PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
Mark FordLetters And So It Goes
Letters from Young Mr Grace
(aka John Ashbery)

(PN Review 239)
Henry Kingon Toby Martinez de las Rivas
(PN Review 244)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
M. Wynn ThomasThe Other Side of the Hedge
(PN Review 239)
Next Issue Beverley Bie Brahic, after Leopardi's 'Broom' Michael Freeman Benefytes and Consolacyons Miles Burrows At Madame Zaza’s and other poems Victoria Kenefick Hunger Strike Hilary Davies Haunted by Christ
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PNR 250 Poetry Archive Banner
Monthly Carcanet Books
PN Review Blog

This review is taken from PN Review 68, Volume 15 Number 6, July - August 1989.

JUBILATION AND TRUANCY Seamus Heaney, The Government of the Tongue: The 1986 T.S. Eliot Memorial Lectures and Other Critical Writings (Faber) £12.95

The tongue, adept at governing, is proverbially difficult to govern. That is the ambiguous burden of Seamus Heaney's title and it provides the focusing theme for this new collection of his prose. The poet has power over language and, through language, aspires to the sovereignty of imagination. Yet from time to time, the poet's tongue must be governed, the lyric impulse curbed, if poems are to do justice to harsh reality and respect the exacting circumstances of life. In the poem "Clearances", Heaney tells of how he resisted the impulse to correct his mother's speech, deliberately "hampered and askew" in loyalty to her humble origins. "I governed my tongue", he says - in deference to how she governed hers. "Clearances" is from Heaney's last book, The Haw Lantern, and there are other occasions when that book and this would appear to gloss one another. It is one of several reasons for reading this stimulating and beautifully written book, though just now I want to focus on some shortcomings.

Heaney's view of what matters in contemporary poetry is strikingly conventional. The lectures are on Auden, Lowell and Plath, all Faber poets, and the essays deal with Kavanagh, Larkin, Walcott, Holub, Zbigniew Herbert, Mandelstam, poetry in translation and the Irish poetic tradition. Czeslaw Milosz, though he has no essay devoted to him, also plays a prominent role. Together with Herbert and Mandelstam, he presides over a current of Eastern European poetry that runs through the book; for them and ...


Searching, please wait... animated waiting image