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


Post Nobel Prize for Literature (1995), post The Spirit Level (1996), post Opened Ground (1998), post Beowulf (1999). Even with these accomplishments, rarely will so much be expected of a volume of poetry as Seamus Heaney's Electric Light (2001). Split into two sections, the first is multidimensional in its explorations of place, memory, of self, of stasis and change; the second, elegiac and celebratory in its loss of loved poets, family and friends. This is a collection full of voices. Some are authoritative, others more vulnerable and hesitant, drawing strength through surrenders in verse forms loosened up in this 'loose box' of a bright orange book. There are moments of indulgence too, as in this moment from 'Sonnets from Hellas':

        When we crossed the border
    From Argos into Arcadia, and farther
    Into Arcadia, a lorry load
    Of apples had burst open on the road
    So that for yards our tyres raunched and scrunched them
But we drove on, juiced up and fleshed and spattered,
Revelling in it.

Here the poet records travelling from Argos into Sparta, although there is nothing Spartan about this scrumptious moment. Heaney has attributed its richness to the 'Swedish academy business' and it is diffi- cult to tell if this is an explanation or an apology for the sonnet's abundance. But this is a poet who has earned his 'Midas touch', and since his first books, he has prospered on his loyalty to ...

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