How Seamus Heaney avoided the traps of the Northern Irish conflict
Keeping his distance but surpassing his heritage
In his art and life Seamus Heaney stayed at a distance from the imprisoning claims of his home and homeland.
He had the sense to keep his distance, even in a room filled with friends and admirers (perhaps especially there).
Few Irish writers since Oscar Wilde has traveled as far from their place of origin, but Heaney stayed true to his homeland, or half true to it.
When you're from the north, as Heaney was, no one will willingly grant you the luxury of impartiality.
More often you're pulled in and implicated from birth to death. In the north 'minds are open like a trap,' he wrote.
So it hasn't been sufficiently acknowledged just how nimbly he avoided all the traps set for him, because it's actually one of the central achievements of his life and art.
In the north in the 1980's the nightly news reports were delivered in words that had grown numb from the repetition of too much horror. Those words failed to convey us to ourselves, they failed to help. Even the term that came to describe the long war, the Troubles, was an imprecise and almost laughable euphemism. Words had completely failed us. Seamus Heaney did not.
In the 1980's, after the success of Brian Friel's play Translations, a group of gifted northern writers (including Heaney) formed a theatre company in Derry to engage with the challenges that Friel's play had set us. They came together to to climb out of its long shadow.
It was a challenge Heaney took to heart. Along the way lines from W.H. Auden inspired him:
'O look, look in the mirror,
O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.
'O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbor
With your crooked heart.'
That wasn't a suggestion, it was a command. There could be no other way out of the dark. Auden's lines would eventually appear in the program to The Cure At Troy, Heaney's remarkable version of Sophocles' Philoctetes, which was performed in Derry in October 1990. They were the first indication of the sheer ambition of what he was up to. That he succeeded is now beyond question. The conversation that Friel had started would find its most eloquent rejoinder in Heaney's verse.
I was in audience when that play premiered, as were all the main political leaders from both sides of the conflict, as were half the long-suffering people of Derry it seemed. Like all northerners, like all the Irish, I think we wanted the sky to open and show us a vision. Forget Derry, we wanted Delphi. We wanted the poet, our poet, to do what Irish poets, bards and druids have always done: lead us out of darkness toward the light of understanding.
When the god spoke from the mountain in The Cure At Troy it was one of the most electrifying moments of my life, one that made me realize, more than anything has before or since, that the Irish conflict could end.
And all this, remember, was the work of a big farmer's son from Derry who had a talisman for a name. He knew all the roads into and out of the past, he was fluent in every dialect, language and local custom; he was our Hermes of the crossroads, he took us backward and forward in the same line, both into and out of ourselves.
- Gay wedding cakes latest target of anti-gay...
- Racist incidents in Ireland up by 85 percent...
- An open letter in strong defence of capitalism.
- A Magdalene Laundry US adoptee who holds...
- Irish radio presenter suspended after anti-Isra
- Gay teacher fired from Catholic school after...
- Sarah Palin is saving Christmas
- Families as well as Catholic Church and governm
- Baby dies in horror birth at Belfast hospital...
- Bill O’Reilly slams Nelson Mandela as an...
Someone who is proud to be a Canuck is not really in any position to judge the intelligence of anyone else. Just saying.Unionists regret US envoy Haass’ call for new flag for Northern Ireland (VIDEO)
A sibling can apply for an Irish passport. Any sibling of an Irish person meaning a sibling born outside of Ireland bonehead. One really does have toNelson Mandela was against IRA decommissioning its arms during 2000 talks
Eiriamach!! The IRA were fighting state terrorism and had massive support in the 70's and 80's and I am disappointed you take the side of unionism andBill O’Reilly slams Nelson Mandela as an unrepentant “communist”
Some make a lot over the fact that Mandela associated with communists while looking over the fact that he also associated with capitalists. He was a n