Seamus Heaney’s expertise lies in his ability to write not only using a diverse range of mediums, but also on a wide range of topics. His poetry is part autobiographical, part contextual, drawing on many different sources for inspiration. His ability to write of such diverse subjects, using various mediums, makes the above statement completely applicable to him.
Subjects Written About
Besides incidents from his own childhood and growing-up years, Heaney writes in various topics, drawing on historical, political and sometimes even mythological subjects. His series of bog poems, inspired by P. V. Glob’s book The Bog People, describes different people dug up from the bog, perfectly preserved for hundreds of years. Not only does Heaney describe these people, he often uses them as symbols to talk of Ireland’s past, and to offer solutions or explanations for its present. He brings the topic home, so to speak, tailoring his findings to his own view.
Heaney writes from a number of viewpoints—in his early poems he writes from the point of view of a small child, in poems like Death of a Naturalist and A Constable Calls. In later works he speaks from the wisdom of years, recounting his own experiences in poems such as Casting and Gathering and Wedding Day. Just as his childhood poems displayed a touch of naivete, wonder at a new world, and sometimes revulsion(at the sights of the “gross-bellied frogs”) or embarrassment (at the neighbours’ condolences on his brother’s funeral); the older Heaney wrote with cynicism and experience of the assumptions against Catholics in Ministry, and unnatural fear on his wedding day.
He also adopts viewpoints starkly different from his won. In The Wife’s Tale his narrator is a farmer’s wife, who describes her life amongst the farming community. In The Railway Children he takes on the role of small children awed by the power of knowledge and advanced technology.
Heaney is sometimes happy just to play the part of an observer. Poems such as An Ulster Twilight and The Other Side demonstrate this, as he writes of Protestant neighbours who show acts of kindness to Catholics.