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This review is taken from PN Review 31, Volume 9 Number 5, May - June 1983.

QUICKENED INTO VERB Blake Morrison, Seamus Heaney (Methuen) £1.95
Tony Curtis (ed.), The Art of Seamus Heaney (Poetry Wales Press) £8.95

North very clearly brought to fulfilment an arc in Seamus Heaney's career. Its final poem, 'Exposure', left him uncertain, tentative, guiltily conscious that in defining a new stance he might be evading a more primary responsibility and, in doing so, failing to uncover, within himself, a potential hiding-place of power. The superb opening poem of Field Work, 'Oysters', apparently goes on from there to end in a willed turning outwards from the enclosing, static nouns of earth and myth and placename in which the earlier work has its genesis, towards a desire to be quickened 'all into verb, pure verb'. Blake Morrison's dutifully researched and often very helpful book seems to me to interpret this poem much too straightforwardly as a longing for an escape from the trammellings of historical awareness. The desire for the otherness of 'repose', of the clear light of the south and the uncluttered poetic imagination, is certainly present in the poem, but only, surely, to weigh in the balance with the inevitable guilt which would arise from such a turning outward and away. Heaney's poem knows radically that there is no innocent work; its angry resentment, which shatters the cool perfection of thatch and crockery, will not be eased by turning from noun to verb. One is not, after all, 'quickened' into repose; and the thrusting verb, quickened and lashing in resentment at the end of the poem, might be generated as attack on the 'brine-stung/Glut of privilege'.

Guilt and resentment about ...


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