Seamus Heaney

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Seamus Heaney

  1. 1. Seamus Heaney<br />1939-<br />
  2. 2. Biography<br />Roman Catholic in Protestant North Ireland<br />Seamus Heaney was born in Castledawson, County Derry, Northern Ireland, on April 13, 1939.<br />In 1963, he began teaching English at St. Joseph’s College in Belfast. He earned his teaching certificate in English at the same school.<br />In 1965, he married Marie Devlin, and in 1966, he published his first book, Death of a Naturalist.<br />In 1995, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature.<br />He has spent part of every year since 1981 teaching at Harvard University.<br />
  3. 3. Poetry<br />Poetry captures the colonial struggles of Ireland<br />Defining his relationship to his country and his people – an ongoing process…<br />Dilemma of cultural identity<br />Fascinated by history and its depth<br />explores what it is to be a human being during times of joy and times of struggle.<br />uses literary allusion throughout his poems, often alluding to Greek gods and figures<br />Many of Heaney’s poems serve as his way to discover his place as a writer in a world where physical action is the traditionally accepted symbol of strength. <br />
  4. 4. Punishment<br />Poem inspired by 1951 discovery of a young girl from late 1st century CE <br />Strongly influenced by P.V. Glob’s The Bog People<br />Irish bog as memory bank<br />The bog body has the “ability to compress time and to render the past visible in the present”<br />Girl appears to have been punished by Germanic peoples<br />Most likely drowned on purpose<br />mirrors what Tacitus reports was done to adulterous Germanic women<br />“Tribal” thinking vs. the public responsibility of the individual<br />Ethical responsibility in the face of political turmoil<br />
  5. 5. Punishment - Background<br />sequence of eight "bog poems“:<br />"The TollundMan“, "Nerthus”, “Come to the Bower”, "Bog Queen”, "The GrauballeMan”, "Punishment”, "Kinship”, "Strange Fruit”<br />read about the bodies in a work of archaeology, P.V. Glob's The Bog People, published in Danish in 1965 and translated into English in 1969. <br />moved by Glob's lyrical descriptions of the sometimes beautifully preserved Iron-Age bodies that turned up from time to time in the peat-bogs of Northwestern Europe<br />intrigued by the archaeologist's recourse to theories of ritual human sacrifice in order to explain their presence in the bogs.<br />“They are not skeletal remains; they have flesh on their bones and that flesh bears the marks of their living and their dying. They have hair and beard stubble and faces with expressions we think we recognize. They have stomachs that still contain the grains and seeds and plants they ate as their last meal. In a word, with their peculiar capacity to compress time, bog bodies …speak of a life anchored in an everyday that was then but is also now. To an extraordinary degree, bog bodies allow us to see time.” (Purdy 2002)<br />
  6. 6. Punishment – Close Reading<br />First stanza:<br />Speaker imagines the victim’s internal feelings<br />Second stanza:<br />External description<br />Both erotic to some extent and fragile<br />Next stanzas:<br />Continue the description with a mixture of empathy and pity<br />
  7. 7. Punishment – Close Reading<br />Stanza eight: the “twist”<br />“I almost love you/but would have cast, I know,/the stones of silence<br />Reference to New Testament John 8:7<br />“He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone”.<br />Implicates himself in the “metaphorical stoning” of the Belfast women<br />Tenth stanza:<br />Accuses himself more implicitly:<br />“I who have stood dumb/when your betraying sisters, cauled in tar, wept by the railings” (37-40).<br />
  8. 8. Punishment – Close Reading<br />Final Stanza: - pushes further<br />Previous stanzas – <br />the speaker feels guilty for condoning brutality through silence/passivity<br />Outwardly “coniving” in “civilized outrage”<br />Tacit approval?<br />Final lines: - suggest something more?<br />Guiltless endorsement?<br />Secret enjoyment of its cruelty?<br />Does this nullify the previous feelings of empathy and compassion?<br />Is it a perfect “balancing act” of emotion?<br />Note that the speaker separates his intellectual response from his emotional reaction<br />Does this absolve the speaker from blame?<br />
  9. 9. Punishment<br />Commentary on the IRA’s treatment of Irish Catholic women in Belfast accused of fraternizing with the enemy:<br />Shaving, tarring feathering<br />Relates the Iron Age act of “collective vengeance” to the Irish Nationalist community’s public humiliation of these women<br />Does it condone the IRA’s actions?<br />Does it exonerate sectarian violence in general?<br />
  10. 10. Punishment<br />Background:<br />Violence in Northern Ireland<br />Especially 1960s and 1970s<br />Brutal pagan rites in the Iron Age<br />Ritualized punishment for sexual and social transgression<br />
  11. 11. Punishment<br />poetic speaker feels the “tug”<br />Speaker can see her body drowned in bog<br />Notes her shaved head and blindfold<br />“little adultress” <br />Calls her a “poor scapegoat”<br />Imagines himself as the artful voyeur<br />references her betraying sisters today<br />Suggests these women could empathize<br />
  12. 12. Punishment – Broader Questions<br />What is the cultural function of ritualized violence?<br />Punishing a breach of social conduct<br />Consolidate the social group<br />Establish rules of conduct<br />Construct a shared identity<br />What are the implications of lumping the IRA’s actions into a larger anthropological framework?<br />Does it condone it as a comprehensible, or even natural occurrence?<br />
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  14. 14. Digging<br />How can the pen be used as a weapon?<br />“Gravelly” : may refer to the “One Crop Law” that was imposed on Ireland by England. <br />This law was later blamed for the famine that struck Ireland when the potato crop failed. <br />Heaney shows the ground as ‘grave like’ because it was the physical cause for the famine. <br />The soil retained too much water resulting in the potato crop rotting. <br />

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