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"Customary Rhythms": Seamus Heaney and the Rite of Poetry.

Ceremony's a name for the rich horn

And custom for the spreading laurel tree.

--W. B. Yeats, "A Prayer for My Daughter"

Near the conclusion of his Nobel Prize address, Crediting Poetry, Seamus Heaney speaks of two kinds of "adequacy" ascribable to poetry: "documentary adequacy" and "lyric adequacy." The former has to do with the impact and emotive power of description and is as old as Homer's account of the Fall of Troy. "Even today, three thousand years later," Heaney says, "as we channel surf over so much live coverage of contemporary savagery, highly informed but in danger of growing immune . . . Homer's image can still bring us to our senses. . . . [It] has that documentary adequacy which answers all that we know about the intolerable" (49). The second kind of adequacy has to do with the poetic process itself, what Heaney calls " 'the temple inside our hearing' which the passage of the poem calls into being" (49). This interior space is the domain of national conscience and consciousness, a receptacle for personal and racial memory, the etymology of the tribe, the spirit of place, and the ground in which the dead, victims of the Great Hunger, sectarian violence, and the tragic accidents of life are interred. This "temple of our hearing" is exhumed and recovered through the rites or stations of the poem, where truthfulness becomes audible via intonation and cadence. "Lyric adequacy," Heaney adds, is something that he has always "strained towards" (Crediting Poetry 49), and this desire is borne out by the form and process of his poetic rites, which may begin with the empirical here and now but ultimately delve beneath the merely documentary, the photographic witness that is not the end but prelude to the rite of poetry.

My chief concern in this essay is with the manner in which Heaney's three to four part station poems have come to serve as the formal equivalent of a liturgical rite--a highly-structured, habitually-observed practice that, for him, enacts the temporal and ritualistic steps required to recover and articulate aspects of national consciousness. Although Heaney does not refer to such divisions as stations, nor to such short sequences as station poems, the idea of stations has, since early in his career, a crucial and resonant place in his work, and I believe that "station poem" should serve as a convenient and apt descriptive and critical term for this signature procedure and the religious, archaeological, and historical concerns it helps to formulate. According to Catholic liturgy, a station refers not only to the stations of the cross but also to a stopping point in a procession for the purpose of song, recitation, or ritual action.[1] This sense of the station as a stopping point or stage in a devotional rite is especially true of the Lough Derg pilgrimage Heaney imaginatively reenacts in Station Island. As Heaney describes this three-day vigil, "each unit of the contemporary pilgrim's exercises is called a 'station,' and a large part of each station involves walking barefoot and praying round 'beds,' stone circles which are said to be the remains of early monastic cells" (Station Island 122). "Stations," as Heaney would also be aware, refers to the rural Irish custom of celebrating Mass at the houses of parishioners on a rotating basis--a custom that conferred honor on each house and reflects a popular, egalitarian spirit of Irish Catholicism that is also evident in Heaney's work.[2]

In Heaney's work, the ecclesiastical significance of the performance of stations must be enlarged so as to include analogous experiences of discovery and devotion, such as the stages in archaeological excavation, funeral processions, pilgrimages, and other kinds of purposeful walking and doings. The station poem's element of mechanical, psychic action, typically executed in three stages, makes it formally distinct from Heaney's longer sequences, such as "Clearances" and the "Glanmore Sonnets," as well as unified thematic sequences, such as "Sweeney Redevivus" and Stations, both of which tend to deliver Heaney's discoveries without the procedure used to bring them to light. In other words, one gets the find without the excavation. Describing the series of poems in Stations (1975), Heaney explains, "I think of the pieces now as points on a psychic turas, stations that I have often made unthinkingly in my head. I wrote each of them down with the excitement of coming for the first time to a place I had always known completely" (Stations 3). He also likens such poems to Wordsworthian "spots of time" (3) that he seeks to recover or that arise involuntarily, and so differ from the painstaking, requisite procedures in his shorter station poems in order to uncover or achieve such "psychic turas." There are, however, significant parallels between the station poems and the organization of the longer sequences. In "Glanmore Sonnets," for instance, the opening poems follow a procedure similar to the station poems, with acts of verbal digging and plowing early in the sequence serving to open a door to the past in the middle sonnets, then a meditative concentration is attained, and dreams and visions follow. In addition, ritualized forms of action, such as stepping, stirring, and unwinding, open "Sweeney Redivivus," and the sequence describes numerous journeys and wanderings, both temporal and terrestrial, that lead to dream visions and the attainment of knowledge.[3]

As Jacob Korg has noted in Ritual and Experiment in Modern Poetry, "ritual communicates through such physical acts as uncovering, uplifting, separating, combining, cutting, and touching . . . the objects involved in these movements and the place in which they are performed" (11), and Heaney's station poems typically involve some form of physical, usually tactile and ambulatory, action. A mainstay in the Heaney canon, the form is also well-suited to his dual religious and nationalistic impulses in that it serves as a mode of verbal action, or of fusing versification and religious devotion. Catherine Bell, for instance, describes two patterns of ritual in Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice. One pattern of ritual, according to Bell, is "thoughtless action--routinized, obsessive, mimetic--and therefore [is] the purely formal, secondary, and merely physical expression of logically prior ideas" (20). The second pattern, which is closer to Heaney's practice, is "a type of functional or structural mechanism to reintegrate the thought-action dichotomy" (20). In other words, ritual in this second manifestation serves as a means of making thought and idea meaningful in a physical or devotional manner. In addition, the stratified or layered design of Heaney's station poems is particularly useful in his project of recovering aspects of Irish indigenousness, both historical and etymological, and to commemorate the victims of sectarian violence. Moreover, the temporal disjunctions that partition his lyric stations produce startling juxtapositions of a remote Celtic or Viking past and contemporary events, thereby disclosing previously unacknowledged historical continuities. To borrow a phrase from "Bogland," Heaney's station poems "keep striking / Inwards and downwards"(Selected Poems 22), descending to strata of submerged memory and ascending to the heights of vision.[4] As Helen Vendler recently observed, "To enter the megalithic doorway is to go underground, working back into what seems a bottomless pre-history, to a 'matter of Ireland'" (38), and to reach such depths of racial consciousness, Heaney has recognized, one must perform the necessary lyric-devotional descent. The epode, or "aftersong," typically involves some form of return, as if from a trance, a resurfacing or unearthing motion that completes the ritual and brings the excavated find or renewed sense of racial consciousness to light.


Heaney has remarked that composing poetry is like "building a trellis and training a vine across it" (qtd. in Foster xxx), and his career is marked by a increasing reliance on the station poem as a "trellis" for his "vines." He used it once in his first volume, Death of a Naturalist (1966), twice in Door into the Dark (1969), nine times in Wintering Out (1972), seven in North (1975), and so on to the eleven short sequences in The Spirit Level (1995). The title poems of Field Work and Seeing Things are also divided into three stations. The only poem to use this form in Death of a Naturalist, "At a Potato Digging" establishes certain precedents. In the first station of the poem, the sight of the "processional stooping through turf" of the fieldhands conjures an image of the great hunger. In the second station, Heaney proceeds to inspect the potatoes, the image of which, informed by historical consciousness, comes to resemble in his mind the remains of famine victims, "piled in pits; live skulls, blind-eyed." This recollection of the famine creates a temporal disjunction in station three, transporting him back to "the scoured land in 'forty five." He can smell the "putrefied" crop, see the people "grubbing, like plants, in the bitch earth." The fourth station returns to the present, now considerably altered by an intensified consciousness of the famine, to witness the fieldhands "breaking timeless fasts," "spill[ing] / Libations of cold tea," and "scatter[ing] crusts" (DN 23).

The ending is, in many ways, a bit too pat, but the procedure is important, and the poem answers Heaney's aesthetic imperative that poetic process be used to develop "a new level of consciousness" and, more ambitiously, to "forge the uncreated conscience of the race" (Preoccupations 60). The poem also involves two levels of experience that are crucial to Heaney's sense of Ireland: first, the experience that is "lived, illiterate and unconscious" and, second, the "learned, literate, and conscious" historical and cultural knowledge of place derived from books, both of which contribute vitally to the poem's "lyric adequacy" (Preoccupations 131). Although "At a Potato Digging" is a crude antecedent of the more elaborate station poems to come, the poem does suggest Heaney had come to realize that consciousness-raising entails stages or stations of excavation and that his promise to dig with his pen perhaps required a formal, liturgical method. One senses this need clearly in his description of the "processional" steps of the fieldhands, which anticipate how such deliberate, ritualistic actions lead to a vision in his later verse.

The more ambitious and increasingly "ungoverned" lyrical rites in Wintering Out mark a crucial point of departure in Heaney's career. As poetry critic Blake Morrison notes, Heaney was attempting to devise a form "more suited to archaeology" in order to "draw on previously repressed psychic and mythic material" (45), and the critic Elmer Andrews recognizes in these poems a "move away from the childlike world [of his first two books] into the harsh adult world" (48). In addition, Heaney had also tried to incorporate into his verse "the piety of objects" that he found evident in P. V. Glob's photographs in The Bog People.[5] As a result, the station poems of Wintering Out exhibit a devotional and ritualistic element missing in his earlier work, particularly the kind of integration of thought and action essential to religious rites. "Tollund Man," for instance, is an archetypal station poem. It involves in the first station a pilgrimage, or in this instance the promise of one, made convincing by the performative, "I will go to Aarhus," that imagines the bog working the corpse into a "saint's kept body" (SP 39). The opening section also involves the same kind of minute inspection used in "At a Potato Digging," but with a more pious, sensuous attention to details, such as the "peat-brown head," the "mild pods of his eye-lids," and the "gruel of winter seeds / Caked in his stomach" (SP 39). The second station enacts a devotional rite, consecrates the "cauldron bog / Our holy ground" (SP 39-40), fuses past and present, and forges a connection between Jutlander and Celt. The third station involves a similar resurfacing gesture to that found in "At a Potato Digging," but to it Heaney adds an element of incantation, spiritual empathy and vision:
   Saying the names

   Tollund, Grauballe, Nebelgard
   Watching the pointing hands
   Of country people,
   Not knowing their tongue.

   Out there in Jutland
   In the old man-killing parishes
   I will feel lost,
   Unhappy and at home.  (SP 40)

Heaney scholar Neil Corcoran has argued that Wintering Out "'gestures towards' the realities of the [then] present historical moment rather than attempting to address them with any specificity or intimacy" (64). "Tollund Man" does in fact respond to the present, but it does so in a manner typical of Heaney's indirection, invoking Irish history, past and present, via a lyrical rite that digs "inwards and downwards" (literally away from Ireland and into the continent) toward a distinctly national concern--the victims of sectarian violence. The liturgical procedure in "Tollund Man" invokes the fertility rites of the Jutes in order to sanctify the victims of the current struggle and to offer the hope that single deaths would prevent multiple deaths, that those "Stockinged corpses / Laid out in the farmyards" (SP 40) like scarecrows would protect against further acts of violence. As cultural theorist Rene Girard has noted, the "objective of ritual is the proper reenactment of the surrogate-victim mechanism; its function is . . . to keep violence outside the community" (92), and Heaney is clearly invoking violence in order that it might be curtailed.

The formal procedures observed in Wintering Out, in fact, become quite formulaic. Heaney walks, comes to rest, performs some act, is transported back in time, and returns enlightened. This simple formula is highly versatile, however. His steps, like a dowsing rod, can lead in infinite directions, the actions vary, as do the historical moments he revisits, and his epiphanies are never exactly the same. As poetry critic Maurice Harmon has noted, the basis of Heaney's archaeology is "a Jungian concept of the Irish past and of the Irish psyche as richly tapered and opening inwards in a series of endless discoveries" (71). Indeed, many of the station poems in Wintering Out may well have been exercises designed to strike such deep wells of personal and racial unconsciousness. Heaney pays homage to "The Last Mummer," who, in station one, roams the land with "a stone in his pocket, / an ashplant under his arm" (WO 18). In station two, Heaney laments the passing of the bardic tradition and canonizes the tramping poet in station three: "The moon's host elevated/ in a monstrance of holly trees, / he makes dark tracks . . . / into the summer's grazing" (WO 20). In "Land," Heaney ambles across "the outlying fields," builds a cairn, and likens the writing of a poem to footsteps across "blank acres," "ready to go anywhere" (WO 21). His ritualistic steps direct him, somewhat magically, to a spot amidst "grass and clover" and "shifting hares" in which he sounds the silence, ear to ground, imagining himself snared and pending in air (WO 23). Again, the poem follows the same "inwards and downwards" trajectory and concludes, literally, in an elevated state of mind. "Gifts of Rain" traces, in stations one and two, the steps of farmer and animal, wading through flooded terrain, to dig for or root out food. In the third section of the poem, the burgeoning of the river is internalized, a trope for racial continuity (the archetypal river of time) that unites him with ancestral ways of life in which the river was both a means of survival to the community and a potential agent of its destruction. "Cocking [his] ear / at an absence," Heaney hears in the "Soft voices of the dead" (SP 31-32) a reproach to his fear and anger at the flood, at the days of rain, ruined crops, and muddy terrain. In the final station, the river rises to "pleasure him" with its music and with the sound of its name:

   is its own score and consort

   bedding the locale
   in the utterance,
   reed music, an old chanter

   breathing its mists
   through vowels and history.  (SP 32)

Taken as a whole, the station poems in Wintering Out constitute a formal and procedural breakthrough in Heaney's career as he discovered that perhaps the most effective means of sounding the depths of racial consciousness, of imagining and revisiting crucial historical moments, and of addressing national political crises lay in the liturgical action of his poetic stations.


In "The Poet as Christian," Heaney recalls that, during his formative years, the experience attending wakes and funerals, with their "inner system of courtesy and honour and obligement," had a "definite effect" on him.[6] The ritualistic observances of Catholic burial--the stationary observation at the wake, the rhythmic steps of the funeral procession, and the downward motion of interment (what poetry critic Jonathan Hufstader has referred to as "coming to consciousness by jumping in graves")7--appear to be intimately connected with Heaney's development of the station poem. One of his earliest station poems is "Elegy for a Still-Born Child," and he uses a three part division in all of his major elegies: "Funeral Rites," "Triptych," and "Casualty." As the critic Bernard O'Donoghue has noted, Heaney's formal decisions are "never only formal, but at once formal and also emotional" (ix), and his station poems reflect emotional as well as liturgical stages of mourning. In "Funeral Rites," for instance, the first station revisits the wakes of dead relatives, recalling in sensuous detail their "glistening" eyelids and "dough-white hands / shackled in rosary beads," and how he "knelt courteously" and "kiss[ed] their igloo brows" (SP 65). In station two, Heaney returns to the violence and murder of the present, and pronounces a deep need to revive public ritual, those "customary rhythms." His ideal is to "restore // the great chambers of the Boyne" (SP 66), at New Grange, site of Neolithic burial mounds, for a mass burial that would draw thousands and lay violence to rest for once and all. The second station concludes with a vision of a long, sinuous funeral procession, like a serpent with its tail in Ulster and its head in the South, about to pass through a megalithic doorway--a funeral procession that would unify Ireland by invoking an ancient pagan ritual. Station three returns to the present, but it is a present enlightened and informed by a consciousness of the past and of the unifying potential of ritual. The poem ends, appropriately enough, at the tomb of Gunnar, the epic hero of Njal's Saga, whose death at the hands of enemies remains unavenged. Although in the saga Njal's son swears vengeance, for Heaney "arbitration / of the feud [is] placated" (SP 67) by the death of Gunnar, and the ritualistic sacrifice of the hero terminates the cycle of violence, just as Heaney's ritual form is designed to heal and placate. "Triptych," from Field Work, is Heaney's somewhat belated but nevertheless powerful response to the Bloody Sunday massacre, generated retrospectively following a later, isolated killing. The first station, titled "After a Killing," shrinks from an expansive vision of Ireland, "that neuter original loneliness / From Brandon to Dunseverick" (SP 108), to a particular vision of a stone house by a pier where the ancient rural economy of fishing and planting survives. In station two, "Sybil," Heaney asks the oracle: "What will become of us?" The Sibyl predicts a change for the worse "unless forgiveness finds its nerve and voice" (SP 109). The oracle goes on to reproach the habitual reticence of the people, who discuss the weather and fail to confront political reality, and who are seduced by the promise of economic gain away from nationalistic imperatives. "My people," says the Sibyl, "think money / And talk weather. Oil rigs lull their future / On single acquisitive stems" (SP 109). Station three shifts to the monastic sites at Devenish, Boa, and Horse Island, the silence of which is disturbed by an Army helicopter patrolling. The poem concludes with Heaney being overwhelmed by a ritualistic impulse, a compulsion to act, physically and verbally, in order to disturb the silence:
      Everything in me
   Wanted to bow down, to offer up,
   To go barefoot, foetal and penitential,

   And pray at water's edge.
   How we crept before we walked! I remembered
   The helicopter shadowing our march at Newry,
   The scared, irrevocable steps.  (SP 110)

Once again, "Triptych" attests to the versatility of the station poem. In this instance, the ritualistic steps occur at the end instead of the beginning of the rite (steps that normally initiate the pilgrimage here serve to end it), and instead of being transported back to a remote past, Heaney returns to a recent event, the march at Newry in protest of the Bloody Sunday massacre. The poem returns to incidents that Heaney had failed to consecrate in verse as they occurred, not in a distant past but during his own lifetime. The line, "How we crept before we walked," is especially revealing about Heaney's poetic response to political crises, as the contemplative, reflective procedure of the station poem redirects the more volatile impulses that instigated the poem.


Over the past decade, Heaney's work, in volumes such as The Haw Lantern (1987), Seeing Things (1991), and The Spirit Level (1995), has entered a new phase in which personal recollections, often nostalgic preoccupations with his own past, have supplanted the broader national and historical concerns of his early to mid career. In these volumes, generally, Heaney has tended to focus on the numinous and mnemonic qualities of individual objects, odd ordinary things such as thimbles, hailstones, a sofa, a swing, jackets and footballs, pitchforks and schoolbags--anything with associations potent enough to reconstitute a submerged past. Although Heaney's focus has changed, his exploration of personal memory represents a new form of digging, with the station poem providing a formal demarcation of mnemonic processes. As he writes in "The Poet's Chair," the poem is "a ploughshare that turns time up and over" (SL 57). Heaney's excavation of personal history, as in his poetic rites, is performed in three stages. First, the sight of a numinous object (i.e. "seeing things") opens a door into the past. This opening into the past prompts a mental pilgrimage--whether it be a journey to the underworld or the proverbial stroll down memory lane--that terminates in a return journey. The cycle is completed as the poet climbs to light or is roused from a trance with a cache of memories and a newfound awareness of personal history, "a revelation of the self to the self" (Preoccupations 54), and of the atemporal existence of objects and people.

Heaney has come to view memory and the space-time continuum in terms of the relation between absence and presence, and he has come to acknowledge that certain things, presences that exist in the here and now, uncover or disclose absences that exist in past time. In this sense, in his later verse, certain phenomenal objects, provided that one really sees them and apprehends their numinous potential, serve as passports to an otherwise inaccessible underworld of buried memories. Two poems from The Haw Lantern serve to illustrate Heaney's notion of memory as a stockpile of absences that can be retrieved via a presence. In "Hailstones," Heaney confides, "I make this [poem] now / out of the melt of the real thing / smarting into its absence" (SP 241). The sting of hailstones in the present involuntarily triggers a sensation not felt for forty years, what Heaney describes as "the truest foretaste of your aftermath" (SP 242). A similar idea appears in sonnet 8 from "Clearances," a moving elegy to his mother in which Heaney registers a desire to circle the empty space that used to contain a chestnut tree, planted on his birthday but chopped down when the farm changed hands. The tree's existence, however, is preserved in the poet's memory, its absence "A soul ramifying and forever / Silent, beyond silence listened for" (SP 253). For Heaney, then, what is lost is never irretrievable, but rather exists on an immaterial plane, a "spirit level," that can be recovered, reincorporated via a three-part process of remembrance.

In many ways, the personal void created by such absences as the chestnut tree, a symbol of his own life and inevitable absence from it, has led Heaney to use lyric ritual in order to recover an absence through an intense concentration on a presence, to recompose the unseen via the seen. As the critic Catherine Malloy has noted, "his recollections of these things inform his way of seeing and knowing, enhancing his vision as he moves onward" (159). Hence, the act of remembering is often cast figuratively in the form of a miniature epic in three stations that reenact the cycle of journey and return. The translation of the golden bough section from Book VI of The Aeneid at the beginning of Seeing Things is especially significant and aptly chosen. As the Sibyl tells Aeneas, who is seeking his dead father, the way down is easy and the gateway stands open, but the return journey is perilous for, by entering the underworld, one has gone "beyond the limit" (ST 5). Moreover, the golden bough must be procured in order to gain passage, hence the bard (Heaney) rises to the status of epic hero.[8] Heaney's invocation of Aeneas's journey to the underworld at the opening of Seeing Things prefigures his own search for his father in the title poem. Here, once again, the past is visited through careful observation of "things" that serve as his golden bough and the vessel that will carry him across the Stygian Lake to the fields of the blessed.

In "Seeing Things," Heaney repeats Aeneas's journey in three lyric stations. The first station of the poem recounts a pilgrimage to a monastic site off the coast of Donegal, beginning with a sensual composition of place: "Inishbofin on a Sunday morning. / Sunlight, turfsmoke, seagulls, boatslip, diesel" (ST 18). As the Sibyl had said, the journey down is easy, and the sea, as Heaney recalls, was calm and the boat skimmed the surface. Yet the journey is not without a sense of foreboding and danger. The craft shifts and sways, "the gunwales sank" beneath the trough of the waves, and Heaney, in a transcendent moment, as if sailing in the air above their craft, notices "How riskily we fared into the morning" (ST 18). Throughout the first station, the solemnity of the pilgrims' crossing is apparent, as if Charon himself were the ferryman: heads are bared and bowed; they sit on cross-benches as if in church pews; and silence is reverently observed.

Heaney writes, near the end of station one, of the "seeable-down-into water," which anticipates the "Claritas" (ST 19), or moment of mnemonic clarity, described in station two. Heaney likens this transparency of past time to a church relief in which carved stone is cut expertly so as to appear liquid, the water John the Baptist pours over Christ's head--a rite of initiation as well as purification. Heaney notes that "The stone's alive with what's invisible" (ST 19), an image of memory as something real, extant, though submerged as in water, "a shadowy, unshadowed stream" that constitutes "the zigzag hieroglyph for life itself" (ST 19).

Station three of the poem shifts to a vision of his father's ghost emerging "undrowned" from the river, an imagined resurrection authenticated by the "claritas" attained through this ritual of remembrance. The resurrected image of his father is divined, magically, through a clairvoyant window of memory. As Heaney writes,
      I was inside the house
   And saw him through the window, scatter-eyed
   And daunted, strange without his hat,
   His step unguided, his ghosthood immanent.
   When he was turning on the riverbank,
   The horse had rusted and reared up and pitched
   Cart and sprayer and everything off balance,
   So the whole rig went over into adeep
   Whirlpool, hoofs, chains, shafts, cartwheels, barrel
   And tackle, all tumbling off the world,
   And the hat already merrily swept along
   The quieter reaches.  (ST 20)

This scene is described in such a way as deliberately to confuse the time preceding and succeeding the drowning and "undrowning"--a reversal of time and mortality. Looking through the window, Heaney is seeing his father's ghost, "immanent" not "imminent," and because he is bareheaded, his death has already occurred--his hat was swept downstream with the current--but because he did not witness the drowning, he does not admit the possibility of his father's death. Likewise, the poem concludes with Heaney meeting his father that afternoon, not of his death but the afternoon of the Inishbofin crossing. As he gazes down into the paradoxically dark yet clear, "shadowy, unshadowed" waters of the North Atlantic, this memory rises up to meet him, face-to-face, "with his damp footprints out of the river" (ST 20). This is to say, memory and vision, combined with the ritualistic power of the lyric sequence, enables Heaney to resurrect his father, to replace his absence by recovering his presence, as he emerges through this window of time on a boat off the coast of Donegal.

The station poem has been a crucial component of Heaney's versification almost from the outset of his career, and it constitutes what is arguably his most distinct, though widely unacknowledged, contribution to the modern poetic sequence. And, although Heaney's career has culminated in a set of longer poetic sequences, the early station poems were, I believe, essential to the evolution of lengthier projects, such as "Glanmore Sonnets," which enact similar ritualistic procedures, and "Station Island," which is essentially an epic repetition of the shorter lyric rites in twelve stations. But perhaps most significantly, the kinds of temporal disjunction, ritual action, and cultural and historical excavations facilitated by such a sequential form have enabled Heaney to articulate aspects of Irish historical and racial consciousness, commemorate victims of Ireland's troubled history, mine the darker regions of personal memory, and achieve the formal perfection he modestly calls "lyric adequacy."


Andrews, Elmer. Seamus Heaney: All the Realms of Whisper. London: Macmillan, 1988.

Bell, Catherine. Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice. New York: Oxford UP, 1992.

Corcoran, Neil. Seamus Heaney. London: Faber and Faber, 1986.

Foster, R.F. Yeats: A Life. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997.

Girard, Rene. Violence and the Sacred. Trans. Patrick Gregory. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1977. Harmon, Maurice. "'We Pine for Ceremony': Ritual and Reality in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney, 1965-75." Seamus Heaney: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Elmer Andrews. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992. 67-86.

Heaney, Seamus. Crediting Poetry: The Nobel Lecture. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1996.

----. Death of a Naturalist. London: Faber and Faber, 1966.

----. Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1980.

----. Seeing Things. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1991.

----. Selected Poems 1966-1987. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1990.

----. The Spirit Level. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997.

----. Station Island. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1985.

----. Stations. Belfast: Ulsterman Publications, 1975.

----. Wintering Out. New York: Oxford UP, 1973.

Hufstader, Jonathan. "Coming to Consciousness by Jumping in Graves." Irish University Review 26.1 (Spring/Summer 1996): 61-74.

Korg, Jacob. Ritual and Experiment in Modern Poetry. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.

Malloy, Catharine. "Seamus Heaney's Seeing Things: Retracing the Path Back...." Seamus Heaney: The Shaping Spirit. Ed. Catharine Malloy and Phyllis Carey. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1996. 157-73.

Morrison, Blake. Seamus Heaney. London: Methuen, 1982.

O'Donoghue, Bernard. Seamus Heaney and the Language of Poetry. New York: Harvester, 1994.

Synge, J. M.. The Aran Islands, with Essay and Notes by Tim Robinson. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1992.

Vendler, Helen. Seamus Heaney. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1998.

[1] See John Harper's Forms and Orders of Western Liturgy from the Tenth to the Eighteenth Century: A Historical Introduction for Students and Musicians (New York: Oxford UP, 1991) 128-29.

[2] In his notes to J. M. Synge's The Aran Islands, Tim Robinson describes stations as "an annual custom--still practiced in many rural western parishes--of hearing confessions and celebrating Mass in a parishioner's house, the honour passing from house to house in rotation within each community" (146).

[3] This three-part structure is also evident in the organization of Heaney's books. Gale C. Schricker has identified a tripartite method of organization in Station Island, The Haw Lantern, and Field Work, particularly a three part temporal division between past, present, and future. See "'Deliberately at the Centre': The Triptych Structure of Seamus Heaney's Field Work" (Eire-Ireland 26. 3 [Fall 1991]: 107-20).

[4] All subsequent quotes of poetry are from Selected Poems 1966-1987 (SP) unless otherwise indicated by DN (Death of a Naturalist); WO (Wintering Out); ST (Seeing Things); and SL (The Spirit Level).

[5] The influence of Glob's book on Heaney is well-documented. As Heaney suggests in his essay "Feelings into Words," Glob's photos merged in his mind with recent atrocities in Northern Ireland (see Preoccupations 57).

[6] Also, in "The Poet as a Christian," Heaney recalls, "I remember after writing 'Tollund Man' I began to think, if I were to go to an analyst, he would certainly link the outlined and pacified and rigor mortis with all that submerged life and memory [of funerals]" (qtd. in Corcoran 15).

[7] In his essay "Coming to Consciousness by Jumping in Graves," Hufstader identifies Heaney's "ritual procedure [as being] one of sequence: entrance rite, central action, and the subjects emergence form the ritual in a new state of mind"(61-62).

[8] This status has long been crucial to Heaney's ideal of the poet as, in the Latin, Vates, someone with "a gift for being in touch with what is there, hidden and real, a gift for mediating between the latent resource and the community" ("Feelings into Words," Preoccupations 47-48).

JONATHAN BOLTON is an Assistant Professor at Auburn University. He is the author of Personal Landscapes: British Poets in Egypt during the Second World War (St. Martin's, 1997) and has published a number of articles on contemporary British and Irish poetry.
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Publication:Papers on Language & Literature
Article Type:Critical Essay
Date:Mar 22, 2001
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