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This article is taken from PN Review 46, Volume 12 Number 2, November - December 1985.

Heaney's Poetry: Ambiguous Space Martin Dodsworth

The popular Heaney is probably best defined in terms of his first two books, where the poetry is concerned predominantly with the personal life, particularly childhood experience, love and marriage. In this poetry there are intimations of depth - the fear in 'Death of a Naturalist' itself, the mystery of creation in 'The Forge' - but the depth is not incompatible with the simplicity and directness of the first poem in the first book, 'Digging':


Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.


Heaney's attachment to his place, his culture, has led him inevitably into entanglement with the public concerns of Ulster today. His personal experience is inevitably also an experience of a culture, and the fears and anxieties of his early poetry have become more explicitly cultural and political as his work has developed, so that now Heaney can no longer be conceived of as a poet of sensuous immediacy and direct encounter. He has become a poet of anxiety and ambiguous utterance, and these qualities infect even the simplest of his current productions. In Station Island the poem 'Widgeon' is a case in point:


It had been badly shot.
While he was plucking it
he found, he says, the voice box -

like a flute stop
in the broken windpipe -

and blew upon it
unexpectedly
his own ...


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