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This review is taken from PN Review 140, Volume 27 Number 6, July - August 2001.


Heaney's advance in poetry has always been surefooted: his meticulous circlings of the natal ground, his attentive march through the successive terrains that have engaged his attention, his uncanny ear for the mimesis of sound, each word dropping into place like a well-placed footfall, all these have marked a steady progress through the examined, the known, in the light of the numinous. Not often ecstatic, he has nevertheless always been relaxed in the face of epiphany, alert to its advent, shrewdly innocent. We may think of this as a stance, a posture of engagement, a way of being in the world and in poetry at the same time. An epistemological bearing.

Equally, he has fashioned himself from his learning a twin-companion: the journey out into poetry and the world is also an instance of journeys already inscribed in the literature. He is aware of himself as inheritor (of Virgil, for instance, of Wordsworth and Hardy and Kavanagh) and as fellowtraveller (with Herbert, Hughes, Walcott, Brodsky); a man not alone.

The native is also the savant, sophisticate and countryman, ringing true in each register and in both. An intelligent man, choosing high company or simply accepting it, needs to be very sure of himself, of his proper humility and his proper gift. He needs a strategy of sureness, a means of testing and growing through his innate poetic honesty. He needs, more simply put, to be sure he is not making a fool of himself.

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