The subject that Seamus Heaney has treated, the redress of poetry, is not a new subject. The nature and purpose of poetry has been a subject of practical importance to every one who has an interest in poetry. Heaney builds different assumptions for the redress of poetry. The question is that whether, poetry is a useful activity in society; whether poetry is an aesthetic or a pragmatic work.
There have been a lot of discussions whether poets and poetry are of any use in the complexities and miseries of life or not some are of the view that the poets are worthless people and some condemned them as idle people. As plato is among the haters of poets and poetry. He had banished the poets from his ‘Republic’.
Aristotle was of the view that the poets are essential to keep balance in society and they took us towards the ideal. There were others also who kept defending poetry against all kinds of objections for instance, Sydney asserted that
‘The poet takes us to the ideal’. So did Shelley support poetry because poetry teaches the perfect. Oscar wild said that life should imitate art because art presents the perfect. Arnold went to the extent of saying that all that now goes in the name of religion or philosophy will be replaced by poetry. Sidney wrote in “Apology for Poetry” “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World”.
Heaney makes a fresh attempt to defend poetry in this age of science and technology when everyone Is becoming a utilitarian and even education has been commercialized. Poetry and Philosophy are now considered idle mental luxuries while commerce, computer and business administration have been given the name of education. Heaney starts his thesis by distinguishing two planes of existence. Here he quotes George Herbert’s poem ‘Pulley; which suggests that the mind and aspiration of the human beings turned towards the heavenly inspite of all the pleasures and penalties of being upon the earth. This can be done by poetic sixth sense which provides a passage from the domain of the matter of fact; into the domain of the imagination. Here Heaney also quotes the same explanation of religious experience by John Donne. Donne says God throws down in order to rise up. It s a religious paradox that sin brings man closer to God. This is how Heaney concludes that these paradoxes are captured only by poetry.
Heaney is of the opinion that the world of reality and the world of imagination are two different worlds but they depend upon each other and they reinforce each other and this is the subject of his poem “Squarings”. From this story, Heaney concludes that there are two worlds, our everyday world and the world of visionary crew. Heaney keeps moving between the world of fact and the world of imagination. He quotes from Pinskey to support his argument. Pinskey in “Responsibilites of The Poet” says that the poet has a responsibility to answer. He is to answer the question raised by life. Life raises questions and poet gives answers.
Seamus Heaney defends poetry on the ground of utility also. He says poetry focuses from delight to wisdom. He says the world of poetry is an answer to the world of fact. Life creates anxieties; Poetry tries to relieve them. Life disturbs but poetry consoles. It shows man the right path and poetry has a power of sustaining man in difficulties. These are the pragmatic advantages of poetry. Heaney also defends poetry on the level of its aesthetic utility. We get pleasure out of words. Man comes to wisdom through delight, not to delight through wisdom. Man studies poetry to amuse himself and to satisfy his soul but in this psychological state he gets wisdom as well. Thus, poetry is a pleasurable study of life.
Poetry can very pleasantly and easily explore the subjects which are generally denied by social, racial, sexual, and political prejudices and all this is done through the linguistic medium. But the poet has to take care that while discussing these issues poetry should not be sacrificed, Heaney says that the poets should not narrow down their scope by limiting poetry to certain dimensions of time and space. It should be free from any restriction. Some demand that the poets should write against the common trend to shock the minds of the people. They should write revolutionary poetry. But the impact of poetry is not practical, it is psychological. Poetry does not force man to go and fight. But poetry shows what is wrong and what is right. If poetry becomes practical, according to Heaney, it will not remain poetry, it will become a propaganda. It is not the nature of poetry. Heaney quotes Wallace Stevens in order to evaluate his argument. Wallace says! Poetry creates an alternative world to the world of fact. Poetry suggests what life ought to be. Poetry makes sketches and plans. It shows possibilities; it shows what is desirable.
Moreover, Poetry is about man. Poetry promotes, love of men. Poetry shows that all men are human beings and they deserve sympathy. But politics tells us that some people deserve sympathy and some deserve our wrath. Poetry speaks of love for all people: Politics forces people to kill other people. In fact politics divides men. If poetry becomes politics then it will not remain poetry, it will become a propaganda and in this way it will divide humanity into friends and foes. For instance, the Irish men who were killed in the rising of 1916 . But he is also sorry for the Englishmen who died in the fight. Talking about the humanitarian zeal of poetry. Heaney says, that zeals considers both enemies and friends as men. He does not discriminate between the Irish People and the English people. Both were fighting for their ideals. That is exactly what poetry conveys to us, everyman whether black or white; Irish or English has the same feeling, passions and blood.
Heaney raises an interesting point here which is also shared by Edward Said in “Culture and Imperialism” that the sensibility of the people of the colonies is coloured by the sensibility of the imperial masters. As the Irish condemn the English but they use the English medium. Imperialism has inculcated in their minds a culture that they tried to reject. But this is also a very healthy experience. The Irish hate the English, still they love Shakespeare and Keats.
To conclude, Heaney tries to demonstrate that poetry has a function in life, though not ostentatious. The poet does nothing on purpose, but poetry is a medium which by its very nature serves a purpose. This can be understood with reference to a statement by Wordsworth that his poetry has a purpose. It is not meaningless activity. But this purpose is not imposed upon poetry. Since Wordsworth lives a purposeful life, therefore what ever he does has a purpose in it. Heaney believes that poetry can not be subjected to any particular direction and nor limited to any certain aspect of society. He emphasises that poets should elevate their services on universal level and poetry should be above all racial, social and political prejudices. This is how he evaluates brighter sides and aspects of poetry in his essay ‘Redress of Poetry”