Poetic Reflections of the National Spirit

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Sir Philip Sidney wrote in the Defense of Poesy that “only the poet, disdaining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted up with the vigor of his own invention, doth grow in effect another nature, in making things either better than nature bringeth forth, or quite anew, forms such as never were in nature” (Sidney, bartleby.com). While history describes the actual and philosophy explores the abstract, only poetry is capable of weaving the two concepts together. Reading a nation’s history enlightens an individual to the significant events of a country’s past, but it cannot reveal the immaterial spirit of an era or people. Likewise, it is necessary to look at poetry to perceive the void left vacant by history’s restriction. There have been several poets throughout history who have bridged this gap and captured their nation’s essence. Poets such as Whitman, Goethe, and Yeats communed directly with the soul of their nations and deservedly are recognized as national poets. During the post-World War II era, both Robert Lowell and Seamus Heaney emerged as the pre-eminent poets of their day who were thrust into the public forum. The poets are well-known, acquiring Pulitzer and Nobel prizes amongst other accomplishments, and thus are worth analyzing as potential national poets. Historically a national poet fulfills the following criteria: an interest in creating poetry for the public sphere, a focus on the socio-political intricacies of their respective state, and an embodiment and understanding of the collective conscious of their people. Although Robert Lowell and Seamus Heaney were both well known politically concerned, dedicated, celebrated, and criticized poets, through an analysis of their work using the aforementioned criteria, only...

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...of Ireland today .

Both Robert Lowell and Seamus Heaney are poets that have significantly affected both their culture and poetry through their compositions of verse. However, through an analysis of the two writers on the basis of their intention, focus on socio-political concerns, and ability to connect to their national conscious, Heaney emerges as a true national poet, while Robert Lowell is better understood as a generational poet. Ultimately as the world becomes increasingly globalized and homogeneity is displaced by multi-culturalism, the distinction of the national poet will fade. While the change is inevitable, a reading of either Seamus Heaney or Robert Lowell affords an incomparable glimpse into the Irish experience or an American perspective during the post-war era and thus is necessary for truly understanding those nation’s histories.
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