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The Redress of Poetry


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Author won the Nobel Laureate 1995

About the Author

Seamus Heaney was born in 1939 in County Derry in Northern Ireland. He grew up in the country, on a farm, in touch with a traditional rural way of life, which he wrote about in his first book Death of a Naturalist (1966). He attended the local school and in 1951 went as a boarder to St Columb's College, about 40 miles away in Derry (the poem 'Singing School' in North refers to this period of his life). In 1956 he went on a scholarship to Queen's University, Belfast and graduated with a first class degree in English Language and Literature in 1961. After a year as a post-graduate at a college of education, and a year teaching in a secondary modern school in Ballymurphy, he was appointed to the staff of St Joseph's College of Education. In 1966 Seamus Heaney took up a lecturing post in the English Department of Queen's University, and remained there until 1972, spending the academic year 1970-71 as a visiting Professor at the University of California in Berkeley.


In 1989 Heaney‘who recently won the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature‘was elected professor of poetry at Oxford University; the lectures he gave there are collected in this book. By "redress" Heaney means the preferred definition of compensation for a wrong, but he also intends the obsolete meaning of bringing hunting dogs back to the chase, since poetry is a game of "fundamentally self-delighting inventiveness," one in which a force "unhindered, yet directed, can sweep ahead into its full potential." Eminently readable, the various essays here are united by a personal yet profound tone. They explore a broad range of poets, from Christopher Marlowe and John Clare to W.B. Yeats and Elizabeth Bishop, but Heaney's focus is on poetry's ability to redress "all of life's inadequacies, desolations, and atrocities," not by means of direct political response but simply by being its own intrinsic reward. For all literary collections. [For a selected list of works by Heaney currently in print, see p. 68.]‘David Kirby, Florida State Univ., Tallahassee

The 10 essays on poetry collected here, adapted from lectures delivered at Oxford between 1989 and 1994, display much of the intellectual restlessness, linguistic wizardry and political conscience that have shaped Heaney's own poetry. His thesis is that poetry of the highest order must redress social imbalances, at once transfiguring the circumstances it observes and offering an unforeseen, more humane, aesthetic alternative. This is an abstract and rigorous idea, yet nonacademic readers will find much to savor as Heaney tests and refines his paradigm in light of a largely canonical selection of poets (most are from the British Isles). Ranging freely from a brief life of each poet to a close reading of a few poems by him or her, he addresses, for instance, how Elizabeth Bishop's ``One Art'' assuages the ``loss'' to which it alludes; how Christopher Marlowe's ``Hero and Leander'' ``extended the alphabet'' of Elizabethan sexual mores; and how 19th-century rustic poet John Clare achieved a truly lyrical local idiom at odds with official English. With their palpable evocation of the writing process and their disavowal of jargon and trendy political abstractions, these are exemplary essays‘and tell us much about the influences and obsessions of this year's Nobel laureate in literature. (Nov.)

"Nobel laureate Heaney is a pastoralist with a strong and critical sense of history. His rich and earthy poems are about the life of the land of northern Ireland as well as the evolution of the heavily mythologized Irish identity. Heaney's sonorous lyricism stems from his love of the cycles of country life, the mystery of the sea, the satisfying rhythm of hard, physical work. But Heaney loves poetry and poetics as well as nature and expresses this passion in his forceful if demanding literary essays. This is his third book of criticism, and it contains 10 lectures Heaney delivered as professor of poetry at Oxford. In the title essay, Heaney explains how poetry balances the 'scales of reality towards some transcendent equilibrium.' After considering all the burdens contemporary poets carry, from the long tradition of the form itself to pressing political perspectives, Heaney still insists that 'poetry cannot afford to lose its fundamentally self-delighting inventiveness.' This viewpoint

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