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'Friendship's Garland' and the manuscripts of Seamus Heaney's 'Fosterage'.

1. The Poem as Process

The directors of Special Collections and Archives at Robert W. Woodruff Library (Emory University) have made a number of important acquisitions in recent years in the field of contemporary poetry, including the papers of postwar Irish authors. (1) Anecdotal evidence alone would suggest that Woodruff is becoming a popular destination for research students in the UK and Ireland interested in contemporary Irish writing. (2) This activity is likely to deepen interest generally in contemporary Irish manuscript sources and increase attention on two key areas: writing-as-process, and biography. Authors' drafts show how the finished work emerges from a series of versions; personal papers may throw light on the author's private life, warts and all.

Apparently, biography has eternal appeal, but manuscript study has not invariably been a primary focus for students of contemporary poetry, although central to a particular sort of literary and textual scholarship. There are several reasons for this. In the first place, writing on contemporary poetry tends to focus on exploring the credentials of contemporary authors to be considered interesting or 'major', or on the socio-political 'relevance' of the writing. Commonly, therefore, critical attention will fall on reception, influence, biography, social significance, and political contexts and to a lesser extent on aesthetic form. Therefore, despite successive waves of theoretical 'turns' over the last thirty years, contemporary critics do not invariably leap at the opportunity of studying manuscripts. Partly this is due to the general shifting of attention from the author as the source of meaning towards the reader and reader-based meanings. Having said that, editors continue to seek final authorial intentions in order to establish stable (or at least defensible) primary texts, even if those intentions are elusive or, in some celebrated cases, impossible to determine. (3) Many critics see their work in terms of reading 'definitive' printed texts whose textual stability seems guaranteed by the fact that living authors have authorized (actively or passively) the circulating texts.

Also, manuscripts of contemporary authors tend to be in private hands; in some cases they are available but nevertheless regarded as matter for future generations to examine. There are exceptions to this rule, of course. It could be argued that creative writing workshops sometimes endorse the study of manuscript drafts to emphasize the idea of writing as a process. This can be a useful lesson to learn and can have the effect of demystifying the aura of solitary genius surrounding highly valued artworks. Furthermore, the study of Modernist authors such as Eliot and Yeats has for many years been enriched by studying manuscript material reproduced in T. S. Eliot's Waste Land Manuscripts, for example, Curtis B. Bradford's Yeats at Work, or Jon Stallworthy's, Between the Lines: Yeats's Poetry in the Making. Volumes in the Cornell Yeats and Cornell Wordsworth series provide reproductions and detailed transcriptions of manuscript material for those inclined to meet the challenge they represent. The Norton Anthology of Poetry, a key teaching text in American undergraduate classrooms and elsewhere, has long had an appendix on 'the poem in process', printing well-known poems in juxtaposition with earlier drafts.

The manuscript drafts of Seamus Heaney's poem 'Fosterage' are held in the Heaney collection (MSS 653, Box 2, Folder 5) at Woodruff Library. Whereas there are other interesting items in MSS 653, there are few drafts of poems, hence the 'Fosterage' cluster has particular significance. Heaney has made a recent gift of his papers to the Woodruff Library (MSS 960), but it would appear that these are mostly letters, not drafts. (4) Extensive study of Heaney's manuscript drafts therefore must remain a distant prospect, but will surely occur during the next several decades and presumably by 2039, the Heaney centenary year. (Given the pace of technological change in the publishing industry, manuscript collections such as this may eventually be available in an electronic medium.) What I propose to do here is offer a brief overview of the drafts, and to reprint two penultimate drafts, with a view to following the trail of intentions set in motion during final composition, and throwing light on the choices made by the author. As long as authorial intentions are of interest, drafts will be important, as a record of the process by which the finally intended ('definitive') artwork is crafted, an inventory of authorial decisions and excisions, an archive of the author's thoughts during composition. (5)

2. 'Fosterage' and 'Singing School'

'Fosterage', number 5 in the six-part sequence of related lyrics titled 'Singing School', first appeared in North (1975) and is dedicated to Irish novelist Michael McLaverty, who was Headmaster of St Thomas's Intermediate School, Belfast, when Heaney taught there in 1962-63. The poem has not been anthologized (editors favour number 6 in the series, 'Exposure') but has been reprinted in Selected Poems 1965-1975 (1980), New Selected Poems 1966-1987 (1990), and Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996 (2002), suggesting the poet's sense of the significance of this individual lyric and of the sequence. (6) Critics of North have traditionally preferred the mythopoeic first part to the more journalistic second part of the volume, and 'Fosterage' has tended to get short shrift in favour of the watershed poem, 'Exposure', and the opening poem of the sequence, 'The Ministry of Fear'. Elmer Andrews, for example, dismisses the poem as 'far from being among Heaney's best'. (7)

'Fosterage' consists of sixteen lines, yet the drafts show that it is the result of a longer poem, which at one point was sixty-three lines in length. The drafts are not dated, but were probably composed in 1973 or 1974. (8) The Emory archive includes ten pages (both manuscript and corrected typescript), which constitute Heaney's twelve working drafts, variously titled 'Stylist' (A4, A5), 'To Michael McLaverty' (A8, B1, B2), and 'Friendship's Garland' (B3). Here is a complete list of contents:

A: Untitled. The veins bulge in his very fountain pen [2 stanzas / 11 lines]

A2: Untitled. Your ear was schooled upon your father's pillow [3 stanzas / 16 lines]

A3: Untitled. Too righteous by half: A writer's trick [2 stanzas / 8 lines]

A4: STYLIST [4 stanzas / 19 lines]

A5: STYLIST [1 stanza / 14 lines]. Typescript [TS]

A6: Untitled. We were to go where your uncle slaughtered [1 stanza / 9 lines]

A7: Untitled. Today they'd smash into the lighthouse glass [3 stanzas / 22 lines]

A8: TO MICHAEL McLAVERTY [3 stanzas / 42 lines] TS

A9: Untitled. Try not to end up measuring your spits [1 stanza / 16 lines]

B1: TO MICHAEL McLAVERTY [4 stanzas / 63 lines] TS

B2: TO MICHAEL McLAVERTY [3 stanzas / 43 lines] TS

B3: FRIENDSHIP'S GARLAND [5 stanzas / 40 lines] TS (9)

These drafts indicate the range of images and ideas that underlie 'Fosterage', constituting a ghostly presence in the poem, a series of intentions revised and suppressed during composition. If there is no doubt that 'Fosterage' reflects the author's final intentions, these can be more fully appreciated by comparison and contrast with the other intentions set in motion and ultimately rejected during the process.

Each poem in the semi-autobiographical series 'Singing School' is associated with a particular period in the poet's life; they may be said to constitute a lyric exploration of the growth of the poet's mind: childhood in the 1940s, school in the 1950s, an influential encounter in 1962, the 'Troubles' in the mid--and late 1960s. The final poem, 'Exposure', dramatizes a moment of self-reflection in the early 1970s. An allusive poetic sequence, its title refers to Yeats's 'Sailing to Byzantium', in which the poet vows to study the magnificent 'monuments' of literary and artistic tradition, suggesting a Yeatsian commitment to study and meditation as part of the poetic vocation. ('Nor is there singing school but studying | Monuments of its own magnificence', in Yeats's words.) One of the poem's epigraphs is taken from Wordsworth's The Prelude: 'Fostered alike by beauty and by fear'. Here is one source of the title of the fifth lyric, but the Burkean sublime--inspiring both beauty and fear--is invoked at various points throughout the sequence, not least in the first poem, 'The Ministry of Fear'. That poem, set in the 1950s, recalls the experience of boarding school, the onset of puberty and early courtship, and the oppressive sectarianism of an Ulster Catholic childhood. Fear and trepidation are the dominant emotions of 'A Constable Calls', set in the 1940s, in which the child's perceptions of a policeman's visit are faithfully recalled. The final line, in which the policeman's bicycle sounds 'tick, tick, tick', has suggested to several critics the ominous sound of a time-bomb, building slowly towards explosion. On the other hand, it may suggest the passing of time and the maturation of the subject, reminiscent of the aural imagery at the end of Chapter 1 of Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: 'pick, pack, pock, puck: like drops of water in a fountain falling softly in the brimming bowl'. (10)

That image of regular beating is echoed at the end of 'Orange Drums, Tyrone, 1966', in which the caricatured Orangeman beats a Lambeg drum rhythmically: 'The air is pounding like a stethoscope.' In 'Summer 1969', the speaker is in Spain, reading the life of Joyce, while the 'battle of the Bogside' rages in Derry. Considering the advice of a friend to go home, to 'try to touch the people', and bearing in mind the examples of Lorca and Goya, he thinks about the role of the artist at times of political upheaval. Should he emulate Goya, who 'painted with his fists and elbows, flourished | The stained cape of his heart as history charged'? The poem implicitly raises questions about the roles of art and the artist which are further explored in 'Fosterage' and 'Exposure'. It is unclear whether 'Fosterage' was written specifically to be placed within 'Singing School', though we might come closer to an answer by examining all the drafts of each poem in the sequence. It is possible that it was written as a longer poem to stand on its own: the expansiveness of some of the drafts would support this claim. In its final form, however, it is appropriate to the sequence, in terms of its announcement of its own historicity, and in terms of the themes of literary style and artistic labour which it explores. (11)

The central encounter in 'Fosterage' takes place in Belfast in 1962, a fruitful year for the poet and, as Michael Parker has shown, a watershed moment in his development. (12) Evidently, McLaverty had an influence on the poet at this stage, lending books and recommending authors, including Katherine Mansfield, Hopkins, and Kavanagh. Heaney began to see himself earnestly as a poet in that year: an early poem, 'Tractors', appeared in the Belfast Telegraph in November 1962, followed by 'Turkeys Observed' in December and 'Mid Term Break' (in Kilkenny Magazine) the following spring. In October 1962 he met Marie Heaney, his future wife and 'reader over his shoulder'. He also enrolled that year for postgraduate studies at Queen's, focusing on Wordsworth's theories of education (he had just completed a thesis at St Joseph's College of Education, on Northern Irish literary journals.) Famously, the first meeting of Philip Hobsbaum's Belfast 'Group' took place in November 1963.

'Description is revelation!': this excited, opening gambit indicates that the relationship between style and insight or visionary possibility will be central to this lyric, and it suggests a response to questions raised in the previous poem about the role of poetry and the proper conduct of the writer. (13) After the questions raised in 'Summer, 1969', the poet of 'Fosterage' casts his mind back seven years, to 1962, though in the next poem ('Exposure') he will shuttle forward again, to the 1970s. He portrays himself in 'Fosterage' as the youthful writer, 'newly cubbed in language'. McLaverty urges the poet to be intellectually independent ('Go your own way'), persuading him to have trust in himself, much as the voice of the longship in 'North' urged him to 'keep your eye clear', or as James Joyce in 'Station Island' persuaded him to go it alone, to 'strike your note'. (14) As such, the poem is one of a small cluster of 'advice' or 'mentor' poems in which the poet takes stock of his direction by dramatizing a situation of receiving wise counsel. Voicing the older man's advice to pay attention to intimate detail and to avoid overstatement ('don't have the veins bulging in your biro') provides a method by which the poet can express his own poetic values, while also showing their provenance. McLaverty was particularly fond of Chekhov, invoked here: the phrase 'note of exile' is Chekhovian, but may be an adaptation by McLaverty. (15) However, the source of the line 'I will tell | How the laundry basket squeaked' is clearly an entry in Katherine Mansfield's journal, 22 January 1916. This was written in Bandol, South of France, where Mansfield and John Middleton Murray had fled the previous October upon hearing that her brother, Leslie Heron Beauchamp ('Chummie'), had been killed in action:

Ah, the people--the people we loved there--of them, too, I want to write. Another 'debt of love'. Oh, I want for one moment to make our undiscovered country leap into the eyes of the Old World. It must be mysterious, as though floating. It must take the breath. It must be 'one of those islands ...' [sic] I shall tell everything, even of how the laundry-basket squeaked at 75. But all must be told with a sense of mystery, a radiance, an afterglow, because you, my little sun of it, are set. You have dropped over the dazzling brim of the world. Now I must play my part.

Then I want to write poetry. I feel always trembling on the brink of poetry. The almond tree, the birds, the little wood where you are, the flowers you do not see, the open window out of which I lean and dream that you are against my shoulder, and the times that your photograph 'looks sad'. But especially I want to write a kind of long elegy to you ... perhaps not in poetry. Nor perhaps in prose. Almost certainly in a kind of special prose. (16)

Asking why she wants to write, and how ('Now, really, what is it that I do want to write?'), she determines to be wide-ranging and inclusive--including even the squeak of 'the laundry-basket'--and to offer recollections of her native country which will entail remembrance of her brother and the life they shared there. Partly, she wants to write on behalf of New Zealand--'to make our undiscovered country leap into the eyes of the Old World'--and partly to write a prose elegy for her brother. Primarily, she thinks of writing prose, but what makes it particularly relevant to Heaney's purposes is Mansfield's interest in writing a kind of prose poem ('mysterious, as though floating'), brimming with 'radiance'. Heaney seems in two minds about the visionary potential of such a radiant poetic, as suggested by the warning to avoid vein-bulging overstatement, balanced against the recognition that descriptive writing may lead to 'revelation' and all that entails. In a later poem, 'Fosterling', Heaney would contrast a merely descriptive poetic ('the doldrums of what happens') with a more expansive, imaginative mode associated with later middle age ('Me waiting until I was nearly fifty | To credit marvels'). (17) In 'Fosterage', however, description is seen as the empowering agent of revelation, insight, and poetic truth.

3. Drafts A-A9

During the course of these dozen drafts, Heaney writes seven stanzas of varying lengths, and each draft of the poem offers a different permutation and rewriting of those stanzas. (The following titles are mine, not the author's, and are used for convenience only.) They are: (1) Royal Avenue stanza (meeting McLaverty in Belfast); (2) Street Corner stanza (McLaverty's warning to his pupils); (3) Ballymurphy stanza (violence in West Belfast); (4) Hopkins stanza (McLaverty's admiration for Hopkins); (5) St John's Point stanza (with McLaverty in Donegal); (6) Rosary Beads stanza (prayers for the dying); (7) Cavehill stanza (Cavehill and Tollund Man). 'Fosterage' comprises elements of only two of these: the Royal Avenue and Hopkins stanzas. The longest version of the poem is B1: 'To Michael McLaverty' (63 lines), which gives some idea of the amount of material dispensed with and (to the best of my knowledge) never recycled.

In A, the earliest version of the Royal Avenue stanza, Heaney introduces a series of images that will recur over the series: the meeting in Royal Avenue, the bulging fountain pen, and McLaverty's father's revolver hidden beneath his pillow (which is cut from 'Fosterage'). Heaney addresses the older man as 'dear stylist', and introduces the phrase 'Description is revelation', which survives all revisions. A2 opens with the fearful image of the revolver under the pillow: 'Your ear was schooled upon your father's pillow.' This is an early version of the Ballymurphy stanza, which includes images of gunfire in Ballymurphy and burning buses near the Bog Meadows (Falls Road). Both A2 and A3 close with the pronouncement 'Dives rides again', ironically alluding to Max Brand's popular western, Destry Rides Again, and to the biblical Dives, the rich man in Hell (Luke 16. 19-31), whom Heaney dubs 'hoarder of common ground' in his poem 'Gifts of Rain'. (18)

Version A4 brings together the Royal Avenue and Ballymurphy stanzas. The concern with style has been foregrounded, as the new title ('STYLIST') suggests. The poem is now nineteen lines in length (stanza one includes ten lines) and resembles 'Fosterage', although there are references to Chekhov and Gorki, later deleted. McLaverty says: 'Don't | Have the veins bulging in your fountain pen', a version of which survives the final cut. The subsequent imagery of gunfire and burning buses in Ballymurphy reflects the contemporary 'Troubles' in Belfast, whereas the images of the father's revolver and other memories of the 1920s echo the setting of McLaverty's novel Call My Brother Back, set at the time of Partition. In version A5 (the first typescript draft), the scene-setting line 'a Saturday afternoon' is introduced, which survives the final cut. The words 'dear stylist' have been dropped, and the earlier line 'I caught from you who toed the stylist's line' has been replaced by a simpler rhetorical question: 'How toe the stylist's line?' Version A6 introduces the St John's Point stanza, beginning: 'We were to go where your uncle slaughtered | Trees.' It is used in A8 (stanza 2), and B1 (stanza 3), but finally dropped. It includes references to the 'plainsong of the Irish Sea', to 'vespers in our hearts', and to the daughters of the children of Lir.

Version A7 (which may have been written as a continuation of A6) opens with the earliest version of the Cavehill stanza, including a memorable line which recurs in later drafts (A8, B1, B2, B3): 'The Cavehill's profile is the Tollund Man's.' This clearly links the interests of this poem with two other poems of the period, 'The Betrothal of Cavehill' and 'The Tollund Man'. The title of A8--'TO MICHAEL MCLAVERTY'--is retained in B1 and B2, and finally becomes the dedication of 'Fosterage'. A8 is only the second typescript draft, consisting of the Royal Avenue and Ballymurphy stanzas combined (fourteen lines); the St John's Point and Cavehill stanzas combined (fourteen lines); and a combination of the Rosary Beads and Hopkins stanzas (fourteen lines). A9 is a reworking of the Street Corner stanza only, emphasizing the vandalism of the pupils and the use of corporal punishment at the school, in which the Vice-Principal was 'the Wyatt Earp of Ballymurphy'.

4. Drafts B1-B3

By the time Heaney writes his most expansive draft, B1 ('TO MICHAEL McLAVERTY') (sixty-three lines--four fourteen-line stanzas in typescript, plus seven manuscript lines), he has already experimented with versions of all seven stanzas, and produced variants of most of them. B1 comprises the Street Corner stanza (st. 1); the Royal Avenue and Ballymurphy stanzas (st. 2); and a long verse paragraph (st. 3) combining the St John's Point, Cave Hill, Rosary Beads, and Hopkins stanzas. The final lines of this version allude to McLaverty's novel, Call My Brother Back, with reference to oil lamps on Rathlin Island (scene of Part I of that novel) and the following, from the novel's final sentence: 'A rickle of bones falling dead in York Street.' (These words close McLaverty's novel, but they have appeared earlier, when a street orator satirizes the indifference of the middle classes to the suffering of the poor in riot-torn Belfast in the early 1920s.) (19)

The next version, B2 ('TO MICHAEL McLAVERTY') consists of three fourteen-line stanzas and is twenty lines shorter than B1, since the St John's Point stanza (lines 30-43) has been dropped. I reprint B2 in its entirety below. Please note that material within square brackets was deleted by the author.


 "Try not to end up measuring your spits
 At a street corner." The class would giggle.
 "Mr Heaney, when you see a rugby team
 Wouldn't you know to look at them the boys
 Who loved poetry?" Then, sotto voce,
 "Read them plenty of poems. Read them John Clare.
 And listen, you yourself, keep at Shakespeare.
 Reading the newspapers will spoil your style."
 The boys would rip out phone-boxes, break in
 Some evenings to shit on desks and tear
 The art-work into ribbons. [We] failed there.
 You, at least, played tunes to empty pockets,
 A descant on the leather's metronome.
 And "Go your own way," you said, "do your own work."


 "Description is revelation": Royal
 Avenue, Belfast, 1962,
 A Saturday afternoon, [eager] glad to meet
 Me, newly cubbed To [lick the] cubs [of] in language, you gripped
 My elbow: "You should 'tell how the laundry
 Basket squeaked at No. 64'."
 But always beware exaggeration.
 "Don't have the veins bulging in your biro."
 I've since heard gunfire in Ballymurphy
 And watched across the gulf of the Bog Meadows

 The buses burning. Shall beauty hold its plea?
 "Oil lamps warming the windows in Rathlin ...
 A rusty tin in the fork of a thorn bush ...
 A rickle of bones falling dead in York Street."

 [Rosary beads clicking on the bedhead,
 Prayers for the dying in the lower room
 And Our Lady of Perpetual Succour,
 The Mother of Sorrows and Our Lady
 Of the Seven Dolours invoked with love.
 Blood in the pigeon-loft, the tenders
 Whining into the unlit street, votive
 Gules to the Sacred Heart of Jesus:
 It is the blight that we were born of.]


 "Poor Hopkins", you would sigh. I have the Notebooks
 You gave me, underlined, your buckled self
 Obeisant to his pain. I can find
 The lineaments of patience everywhere.
 [The Cavehill's profile is the Tollund Man's.]

 'To Michael McLaverty'. Copyright [c] Seamus Heaney.

Stanza 1 (Street Corner stanza) ends by describing the vandalism of the pupils at St Thomas's School. On this issue, the somewhat remorseful speaker admits: 'We failed there.' This was dropped from B3, but McLaverty's advice to be artistically independent ('Go your own way') survives later cuts. Allusions to McLaverty's novel in stanza 2 (Bog Meadows, oil lamps, 'bones in York Street') make it from B1 to B2, but are dropped in B3. The third stanza of B2 (Rosary Beads stanza) invokes the imagery of Roman Catholic prayer for the dying. The focus lies on the pain and pathos of bereavement and Christ's suffering, which is somehow linked to the image of the British Army 'tenders | Whining into the unlit street' (another unsettling image from McLaverty's novel, but with obvious relevance to 1970s West Belfast). Each of these sections (the vandals section of stanza 1; the Ballymurphy section in stanza 2; the Rosary Beads section in stanza 3) was cut from B3, 'Friendship's Garland'.

The title of B3 alludes to Matthew Arnold's satirical work of that name, a collection of letters to the Pall Mall Gazette penned by Arnold and a fictional German professor, the hugely pompous Arminius (Herman) von Thunderten-Tronckh. (20) In a major critique of contemporary English culture, Arnold and Arminius debate a wide range of issues, including the question of national character, the prevalence of English philistinism, and the compulsory education of children of all classes. In this strange, witty attack on British and German national chauvinism, Arnold castigates the moral, cultural, and intellectual limitations of the English middle classes. Although Heaney and McLaverty make an unlikely Arnold and Arminius, Heaney expresses in his drafts an interest in the relationship between education and social order. Furthermore, as Arminius assails the British press, so McLaverty dismisses the reading of newspapers (which 'will spoil your style'). In Arnold's letters on education, in his discussion of public order, civil society, and education, we find a certain relevance to this poem of culture and anarchy in the schoolroom.

On a more immediate level, the poem is a garland of McLaverty's bons mots and a souvenir of their friendship. However, one can see why Heaney dropped this rather over-literary and Arnoldian title, which was perhaps too acutely focused on the idea of friendship, rather than on the aesthetic advice which the friend conveys. The poem as it finally stands ('Fosterage'), based as it is on the Royal Avenue stanza, is the poet's tribute to a certain writerly influence, and to a set of aesthetic principles. I reprint B3 in its entirety. Again, material within square brackets was deleted by the author.


 "Try not to end up measuring your spits
 At a street corner." The class would giggle.
 "Mr Heaney, when you see a rugby team
 Wouldn't you know to look at them the boys
 Who loved poetry?" Then, sotto voce,
 "Read them plenty of poems. Read them John Clare.
 And listen, you yourself, keep at Shakespeare.
 Reading the newspapers will spoil your style."


 "Description is revelation": Royal
 Avenue, Belfast, 1962,
 A Saturday afternoon, eager glad to meet
 Me, newly cubbed in langauge [sic], you gripped
 My elbow. ["You should 'tell how the laundry
 Basket squeaked at No. 64'."]
 But always beware exaggeration.
 "Don't have the veins bulging in your biro."


 When I heard [the] gunfire in Ballymurphy
 And watched across the gulf of the Bog Meadows
 The buses burning. [I] remembered
 Blood in the pigeon-loft, the [tenders] whining tenders,
 [Whining into the unlit street, votive
 Gules to the Sacred Heart of Jesus,]
 Your father coming and going, [the] his gun
 Under [Beneath] the pillow that you shared with him.



 "Poor Hopkins", you would sigh. I have the Notebooks
 You gave me, underlined, your buckled self
 Obeisant to his pain. You discern[ed]
 The lineaments of patience everywhere.
 [The Cavehill's profile is the Tollund Man's.]


 ["Read Clare. Read Edward Thomas
 "That note of exile". We made a progress]
 Listen. Go your own way.
 Do your own work. Remember
 Katherine Mansfield--I will tell
 How the laundry basket squeaked ... that note of exile."
 [But] to hell with [faking it.] Overstatement.
 And then: "Poor Hopkins.
 [Of the strand] at
 You talked about your uncle "slaughtering".
 Trees--his verb delighted you--that time
 We [stepped] the strand at St. J.P.

 'Friendship's Garland'. Copyright c Seamus Heaney.

Most of 'Friendship's Garland' was subsequently deleted by the author, including the Street corner, Ballymurphy and Hopkins stanzas. Elements from the latter were joined to the Royal Avenue stanza to produce 'Fosterage'. Why Heaney reduced the poem so radically--from sixty-three to sixteen lines--must remain matter for conjecture. We assume there were no drafts written subsequent to B3, but there is always a remote possibility that a number of later drafts were mislaid, withheld, or destroyed. At any rate, the substantial differences between the penultimate draft and the printed poem are striking, and allow the reader to appreciate the overall contrast between the working materials and the final poem.

Stanzas in B3 are numbered i, ii, iii, iv; stanza five is titled 'III.' Each of stanzas i-iii is eight lines in length; the truncated stanza iv has five lines only. The form is now close to the sixteen lines of 'Fosterage', including two unrhymed eight-line stanzas conjoined. In the first stanza, Heaney recounts the jokey anecdote about McLaverty warning the pupils not to become 'corner boys'; he tells a version of this story elsewhere, in his introduction to McLaverty's short stories (p. xi), as well as in Finders Keepers. (21) The title 'Stylist' has been dropped, but style remains the theme of the first, second, and fourth stanzas. The opening lines of the poem suggest something of McLaverty's wry humour, and establish a contrast between the wayward 'corner boys' and the dedicated poet (also at this point a young man and not much older than the senior pupils of the school). McLaverty's conspiratorial 'sotto voce', contrasted with the public voice that he uses with his pupils, underlines his friendship with the younger writer, who has now left his boyhood behind; however, in taking advice to 'keep at Shakespeare' he bears traces of the gifted pupil. This opening stanza was dropped from 'Fosterage', and in so doing, Heaney allows for a more dramatic, direct opening to the poem, with the opening of the Royal Avenue stanza: 'Description is revelation!' This, together with the final remark in this stanza, concerning veins in his 'biro', indicates that the poem's main concern, first and last, is artistic style.

We note the revision between the Royal Avenue stanza of B3 and 'Fosterage', changing the personal, direct address ('you gripped my elbow') to third-person narrative ('he gripped my elbow'). No specific reference is made in B3 to Mansfield, though the 'laundry basket' passage from her Journals is included (albeit cancelled by hand, and Mansfield's '75' has become McLaverty's '64'). There is no instance in stanza 1 (B3) of 'that note of exile' which Heaney associates with Chekhov, but the phrase appears in the final stanza, which is a second, revisionary attempt at the B3 Royal Avenue stanza.

Stanza 3--the Ballymurphy stanza--is dropped, in accordance with the effort to focus on artistic style and friendship. In the Ballymurphy stanza, Heaney comes closest in the drafts to addressing the 'Troubles' of the 1970s ('the buses burning' and so on) By deleting this stanza, he expunges contemporary violence from the poem, as well as its links with McLaverty's fiction, since the 'Bog Meadows', the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the 'father's gun' are redolent of the world of Call My Brother Back. Furthermore, it is the pen, not the gun, which links Heaney to his poetic father (McLaverty) in 'Fosterage', whereas in the Ballymurphy stanza it is the gun which unites the father and son. In 'Digging', Heaney described the pen in his hand as 'snug as a gun'; however, in the transition from B3 to 'Fosterage,' the father's gun is not passed down to the son, and is made to disappear from view.

Stanza 4 of B3 (the Hopkins stanza), closely resembles stanza 3 of B2 and provides the kernel of the second half of 'Fosterage'. Again, we note in 'Fosterage' the abandonment of direct address ('you discerned') for third-person narrative ('he discerned'), and the author has dropped the provocative last line in B3 ('The Cavehill's profile is the Tollund Man's'). This can surely be justified by claims of irrelevance (what does the Tollund Man have to do with Hopkins, or with McLaverty's ability to discern 'patience'?). The line appeared early in the drafts, surviving all but the final cut, and explicitly links the poem to 'The Tollund Man', to the bog poems of North, and to 'The Betrothal of Cavehill', but finally seems distracting from the poem's strict focus. (22)

The final stanza of B3 is an unfinished revision of part of the Royal Avenue stanza, beginning at the point where McLaverty advises Heaney on his reading. References to John Clare and Edward Thomas were subsequently dropped in 'Fosterage', thus sharpening the focus on Mansfield and Hopkins. It is revealing to study the development of one line in particular: 'But beware exaggeration' (B2, B3), revised to: '[But] to hell with [faking it.] Overstatement' (B3, below), finally revised to: 'But to hell with overstating it' ('Fosterage'). A clear progression can be discerned here, from the slightly formal utterance ('beware exaggeration'), to the admonition against 'faking it', to the final version, powerfully and informally conveyed. The poem trails off at the end of B3 with a few lines of the St John's Point stanza, prominent in earlier drafts but now abandoned. The last two lines of 'Fosterage' witness the word 'fostered' for the first time--as if the idea of fosterage only really became clear somewhere between B3 and the final poem--and also that image, rooted in the Classical world, of 'words | Imposing on my tongue like obols'. In the simile of ancient coinage on the tongue the speaker associates himself with the dead, bearing payment for Charon the ferryman, to cross the river Styx. Here, the poet is placing great significance on the language of poetry--potentially his own language--by virtue of the spiritual, magical value of the currency to which it is compared. It is a remarkable closing image, with nothing comparable in the manuscript drafts, emerging from the creative space in between B3 and 'Fosterage'.

By comparing B3 with 'Fosterage' we can see how Heaney has radically narrowed the focus of his poem to the early encounter with McLaverty and that author's advice. A broader description of McLaverty and his anecdote about unwilling school pupils is expunged. All references to the Tollund Man, to contemporary unrest in West Belfast and beyond, and to the 1920s 'Troubles' are cancelled. Finally, the Royal Avenue stanza is joined to lines from the Hopkins stanza, producing a much shorter poem of considerable power. It was to be a poem about style, despite its roots in wider concerns. Of course, the sectarian violence of the province, emerging during the late 1960s, as well as the historical violence adumbrated throughout the poems of North, remains implicit in the poem's setting, in that pre-'Troubles' moment on Royal Avenue. However, the poem's potential as an explicit meditation on the roots and effects of violence was forestalled by Heaney's radical excising of many key stanzas in the drafts. To return to the Wordsworthian epigraph concerning fosterage by beauty and by fear, the objects and occasions of fear are cancelled from this particular script, resulting in a sharpening of focus on the aesthetic questions appropriate to fosterage by beauty. However, the atmosphere of foreboding and restriction suggested in the title 'The Ministry of Fear' remains a theme of 'Singing School' in general and an undercurrent within 'Fosterage'.

Draft poems by Seamus Heaney are reprinted here by permission of the author and of Stephen Ennis, Director, Special Collections & Archives, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Emory University. I thank Seamus Heaney, Stephen Ennis, Ronald Schuchard, and Sarah Stanton for their assistance.

(1) These include Peter Fallon, Seamus Heaney, Thomas Kinsella, Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, Paul Muldoon, Tom Paulin, and James Simmons ( guides-irishlit.html). There are relevant holdings in the Henry C. Pearson Collection, University of North Carolina Libraries, Chapel Hill, including manuscripts and ALS. A small number of Heaney manuscripts are held at Boston College (Burns Library), and Bellaghy Bawn, Magherafelt.

(2) The directors of Woodruff library list nine recipients (1999-2004) of Fellowships to study their Irish Literature collections (

(3) See Jerome McGann, A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983; repr. 1992), pp. 37-XX.

(4) 'I came to the decision ... that I should now lodge a substantial portion of my literary archive in Woodruff.' Quoted in M. Terrazas, 'Heaney Honors Chace, Emory with Papers', Emory Report, 29 September 2003. See

(5) Not much has been written about Heaney's manuscripts, with the exception of Arthur McGuinness, 'The Craft of Diction: Revision in Seamus Heaney's Poems', in Image and Allusion: Anglo-Irish Literature and Its Contexts, ed. by M. Harmon (Portmarnock: Wolfhound Press, 1975), pp. 62-91. Tony Curtis published the drafts of 'North' without commentary in 'The Manuscript Drafts of the poem "North"', in The Art of Seamus Heaney, ed. by T. Curtis (Bridgend: Poetry Wales Press, 1982), pp. 53-62.

(6) 'Singing School' was published in its entirety in North (London: Faber, 1975) and Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996 (London: Faber, 2002). The third and fourth poems in the sequence ('Orange Drums, Tyrone 1966' and 'Summer 1969') were dropped from Selected Poems 1965-1975 (London: Faber, 1980). The third poem only was dropped from New Selected Poems 1966-1987 (London: Faber, 1990).

(7) Elmer Andrews, The Poetry of Seamus Heaney: 'All the Realms of Whisper' (London: Macmillan, 1988), p. 113. However, he goes on to say: 'What "Fosterage" does importantly represent, though, is a continuation of that troublesome debate about what a poet's role should be, especially in time of war.' See Michael Parker, Seamus Heaney: The Making of the Poet (London: Macmillan, 1993), pp. 29, 149; Neil Corcoran, The Poetry of Seamus Heaney: A Critical Study, 2nd edn (London: Faber, 1998), p. 243; Bernard O'Donoghue, Seamus Heaney and the Language of Poetry (New York and London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1994).

(8) Seamus Heaney, letter to the present author, 11 May 2001.

(9) 'Fosterage' drafts (ten pages; twelve sections); Woodruff, MS 653, Box 2, folder 5.

(10) A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916; repr. London: Cape, 1968), p. 60.

(11) According to Parker, McLaverty's phrases from 'Fosterage' appear in an unpublished Heaney poem, also dedicated to McLaverty: 'An Evening in Killard' (Parker, p. 256, n. 209). I have been unable to find this poem.

(12) 'The winter of 1962 and spring of 1963 marked a major turning point in his career' (Parker, p. 46).

(13) The phrase 'Description is revelation' is taken from Wallace Stevens's poem, 'Description Without Place' (Wallace Stevens: Collected Poems (New York: Knopf, 1954), pp. 339-46).

(14) 'North', North; 'Station Island XII', Station Island (London: Faber, 1984).

(15) Seamus Heaney, letter to the present author, 14 January 2004. Also see Heaney's introduction to Michael McLaverty, Collected Short Stories, ed. by Sophia Hillan (Belfast: Blackstaff, 2002): '"Look for the intimate thing," he would say, and go on to praise the "note of exile" in Chekhov' (p. xi).

(16) Letters and Journals of Katherine Mansfield, ed. by C. K. Stead (London: Allen Lane, 1977), pp. 65-66.

(17) 'Fosterling', Seeing Things (London: Faber, 1991).

(18) 'Gifts of Rain', Wintering Out (London: Faber, 1972).

(19) 'And maybe at that moment an ould woman--a rickle of bones--is shot dead in York Street. And what's Harold thinking about--Keep them at it! Keep the workers at one another's throats and they'll forget about high rents and low wages' (Michael McLaverty, Call My Brother Back (1939; repr. Co. Dublin: Poolbeg, 1979), p. 177).

(20) Matthew Arnold, Friendship's Garland: Being the Conversations, Letters and Opinions of the Late Arminius, Baron von Thunder-ten-Tronckh; Collected and Edited with a Dedicatory Letter to Adolescens Leo, Esq., of 'The Daily Telegraph' (London, 1871).

(21) Seamus Heaney, 'On Poetry and Profession', in Finders Keepers: Selected Prose 1971-2001 (London: Faber, 2003), pp. 67-73.

(22) 'The Tollund Man,' Wintering Out; 'The Betrothal of Cavehill,' North.


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Author:Allison, Jonathan
Publication:Yearbook of English Studies
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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