Poetry has always been a powerful medium throughout human history; even in this industrialised and mechanised age, poetry does have a function to play because where politics divides, poetry unites. Seamus Heaney in his essay “Redress of Poetry” defines the effectiveness and creative role of poetry in society. He disagrees with the idea of PLATO in ‘The Republic’ who regards poets as an idle creature Heaney defends poetry by explaining its functions in society. He also points of that the true art of poetry is above all prejudices ad worldly considerations. He says that art should not lose its effectiveness by representing Culture and Politics.
Seamus Heaney sustains very clear notions about art in general and poetry in particular. Coming from Irish background, he closely observed the relationship between art and politics. The first problem he faced due to the influence of politics was of language. English was regarded as the language of the enemy and English literature was unacceptable to Heaney’s countrymen was, therefore, an unpatriotic act.
Heaney began to feel that Irish patriotism, particularly the fanatic nationalism was poisonous rather than healthy. It only served to narrow down the Irish thinking. Irish language and tradition were a work of national identity but on the other hand were chains binding free thinking. The study of English literature, Heaney thought, exposed him to thought outside the Irish culture and enlarged his mind. Heaney’s poetry, therefore, looks within but also beyond the Irish.
Stevens and many others believe that poetry is not meant just for aesthetic satisfaction. Their view was that poetry cannot and should not be divorced from politics. Poetry must speak for those who have been suppressed; Who cannot speak for themselves. Poetry is the voice of redress Stevens disagrees with those who only emphasise the aesthetic and artistic value of poetry. According to this point, of view poetry creates a world of art as opposed to the world of reality. Heaney does not feel happy with this role of poetry. Poetry shall do more than just reflect.
Heaney evaluates the dangers of the influence of politics on poetry. He says that Politics damages the faculty of rationality, therefore, the poets cannot serve society with utility of poetry. He says 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 poets should write against the common trend to shock the minds of people. They should write revolutionary poetry. But the impact of poetry is not practical; it is psychological. Poetry does not forces man to go and fight. But the poetry shows that what is wrong and what is right. It is the most important function of poetry to create psychological effect rather than lead to violent practically. If poetry becomes practical, according to Heaney, it will not remain poetry, it will become propaganda.
Heaney explains that in time of practical tensions and national disaster, there was common trend of generalising and simplifying the situation in black and white. The real point is that a political situation is never too simple as to be labelled into opposite elements. Politics divides men, poetry promotes the love of men. Poetry shows that all men are human beings and they deserve sympathy. But politics tell us that some deserve our wrath. If poetry becomes politics then it will not remain poetry, it will divide humanity into friends and foes.
To evaluate the role of poetry in Political crises, Heaney quotes W.B Yeats, an Irish poet; who remembers the Irish men who were killed in the rising of 1916. But he is also sorry for the English men who died in the fight. Talking about the humanitarian zeal of poetry, Heaney says that Yeats considers both enemies and friends as men. He does not discriminate between the Irish People and the English people. Poetry conveys to us, everyman whether black or white Irish and English, has the same feelings, passions and blood. All should be regarded as equal and there should be no compromise on merit. In short, Poetry should not follow the force of gravity.
Regarding this role of poetry, Heaney quotes Simone Weil, who in her book, “Gravity and Grace”, writes that the function of poetry is to serve as a balancing force. In Politics we are always carried away by the force of gravity we always, try to side with the weak party. The point which poet wants to make is that it is not the function of poet and poetry to side with the weak party. The poet should go with the merit of the case. If the weak is wrong, then it is necessary not to support it rather it must be condemend. Poetry speaks the truth. It does not seek balance; Politics seeks balances. As poetry is not politics, it should not try to strike a balance; it should support where the truth lies.
Heaney neither rejects the influence of politics an poetry fully, nor accepts it totally. He seeks the ideal midway where poetry serves its role of entertainment and providing needed ideas for the betterment of humanity. To Heaney, poet is a universal figure. He is a member of a community but he is also a citizen of the world- a representative of humanity without regarding religious, sexual, regional and social differences. He considers poet an observer not a participant in political movement and an observer must not take sides.
Political and industrial influences have always been in the history of world; only 20thc is a little more prominent in this case; but the we have seen that even the present age does accommodates poetry because poetry is human and where there are humans (however industrialised, politicised and mechanised), there is poetry.