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

 THE BODY OF IRELAND  SEAMUS HEANEY, Electric Light (Faber) £8.99

It's not his first poem, yet Seamus Heaney has opened both his Selected Poems (1987) and Opened Ground (1998), with 'Digging' and its defiant wielding of his pen to challenge the Ireland of spade and gun: 'I'll dig with it.' The supposition, encouraged by Heaney himself, is that the poet sought a third way, navigating between Ireland's past and an under-developed modernity as the croppies traded in their scythes for the terrible beauty of a Browning Hi-Power. The duality of spade/gun is one of the many well known oppositions which have acted on Heaney throughout his life and career as a writer: country/city, northern/Catholic, Irish/trans-national, etc., etc. The danger of dualism, for both author and critic, is the temptation of reductionism and the easy answer. Helen Vendler, in her interesting Seamus Heaney (1998), makes the case that the only choice for Heaney in Ireland circa. 196065 was the spade of tradition and the gun of a distorted modernity. Vendler lauds Heaney for breaking out of these antinomies with his pen. (Vendler, pleading space restrictions, does not consider Heaney's literary antecedents which is rather surprising from a critic who considers herself a formalist. And it's especially surprising since Heaney is not the first and only Irish poet, nor is he first Irish poet to try to reconcile Ireland's green and red mists.) Vendler clearly agrees with Heaney that 'Digging' announced his poetic intention just as the title Opened Ground indicates his sense that he has now succeeded in meeting his ...


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