This is another old favorite of mine, ordered from Amazon with income tax refund this year. I had not realized Seamus Heaney had passed - so glad I was able to get a copy of this book. My library does not have it, any longer. He was a wonderful poet, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. Several of his books are currently out of print, but if you run across them, give them a read. Most of us remember Beowulf, but he had many poems, lilting and running across the heart.
"Old ploughsocks gorge the subsoil of each sense / And I am quickened with a redolence / Of the fundamental dark unblown rose." In the face of such mastery, we cannot comment or explicate, for fear of impertinence; we can only quote, and hope that something of the maker's joy communicates itself.
This was the third book of poetry that this reviewer purchased as a youth, the first two being Eliot's Four Quartets and Rimbaud's Illuminations. This book remains a favourite of ours, fifteen years after its purchase.
The Glanmore Sonnets occupy a central position in this slender but rich volume, as is fitting; it is perhaps Heaney's masterwork. The Elegy to Robert Lowell, the "welder of English" who composed "heart-hammering blank sonnets of love for Harriet and Lizzie" is also noteworthy.
There is much about the sectarian warfare of the troubled six counties of Northern Ireland, but like Dante (who appears via epigraph and translation in this book) Heane!y can transfigure the sins of his land into glorious language that is an exemplar of poetry's redemptive potentiality. "I think our very form is bound to change ... Unless forgiveness finds its nerve and voice."
There is much here about love, nuptial, natural, sexual. At the end of "The Guttural Muse," there is a couplet of exclusion from the joyful earthiness that the poet observes: "I felt like some old pike all badged with sores / Wanting to swim in touch with soft-mouthed life."
There is warfare and loss, violence and bliss, the joys of the flesh and the crucifixion of a country. But after reading the poems in FIELD WORK, the reader will doubtless share in Seamus Heaney's faith that "the end of art is peace."
Bought this for a class concerning War & Poetry in the 20th century. For many readers unfamiliar with the Irish's The Troubles (and Ireland's history), the poems may across as confusing. It takes a while to get used to Heaney's style as well as the imagery (which are set in Ireland). Deeper analysis of the poems provide better understanding to Heaney's overall message of the collection.
For the class, this book teaches a lot of how poetry intertwines with the political conflicts in history. Personally, I'm not a big fan of Heaney, but that's more due to my unfamiliarity with the diction. Heaney is one the greatest and well-known Irish writers/poets, so his work is a good source for finding Irish nationalism.
With "Field Work" the metaphor of "digging" with which Seamus Heaney began his first volume of poetry ("Death of a Naturalist") has become a succinct and overarching symbol of his entire literary endeavour. In that poem "digging" comes to connote the agricultural roots of his childhood (and of the Irish people) but also the search for word-fodder that his poetry enacts. "Field Work" continues to explore these concerns in a powerful collection of poems. Here the deeply personal ("Glanmore Sonnets"), primarly poetic ("Elegy") and cautiously political ("Triptych", "The Toome Road") sit comfortably alongside one another. While Heaney (as the most famous voice in contemporary Irish literature) has been repeatedly criticised for his silence on the Ulster situation, this volume shows that (as in "North") he is able to deal with its complex issues without taking sides. Always his concern is for the impartial victim (the position he himself assumes, that of the "unmolested orchid" ["Triptych 1"]) and the place he or she occupies among the combatants. "Casualty" describes a friendly but laconic pub drinker (apolitical and an acquaintance of Heaney's) who was killed by the British for defying curfew. "Triptych 1" includes the description of "Two young men with rifles on the hill" - we do not know if they are Unionists or I.R.A., they are two sides of the same coin. Heaney's continual "digging" allows him to move beneath the emotive surface of events and to unearth their common history, culture, landscape, experience. In "Field Work" the very poetry with which Heaney draws these moments is itself a tool to pare bloody and partisan politics back to its single seed, the common root of the Irish field and furrow.
Seamus Heaney, in "Field Work" makes accessible what is best about poetry and, especially, modern Irish poetry. Heaney's impact on modern poetry will certainly extend on into the centuries as he lays down his words in beautiful rythmic language, a language forgotten by many contemporaries, but coming back with many new poets. Heaney's protrait of Irish life, the "troubles", and just his love of people and the land makes this a must read not only for those who love good poetry, but wish to understand the beauty, people, politics, and history of a great people to be free. Heaney writes no bad poems, remains accessible to the occasional reader, and offers more than enough solid food for the critic and student of poetics to keep all happy for long after the read.
This was my first exposure to Seamus Heaney and his work (other than seeing the portly fellow with his unkempt white hair walking purposefully around campus here in Cambridge.) It is still my favorite collection of his work. Like all previous reviewers, I will not critique any particular poem, but only give the volume what can be one of my highest forms of praise: The poems have such a resonance that they have stayed with me long after putting the book down. That is a rare feat, in any artistic genre.