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Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996 Paperback – October 25, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

For Seamus Heaney, "opened ground" is a necessity--a way of getting to the root of things. The book bearing that name spans three decades, beginning with "Digging," his exhilarating portrait of the artist as a young revolutionary. "Between my finger and my thumb / The squat pen rests; snug as a gun," Heaney boasts (although by the end of the poem, his weapon has metamorphosed into something closer to the spade his grandfather and father once relied upon). The last entry, the sonnet "Postscript," appears some 400 pages later, which makes Opened Ground a capacious selection of his work. But at this point Heaney requires the largest of hold-alls. There are beautiful, pastoral lyrics here, sequences such as "Glanmore Sonnets" and "Clearances," and a multitude of love poems, not solely to his wife but to his parents and children. And in Heaney's hands, small domestic moments and objects--a scrabble board, a swing, a kite, a bed sawn in half to get it downstairs--invariably become both reality and soaring myth.

At the same time, his Ireland is the site of "neighborly murders," and the past and larger world he confronts is one threatened by history and brutal sectarianism. Heaney has declared, "Fear is the emotion that the muse thrives on. That's always there"--and terror is pervasive in his "land of password, handgrip, wink and nod, / Of open minds as open as a trap." Many of his poems that explore the Troubles reflect his own considerable concern that he has long "confused evasion and artistic tact." Others might be termed self-reflexive, since Heaney uses them to unearth his own role. "Kinship" features a simple, brilliant (not to mention canine!) simile:

I step through origins
like a dog turning
its memories of wilderness
on the kitchen mat.
In a later poem, "From the Frontier of Writing," he compares the struggle for inspiration to being stopped at a roadblock: "And everything is pure interrogation / until a rifle motions you and you move / with guarded unconcerned acceleration." Heaney's gift is dazzling, and would be almost unbearable were it not matched by vigilance, self-doubt, and regret--and his longing for the day in which "justice can rise up / And hope and history rhyme." --Kerry Fried --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

For those few readers of poetry unfamiliar with the Nobel laureate's work, and for others who wish for up-to-date representative samplings from a prolific career, this new volume from Heaney will be just the ticket, perhaps the poetry stocking-stuffer of the year. Although we already have a selected from Heaney, running through 1987, and nearly all of his previous 12 books of poems are in print (including an even earlier selected), the post-'87 material collected here is very generous: most of 1996's Spirit Level, as well as Heaney's Nobel Lecture. Looking at the entire arc of his work, one is reminded of the heavy lifting in the earlier books Death of a Naturalist, Wintering Out and North, in which Heaney struggles heroically to find purchase as a poet in a minefield of sectarian contentions. As Heaney finds his voice, that peculiarly wistful and earthy mixture of rural reverie and high public speech (Kavanagh meets Yeats), his interests broaden, and in the middle and later volumes the poet seeks out Greek myths, Irish epics and Scandinavian digs, looking for correlatives apt to his meditations. Throughout, the visceral impact of Heaney's speech is his signature-"All year the flax-dam festered in the heart/ Of the townland; green and heavy-headed/ Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods"-and not written to be tromped through speedily. Better, then, to take short walks in Opened Ground. Although it is not a critically important time for this compilation to appear, the effort to keep the shape of Heaney's continuing body of work in view is a worthy one. He is a major figure, working at full-bore still.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (October 25, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374526788
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374526788
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,974 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

89 of 91 people found the following review helpful By jalliso@pop.uky.edu on February 25, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Those of you who are already familiar with his poems will be delighted to learn of the publication of Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996, a bumper crop of Heaney's best work over a thirty year period, and a record of the writer's development from the tentative and introspective poems of Death of a Naturalist (1966) to the authoritative and visionary tonalities of middle age in Seeing Things (1991) and The Spirit Level (1996).
This hefty, 440-page volume gathers together a pruned-down version of each of the author's ten volumes of poetry, plus extracts from his verse play, The Cure at Troy, his translation of the Irish epic poem, Sweeney Astray, and his Nobel Prize lecture, "Crediting Poetry." In 1975, poet Robert Lowell dubbed Heaney "the greatest Irish poet since W.B.Yeats." This volume proves that claim, perhaps too hasty a judgement in 1975, to be fully justified.
One of the most appealing aspects of the early poetry is the dense, tactile language used to evoke scenes of nature on the family farm, often conveyed from the point of view of the small child, and the poems are full of a child's freshness of perception. Farmyard and barnyard, cows, bulls, rats, sheds, wells, rakes, ploughs, and pitchforks appeared in vivid detail in this rural poetic landscape, in which the speaker experienced his solitary epiphanies. Farm workers and rural artisans, including thatchers, ploughmen and even water diviners were transformed into artists in their own right, and as alter egos of the poet himself
In the 1970s, Heaney began to write more directly about the Irish landscape, particularly the marshy bogs, that became emblematic for him of the Irish national consciousness.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Patrick McCormack VINE VOICE on April 18, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Seamus Heaney is a master poet who connects nature, emotion, and even plot, in a brilliant and particularly Irish poetry. These poems are accessible to non-English majors. I read them out loud to my wife at night. They elicit a reaction that begins at emotional imagery, veers into thought, and ends up touching your soul. One of the immortal greats of the English language is writing and publishing now, and this book is indispensable.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Josh Chafetz on April 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
Opened Ground is an excellent introduction to Heaney's poetry, taking the reader from his earliest expressions of anxiety over his chosen profession ("Digging" and "Poem") to his love for his native Ireland ("Annahorish" and "Broagh") and his anxiety over the political fate of his country ("Casualty" and "The Toome Road") to reflections on mortality in general (and therefore, naturally, on his own) ("An Afterwards" and "Squarings"). Of course, to claim that any of his poems are "about" any one thing is to perform an almost unpardonable act of reductionism -- they all take in a great breadth and depth of experiences and wisdom. While it is true that "An Afterwards" is in some sense about death, it is equally about poetry and the Faustian bargain poets sometimes must make, leaving family behind in the pursuit of beauty. This anxiety, too, recurrs throughout Heaney's work. To anyone who is even remotely interested in modern poetry, this is a great introduction to a great poet, and it belongs on your shelf.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Flounder on September 28, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Heaney is clearly one of the most important literary figures in the world. He is perhaps even the most important writer from Great Britain since Yeats. It's nice to know that an Irishman who speaks for all citizens of the world has been most deservedly honored with a Nobel Prize.
Heaney is a word-smith. For example, "The Forge" is a sonnet that embraces the scope of poetic creativity and power: "All I know is a door into the dark...."
Heaney's work is uncompromising and unparalleled in its depth. It can be justly compared to Milosz, or even a Yeats. Heaney is introspective, careful, and most importantly, sincere. Every word on the page counts; every word reverberates and shimmers with life, death, and modest negotations with an often hostile political landscape. His poetic vision is transcendental.
This anthology includes Heaney's Nobel Prize Speech: "Crediting Poetry," which is incredibly beautiful and thought-provoking. Some of my favorite poetic images are included here, involving blackberries, frogs, funerals, marital meditations, early morning military manuevers, potato peeling, and a mother ironing....
I highly recommend this anthology. It is beautiful and exciting; Heaney's verse will raise the hair on the back of your neck, as well as electrify your soul.
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Format: Paperback
In poem after poem, Heaney's words seem... inevitable. He had the Irish gift --- the gift of glib --- but he didn't use words for self-glorification. As someone said, he saw the Nobel Prize (among friends, he spoke of "the N-word") as encouragement to do better.

Heaney was that rare event: a great writer, a great man. He taught. He mentored. He praised. He parented. And still did the internal work that led to a book of selected poems that topped 400 pages. "Seamus never had a sour moment, neither in person nor on paper," said the playwright Tom Stoppard. "You couldn't help loving him any more than you could help reading on from the first line."

The life, in brief: Born in Northern Ireland, in 1939, the eldest of nine children. (A younger brother, age four, was killed by a car. His poem about the death ends: "Wearing a poppy bruise on the left temple/ He lay in the four foot box as in a cot./ No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear./ A four foot box, a foot for every year.") He won a scholarship to a school that nourished him, earned a college degree in English, taught, married, wrote. In college, he said of his writing, "I was just kicking the ball around the penalty area, not trying to shoot at the goal. Then in 1962 the current began to flow."

The Heaney poems you may have seen quoted mostly describe a world as foreign to us as the moon, a rural world of lorries, peat, wells, animals and the heavy tread of the Church. As he describes it in his Nobel Prize speech:

"...in rural Co. Derry, we crowded together in the three rooms of a traditional thatched farmstead and lived a kind of den-life which was more or less emotionally and intellectually proofed against the outside world.
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