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What influence of history can be seen in Seamus Heaney's work?

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Polly Jackman, 12SAM What influence of history can be seen in Seamus Heaney's work? In Requiem for the Croppies Heaney writes specifically about an historic event, but he also uses different forms of history such as mythological and personal in his poetry. Although Requiem for the Croppies is written about a past event, the Battle of Vinegar Hill, Heaney uses 'We moved quick and sudden in our own country' to produce the idea that he was with the 'people, hardly marching', that he was a part of them. These words also give rise to the idea that when Heaney writes about the Battle of Vinegar Hill he also refers to the continuing troubles in Ireland, which he most definitely is involved in. This poem is steeped in history; Heaney describes things, as they were then; 'The pockets of our greatcoats full of barley-'. As he writes here it seems factual writing, as though having 'barley' to eat is a normal thing. When Heaney writes 'No kitchens on the run, no striking camp-' the misery and wanting these men had to go through becomes clear. It appears that the men were living hand to mouth, fighting for their own country which, paradoxically they had to move 'quick and sudden' in. Even though they had been born into Ireland and had it's ancestral roots, it was they who were scared and ran, not the invaders. ...read more.


The Lough 'shallows lap' the trees and 'give' them eternity, yet 'take' away their right to be out in the world, alive. Objects in the Lough receive 'constant ablutions', to become cleansed and pure, yet this is a 'drowning love' that leaves them in limbo, a 'relic of memory' yet to be found. These motions of the Lough could 'Stun a stake/ To stalagmite', turn wood through petrifaction and erosion to limestone. Heaney writes about the coming of Earth in existence, and the origins of life. The molten rock or 'Dead lava' becoming a 'cooling star' which has a choice to become 'Coal and diamond' or of 'sudden birth' from the 'Dead lava' and 'burnt meteor'. Heaney writes that these things are 'too simple', too scientific perhaps, 'Without the lure/ That relic stored', without history there is no significance to anything. History builds things up, gives a template for everything to happen on. If it is known how to extract it, even 'A piece of stone/ On the shelf at school, / Oatmeal coloured' will tell a story, and give masses of information. In Bogland Heaney uses the history of the Irish as well as the finding of artefacts. He starts with 'We have no prairies/ To slice a big sun at evening', 'We', the Irish do not have long stretches of grass that goes on for miles and 'slices' the sun when it sets. ...read more.


The rain softened the 'ruts' or furrow made by the wheels of the carter. These 'ruts' which could also mean dull, settled habits 'lead back to no/ ''oak groves''', no trees of wisdom as Spencer wrote in Faerie Queen. Heaney writes that there are no 'cutters of' the famed wisdom plant of 'mistletoe/ in the clearings'. This seems like Heaney is writing about the loss of Irish culture in Ireland, especially when he writes 'Perhaps I just make out/ Edmund Spenser/ dreaming sunlight' who was severely criticised for turning a blind eye to the Irish famine, and who created a little England in Ireland. Spenser is encroached upon by 'geniuses who creep' the spirit of a place such as Ireland or the people who acted to reaffirm Irish heritage within the colonised Ireland. Again referring to Spenser's poetry the 'geniuses' 'creep/''out of every corner/ of the woodes and glennes''', like the faeries Spenser writes about in his poetry. The 'geniuses' 'creep' 'towards watercress and carrion' a very odd juxtaposition since 'watercress' is a high cash crop in Ireland because of the wet bogs, and 'carrion' dead and rotting flesh. This link by Heaney refers to the eating of 'watercress' by the Irish during the famine because they were starving and that's all there was, they were fighting and starving while Spenser wrote his poetry and did nothing so that they eventually turned to carrion when hunger won out. ...read more.

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