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This review is taken from PN Review 83, Volume 18 Number 3, January - February 1992.

SUBTLETY & PARADOX Seamus Heaney, Seeing Things (Faber and Faber) £4.99
Bernard O'Donoghue, The Weakness (Chatto & Windus) £5.99

Many readers of Seamus Heaney's new collection will, I imagine, have been disappointed by it. Apart perhaps from the beautiful 'The Pulse', its delicately-judged movement, that mimics the passage of a cast fishing line through the air, charted and held by the poet's old cunning with line-endings and cadence, there is really no single poem that stands out strongly and immediately from the rest. But having read and re-read Seeing Things, and thought about it, the book seems to me to be a triumph, of style and restraint. No single poem stands out, because no single poem is meant to do so; instead, the collection has been conceived, and is meant to be read, as an integrated whole. The manner of its integration - which is essentially that of a subtle allusiveness and subtle echoes between poems that make for a cumulative effect - makes it extraordinarily difficult to talk about. It is also difficult to talk about for the reason that Wordsworth's poetry is difficult to talk about: its dependence not upon any elaborated or extractable system of ideas, but on gleams, sensations, delicate recognitions.

In The Haw Lantern, as perhaps in parts of Station Island, one felt the poet moving towards a greater steadiness and purity of style, and though (one felt) he was thrown off-course at times by the too obvious imitation of the procedures of poets like Zbigniew Herbert and Milosz (two poets who are highly intellectual in a way that Heaney is ...


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