-8

North (1975) is a collection of poems written by Seamus Heaney, who received the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. It was the first of his works that directly dealt with the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and it looks frequently to the past for images and symbols relevant to the violence and political unrest of that time. Heaney has been recorded reading this collection on the Seamus Heaney Collected Poems album.

The collection is divided into two parts of which the first is more symbolic, dealing with themes such as the Greek myth of Antaeus, the bog bodies of Northern Europe, Vikings, and other historical figures. The second, shorter part contains poems that deal more specifically with life in Northern Ireland during The Troubles and contains dedicatory poems to Michael McLaverty and Seamus Deane.

The title of the volume may come from a poem in the volume; however, while the manuscript drafts reveal other titles Heaney considered for the poem, no evidence exists that he ever considered a different title for the volume.[1] Rand Brandes writes, “North was always North”.[2] The poem “North” invokes one of the volume’s primary symbols—the Viking raiders who invaded Ireland between 795 and 980. The volume title also suggests these northern raiders, the bog bodies found in Northern Europe, and most significantly, the North of Ireland.

Bog Body Poems[edit]

Of this volume’s major symbols, and perhaps the most well-known of Heaney’s oeuvre, are the bog bodies that inspire four poems in this volume: “Bog Queen,” “The Grauballe Man,” “Punishment,” and “Strange Fruit.” In his previous volume, Wintering Out, Heaney published the first of his bog-body poems, “Tollund Man.” Heaney was inspired to write these poems after reading PV Glob’s book, The Bog People, an archeological study of Iron-Age bodies discovered in the bogs of Northern Europe. In his essay “Feeling Into Words,” Heaney explains that he found this book during a time when writing poetry had shifted for him “from being simply a matter of achieving the satisfactory verbal icon to being a search for images and symbols adequate to our predicament”.[3] The bog bodies of Glob’s book became such symbols for Heaney, who writes, “And the unforgettable photographs of these victims blended in my mind with photographs of atrocities, past and present, in the long rites of Irish political and religious struggles”.[4] In these poems, Heaney draws connections between the past and present.

Reception[edit]

The reception of North has varied since its publication. It is Heaney’s most controversial volume. A number of critics have received the volume positively. Helen Vendler, for example, labeled it "One of the few unforgettable single volumes published in English since the modernist era"[5] and later as "one of the crucial poetic intervention of the twentieth century".[citation needed] Conor Cruise O'Brien wrote, "I had the uncanny feeling, reading these poems, of listening to the thing itself, the actual substance of historical agony and dissolution, the tragedy of a people in a place: the Catholics of Northern Ireland".[6] Seamus Deane also responded positively to the volume, finding that the poems "interrogate the quality of the relationship between the poet and his mixed political and literary tradition".[7] For Deane, this volume is less about politics than it is about the relationship of the poet to politics and the demand placed on Heaney for a political commitment.

Other critics, however, have been less comfortable with Heaney’s approach to violence and politics. Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin noted, relatively benignly, a "lack of ironic awareness" in North, identifying that lack as a limitation of the volume.[8] Others leveled harsher criticism at Heaney’s use of violent images from the past as metaphors for contemporary political violence. Notably, Ciaran Carson dismissed the volume and its positive reviews. In his review, he writes, "Everyone was anxious that North should be a great book; when it turned out it wasn’t, it was treated as one anyway, and made into an Ulster ’75 Exhibition of the Good that can come out of Troubled Times"[9] Carson’s primary critique is Heaney’s blending of past and present, noting that "the real difference between our society and that of Jutland in some vague past are glossed over".[10] Because of this, Carson saw Heaney in this volume as "the laureate of violence--a mythmaker, an anthropologist of ritual killing, an apologist for ‘the situation,’ in the last resort, a mystifier".[11] In agreement with Carson, Edna Longley saw the volume as a misguided foray into political poetry. She writes, "North does not give the imporession of the urgent ‘mater of Ireland’ bursting through the confines of ‘the well-made poem’. Heaney’s most ‘artful’ book, it stylises and distances what was immediate and painful in Wintering Out".[12] She goes on to suggest that in the volume, Heaney "pluck[s] the heart out of his mystery and serve[s] it up as a quasi-political mystique".[13]

North has continued to receive positive and negative criticism, and it remains among Heaney’s most important volumes. After Heaney’s death in 2013, The Telegraph published an article listing Heaney’s ten best poems, selecting three poems from North for the list, and scholarship continues to be published with a focus on this volume.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Brandes, Rand. "Seamus Heaney's Working Titles: From 'Advancements of Learning' to 'Midnight Anvil.' The Cambridge Companion to Seamus Heaney, ed. Bernard O'Donaghue. (2009) Cambridge University Press p. 23 ISBN 978-0-521-54755-0
  2. ^ Brandes, Rand. "Seamus Heaney's Working Titles: From 'Advancements of Learning' to 'Midnight Anvil.' The Cambridge Companion to Seamus Heaney, ed. Bernard O'Donaghue. (2009) Cambridge University Press p. 24 ISBN 978-0-521-54755-0
  3. ^ Heaney, Seamus. "Feeling Into Words" Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978. Noonday Press (1980) p. 56 ISBN 0-374-51650-2
  4. ^ Heaney, Seamus. "Feeling Into Words" Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978. Noonday Press (1980) p. 57-8 ISBN 0-374-51650-2
  5. ^ Vendler, Helen. "Books: Echos, Soundings, Searches, Probes", The New Yorker, September 23, 1985, p. 108
  6. ^ O'Brien, Conor Cruise. "A Slow, North-East Wind." The Listener 25 September 1975.
  7. ^ Deane, Seamus. "The Appetites of Gravity: Contemporary Irish Poetry." The Sewanee Review Vol. 84, No. 1 (Winter 1976). P. 199-208. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27543074
  8. ^ Eilean Ni Chuilleanain, Cyphers 2 (Winter 1975): 49-51
  9. ^ Ciaran Carson. "Escaped from the Massacre?" The Honest Ulsterman 50 (Winter 1975)
  10. ^ Ciaran Carson. "Escaped from the Massacre?" The Honest Ulsterman 50 (Winter 1975)
  11. ^ Ciaran Carson. "Escaped from the Massacre?" The Honest Ulsterman 50 (Winter 1975)
  12. ^ Edna O'Brien. "North: 'Inner Emigre' or 'Artful Voyeur'. The Art of Seamus Heaney. Seren Press 2001, p. 93. ISBN 978-1-854112-56-9
  13. ^ Edna O'Brien. "North: 'Inner Emigre' or 'Artful Voyeur'. The Art of Seamus Heaney. Seren Press 2001, p. 93. ISBN 978-1-854112-56-9