Seamus Heaney


Seamus Heaney



I returned to a long strand,
The hammered shod of a bay,
And found only the secular
Powers of the Atlantic thundering.


I faced the unmagical

Invitations of Iceland,
The pathetic colonies
Of Greenland, and suddenly


Those fabulous raiders,
These lying in Orkney and Dublin
Measured against
Their long swords rusting,


Those in the solid
Belly of stone ships,
Those hacked and glinting
In the gravel of thawed streams


Were ocean-deafened voices
Warning me, lifted again
In violence and epiphany.


The longship's swimming tongue

Was buoyant with hindsight--
It said Thor's hammer swung
To geography and trade,
Thick-witted couplings and revenges,


The hatreds and behindbacks
Of the althing, lies and women,

Exhaustions nominated peace,
Memory incubating the spilled blood.


It said, 'Lie down
In the word-hoard, burrow
The coil and gleam
Of your furrowed brain.


Compose in darkness.
Expect aurora borealis
In the long foray
But no cascade of light.


Keep your eye clear
As the bleb of the icicle,

Trust the feel of what nubbed treasure
Your hands have known.'


Seamus Heaney was born in Northern Ireland, so he was affected by the violent disturbances in Ulster. This conflict still remains nowadays. Heaney´s poetry is very much influenced by this fact.

His poetry deals with the physical and rural contexts of his childhood. Those settings are transformed into a searching of the myths and the histories that have contributed to the violent political situation of Northern Ireland. (Wales, J.)

The situation of the country can be seen in the poem North. As the title says, it makes reference to Northern Ireland, but the poem is simply called North, in a way opposed to the south. This places one place separated from the other.

North is constituted by 4 quatrains, a tercet, a quintet and 3 quatrains more. It is written in first person, as a kind of dream, or a journey to the past.

In the first quatrain, he sets the scene. He says he is in a bay, in front of the Atlantic Ocean. So, he places his poem in his own country, it is an isolated place, as the solitude of the poet. He appears as the only character in the poem.

The second quatrain makes reference to Iceland and Greenland. These countries had certain influence on Ireland in the past. So the poet remembers ancient times.

In the third quatrain continues talking about ancient times, about important places for Irish culture.

In the fourth quatrain he continues with the physical description of the country. He describes the hard conditions of the island.

In the tercet, the natural conditions are also presented as difficult.

In the following stanzas, he starts talking about anger and revenge, and how these do not allow achieving peace. The memory of past wars is still very much present.

In the last quatrains, the poet gives a kind of conclusion. People must meditate about all those things.

The first and second quatrains he starts with the word I, this reinforces the idea that it is a kind of personal experience lived by the author. The word I is in both cases followed by a past tense, so it says that is a past experience.

                     I returned to a long strand, (L. 1)

                     I faced the unmagical (L. 5)

Also the third and fourth quatrains start with the same word, "those". In the third quatrain there is the contrast between those and these. This gives the idea of distance between now and those past times.

                     Those fabulous raiders, (L. 9)
                     These lying in Orkney and Dublin (L. 10)


                      Those in the solid (L.13)
                      Belly of stone ships,
                      Those hacked and glinting (L.15)
So in the poem “North”, the situation of Heaney´s country and his own ideas are very much present. But when we read the poem, we do not see directly what he thinks. He resorts to the past. He uses the device of returning to the past of his country, to make the reader remember things that maybe he has forgotten. He enumerates the characteristics of the country and what happened in the past. He describes how difficult the natural conditions
are. Then he presents his solution to the problem he is living. But he wants to solve the problem through the memory of the past.

Heaney makes reference to other cultures that dominated his own. As it is still dominated by England in the present moment. He is against this domination, he defends his own identity. At that moment, we see that the poet is proud of his own culture and of his own language. The country can learn from others, but it must not be dominated by them.

The solitude is an important thematic element in the poem. The poet appears alone. I is repeated to insist on this fact. This isolation is the same at the country. Northern Ireland is presented as a lonely place that has not been helped through history. This is a very important problem for the country.

Placing Northern Ireland in an isolated situation, he is in a way trying to say to his compatriots to unify and act together for the country’s sake.

But before any action, what he proposes is to sit down and think properly. At the end of the poem, we see more clearly his opinion about the situation of the country. He is in favour of independence, but he is against violence.

At the beginning he uses the pronoun I, but at the end he speaks to another person using imperatives.

                  It said, 'Lie down (l. 29)
                  In the word-hoard, burrow
                  The coil and gleam
                  Of your furrowed brain.


                  Keep your eye clear (L. 37)
                  As the bleb of the icicle,

                  Trust the feel of what nubbed treasure
                  Your hands have known.'

In these last stanzas, he speaks directly to another one. He advises someone to not just act in anger, but first to think.

So, the poem that starts looking at the past, ends giving a solution to the present problem. Heaney links the past with the present. He sees certain parallelism between these two periods of time that his country has lived. Therefore, in the poem he makes people return to the past to find the answers to the conflict.

Also the answer seems to be a bit passive, just thinking, it may be very active, because it can be the definitive solution.

Heaney expresses his own ideas in his poem, he expresses his nationalism, but without going against England. He defends the qualities that Northern Ireland has itself; these are able to make the country improve.






-         Wales, J. & Sanger, L. "Seamus Heaney." 15 abr 2006. Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. 25 abr 2006