"I do not in fact see how poetry can survive as a category of human consciousness if it does not put poetic considerations first—expressive considerations, that is, based upon its own genetic laws which spring into operation at the moment of lyric conception."
—Seamus Heaney, "The Indefatigable Hoof-taps" (1988)
Seamus Heaney, the 1995 Nobel laureate, is one of the most widely read and celebrated poets now writing in English. He is also one of the most traditional. Over a decade ago, Ronald Tamplin summed up Heaney's achievement and his relation to the literary tradition in a judgment that remains sound today: "In many ways he is not an innovative poet. He has not recast radically the habitual language of poetry. He has not challenged our preconceptions with a new poetic form nor has he led us into the recognition of new rhythms and metres. Instead he has worked with what was to hand and brought to it great powers of expression and art as well as a significant subject matter" (Tamplin 1). At the same time, Sidney Burris was making a similar point: "Readers of his verse must continually remind themselves that Heaney, perhaps more so than most other contemporary poets, is a deeply literary poet, one whose consolations often lie in the invigorating strains of the poetic tradition itself" (Burris ix).
For Heaney, those strains are primarily formal. "I rhyme / To see myself, to set the darkness echoing," Heaney writes in "Personal Helicon," the final poem in his first collection, Death of a Naturalist (1966). Although rhyme here signifies, more generally, writing in verse, whether rhymed or free, Heaney is certainly drawn to rhyme and closed forms. He is especially partial to rhymed tr...
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... Wilson. "The Poetry of Seamus Heaney." Critical Quarterly 16 (Spring 1974): 35-48.
Fussell, Paul. Samuel Johnson and the Life of Writing. New York: W. W. Norton, 1971.
Girard, Rene. Violence and the Sacred. Translated by Patrick Gregory. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977.
Heaney, Seamus. Poems 1965 - 1975. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980.
____________. Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968 - 1978. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980.
O'Neill, Charles L. "Violence and the Sacred in Seamus Heaney's North." In Seamus Heaney: The Shaping Spirit. Edited by Catharine Malloy and Phyllis Carey. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1996: 91-105.
Parker, Michael. Seamus Heaney: The Making of the Poet. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1993.
Tamplin, Ronald. Seamus Heaney. Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1989.
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