Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Opened Ground: Seamus Heaney

Opened Ground:  Poems 1966-1996

Seamus Heaney

Faber and Faber

I love Seamus Heaney's poetry and I have a few scattered collections - Stations, Death of a Naturalist - but I've recently treated myself to this because it covers most of Seamus' collections, from the first in 1966  right up to The Spirit Level in 1996.  This gives a wonderful overview of the development of his work and it also includes his Nobel lecture 'Crediting Poetry'.

Seamus chose the poems to be included himself, weeding out ones he was no longer happy with and some of the poems were re-written, though the alterations are so minor it's difficult to find any differences.

All my favourites are there - The Forge, Digging, The Barn, Churning Day, and his prose poem The Stations of the West, which describes how he was sent to the Gaeltacht to learn Gaelic and hoped, perhaps, to learn something of the Celtic mysteries.  These visions are denied the child, but there are other kinds of revelation. It ends:

'Neither did any gift of tongues descend in my days in that upper room when all around me seemed to prophesy.  But still I would recall the stations of the west, white sand, hard rock, light ascending like its definition over Ranna-fast and Errigal, Annaghry and Kincasslagh;  names portable as altar stones, unleavened elements.'

Other favourites are the poems about his childhood home, Mossbawn, political poems such as The Ministry of Fear, Oysters, The Skunk - his erotic poem to his wife, peeling potatoes with Mary Heaney in 'Clearances', then the beautiful Postscript, and finally Song -

'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.'

Yes, that's it exactly - that's what the poetry does. Words like 'big, soft buffetings' that come at you sideways 'And catch the heart off guard and blow it open'.

Opened Ground: Poems 1966-1996
Seamus Heaney
Faber and Faber