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The Living Stream

Warwick Gould

Essays in Memory of A. Norman Jeffares 1920-2005

Question Me Again: Reflections on W. B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney

Neil Corcoran

Texte intégral


1In 1967 Richard Ellmann, who had already written extensively on Yeats, published a book called Eminent Domain which, its subtitle tells us, is a study of Yeats ‘among’ a number of other writers, including Joyce, Eliot and Pound. It’s a book about literary interrelationship and influence, what most of us nowadays would probably call ‘intertextuality’. The metaphor of Ellmann’s title, drawn from the sovereignty of property rights, suggests the view of literary community which the book advances; and its opening paragraph tells us that ‘influence’ is a term which ‘conceals and mitigates the guilty acquisitiveness of talent’:

  • 1 Richard Ellmann, Eminent Domain: Yeats among Wilde, Joyce, Pound, Eliot, and Auden (Oxford: Oxford (...)

That writers flow into each other like waves, gently rather than tidally, is one of those decorous myths we impose upon a high-handed, even brutal procedure. The behaviour, while not invariably marked by bad temper, is less polite. Writers move upon other writers not as genial successors but as violent expropriators, knocking down established boundaries to seize by the force of youth, or of age, what they require. They do not borrow, they override.1

  • 2 T. S. Eliot, ‘Philip Massinger’, in Selected Essays, 2nd ed. (London: Faber and Faber, 1951), 205- (...)

2This may itself derive from T. S. Eliot’s well-known contention that ‘Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal’, even as it adds to it an apparent readiness to be impressed by the manners of the jungle.2 So Ellmann’s observation may be thought to practise what it preaches, by performing its own act of over-riding.

  • 3 Harold Bloom, Yeats (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970).

3Eminent Domain is cited in the preface to the book Harold Bloom published on Yeats in 1970, and Ellmann is one of its dedicatees.3 Bloom’s book is taken up largely with the poet not among his peers and successors but among his Romantic forerunners, notably Blake and Shelley. It was while writing this book that Bloom began to construct his theory of what he called, now famously, ‘the anxiety of influence’. Even though Bloom’s stated preoccupation is not with psyche but with pneuma—with the spirit of poetry that bloweth where it listeth—this is essentially Ellmann’s conception of writerly inter-relationship as a kind of ferocious rapacity, but now immensely and arcanely complicated. Bloom’s neo-Freudianism, as we know, reads literary history as Oedipal struggle and stress, a revisionary battle in which the successor poet accrues strength by contesting a precursor poet and swerving away from him according to what can be drawn as a ‘map of misreading’.

  • 4 See Neil Corcoran, English Poetry since 1940 (London: Longman, 1993), xv, and Naomi Segal, The Adu (...)
  • 5 Christopher Ricks, Allusion to the Poets (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 5-6.
  • 6 Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973) (...)

4This theory has of course been enormously influential, even among those who dislike what they perceive as its congruity with certain kinds of corporatist or masculinist competitiveness. I have referred to it myself as the ‘Promotions Board’ theory of poetry; and Naomi Segal speaks of Bloom’s ‘waste land of reading’—taking a kind of feminist issue with Bloom’s own issue with Eliot—in which ‘poetry is begot by a just war between fathers and sons, strength passed on by the resolute refusal to inherit meaning; these texts have no mothers and no sisters’.4 In his book on literary allusion Christopher Ricks has observed that ‘we are all both beneficiaries and victims’ of Bloom’s ‘energies’: ‘Beneficiaries, granted his passion, his learning, and his so giving salience to the impulse or spirit of allusion. Victims, because of his melodramatic sub-Freudian parricidal scenario, his sentimental discrediting of gratitude, and his explicit repudiation of all interest in allusion as a matter of the very words’—which appears to make it plain that Ricks is in fact antagonised by being Bloom’s victim far more than he is enticed by being his beneficiary.5 However, despite such objections, it is not hard to account for the success of Bloom’s theory. He is a busily efficient cartographer who does indeed provide a map of difficult terrain. Yet his efficiency is often apologetic, shadowed by a palpable and mitigating melancholy. In his most arresting work he makes one aware of the weighty personal sadness which attends, for him, the responsibility of bringing us the bad news that poetry is the sublimation of aggression. I think of this combination of efficiency and a melancholy rebuke to efficiency as a kind of Woody Allen effect, and a very potent one; and indeed, it is sometimes not without its rather lugubrious humour: as when, for instance, Bloom says of ‘The Witch of Atlas’ that Shelley had been reading far too much late Yeats when he wrote it.6

5It is of great interest, though, that Bloom’s theory was developed in relation to Yeats, a poet in whom violent acts of appropriation and contestation figure largely at the level of subject matter. There is his poetry of Anglo-Irish virtue and decay, in particular, poetry immersed in that late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century history of Ireland, where antagonism was not merely a literary trope but an all too literal revolutionary war of independence succeeded by an appallingly bitter civil war. This resulted in the creation of a political state which Yeats found increasingly antipathetic, even though it was generous, or pragmatic, enough to make him a senator in its parliament: his hostility provokes some of his most rancorous later works. But such antagonisms figure even in Yeats’s poems of love and sexuality—in those magnificent and terrifying poems ‘Solomon and the Witch’ and ‘Leda and the Swan’, for instance—as they do also in his speculations on the ‘gyres’ of human history. Yeats is the poet to go to, in other words, if you want a view of creativity as contestation.

6Perhaps because it was developed in relation to this particular, and peculiar, poet, the only thing wrong with Bloom’s theory, successful as it has been, is that it is not actually true—or at least, not universally true. It would be sentimental to think that there are not truths in it, to believe that poets move upon one another as harmonious reconcilers; but it’s a sort of inverted sentimentality to believe that it’s the sole or whole truth. I want to defend an alternative model of literary history, one I think appropriate to the relationship I am about to consider here, and one which also proposes that any purely psychoanalytic theory of literary history is likely to be deficient if it ignores, as Bloom’s almost entirely does, the category of history itself. In the relationship between Yeats and Heaney, poets of modern Ireland, that category is inescapable.


  • 7 Terence Brown, The Life of W. B. Yeats: A Critical Biography (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), 381.

7Terence Brown ends his excellent critical biography of Yeats with a chapter on his ‘afterlife’, an account of the various ways in which his work survives in the valley of others’ saying. He says there that Seamus Heaney ‘has engaged as critic with the poetic achievement of Yeats more fully than any other Irish poet since MacNeice’—who published the first full-length critical book on Yeats in 1941.7 In fact, Heaney’s writings on Yeats to date would almost make a book too—relatively slim, but intellectually substantial. These are also, in the main, instances of Heaney at his best as a critic. Elsewhere, on occasion, his critical prose can be prone to a certain reflexivity or even orotundity, in which the work in question is not so much analysed as celebrated or even flattered; but Yeats always proves much less compliant to such procedures, provoking Heaney into some of his most alert and challenged acts of attention.

  • 8 These essays are collected in Seamus Heaney, Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978 (London: Fab (...)
  • 9 Seamus Heaney, ‘A Tale of Two Islands: Reflections on the Irish Literary Revival’, in Irish Studie (...)
  • 10 Seamus Heaney, The Place of Writing (Atlanta: Scholars Press, [1988]), and Finders Keepers: Select (...)

8A collection of Heaney on Yeats would begin with two essays of 1978. One, ‘The Makings of a Music: Reflections on Wordsworth and Yeats’, sustains a contrast between the different kinds of poetry represented by the names of these two poets, a poetry of ‘surrender’ and a poetry of ‘discipline’—a contrast which, it may be, would not survive a confrontation with poems of Wordsworth’s different from those cited by Heaney. The other, ‘Yeats as an Example?’, adds a question mark to the title of an essay by W. H. Auden to suggest how deeply problematic a figure Yeats is for Heaney. ‘Yeats as an Example?’ is central to my sense of this relationship, and I shall return to it shortly.8 Other essays would include the uncollected ‘A Tale of Two Islands: Reflections on the Irish Literary Revival’, published in 1980, in which the Protestant Anglo-Irish Yeats is compared with the nineteenth-century Catholic apostate novelist William Carleton; and the comparison introduces the denominational element which even now bristles in some modern Irish literary and cultural criticism.9 Then there is an essay of 1988, ‘The Place of Writing: W. B. Yeats and Thoor Ballylee’, in which Heaney meditates on the various meanings of the Norman tower in the West of Ireland in which Yeats lived for a few years, and which he figured extensively in his poetry. The essay is one of three—the others are frequently allusive to Yeats too—which made a short book, also called The Place of Writing, published in the United States in 1988, excerpts from which were reprinted in the prose collection Finders Keepers in 2002.10

  • 11 Seamus Heaney, The Redress of Poetry (London: Faber and Faber, 1995), 160, 147.
  • 12 ‘William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)’, in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, ed. by Seamus Dea (...)
  • 13 Seamus Heaney, Opened Ground: Poems 1966-1996 (London: Faber and Faber, 1998), 445-67.
  • 14 Peter McDonald, ‘Faiths and Fidelities: Heaney and Longley in Mid-Career’, in Last Before America: (...)

9This putative collection of Heaney on Yeats would continue with an essay of 1990 called ‘Joy or Night’, which compares attitudes to death in Yeats and Philip Larkin, decisively favouring Yeats as ‘more vital and undaunted’, and proposing, in its affirmation of a persisting value in Romantic transcendence, that Larkin’s rejection of Yeats may have been ‘too long and too readily approved of ’.11 It would include the lengthy essay on Yeats for The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing in 1991, a revised version of which forms the introduction to the Faber selection of Yeats which Heaney published in 2000.12 And it would end with the Nobel Prize acceptance speech delivered in Stockholm in 1995 entitled ‘Crediting Poetry’, which he subsequently reprinted at the end of his not-quite-collected volume, Opened Ground: Poems 1966-1996, in 1998.13 An account of his own career as a poet in relation to the circumstances of Northern Ireland since 1969, this lecture is also much taken up with Yeats, that earlier Irish winner of this same prize—with Yeats’s own Nobel speech, and with some of the poems he wrote out of the political turmoil of Ireland in the 1920s. Peter McDonald has said that ‘this feels like the last word on a topic Heaney knows must now be dropped’; but it’s hard to agree that this must necessarily be so, given that Yeats remains the supreme model for poetic persistence into old age, and persistence in precisely the self-challenging or even (notably in the Crazy Jane poems) the self-deconstructive ways which may well compel a poet of Heaney’s restlessly, and long since provenly, protean kind.14

10Yeats has been, then, a constant presence in Heaney’s criticism since the late 1970s, and a central figure in his consideration of poetic influence. Auden, in his elegy for Yeats on his death in 1939, famously said that ‘The poet became his admirers’. One of the admirers Yeats has most crucially become is Seamus Heaney.


  • 15 Seamus Deane, Heroic Style: The Tradition of an Idea (Derry: Field Day Publications, 1984), reprin (...)
  • 16 Paul Muldoon, ‘Sweeney Peregrine’, London Review of Books, 1-14 November 1984, 20.
  • 17 Neil Corcoran, Poets of Modern Ireland: Text, Context, Intertext (Cardiff: University of Wales Pre (...)

11The strenuousness of Heaney’s ongoing engagement with Yeats is of keen interest not least because it sets him in the midst of one of the most fraught and contentious debates in recent Irish literary and cultural criticism. In this debate the voice of the critic Seamus Deane has been particularly penetrating, with its articulation of Yeats’s later career as an exercise in ‘the pathology of literary Unionism’, and with its inveighing against a criticism complaisantly tolerant of certain presumably Yeatsian formal procedures in contemporary Northern Irish poetry, in which ‘[t]he literature—autonomous, ordered— stands over against the political system in its savage disorder’.15 But it’s of keen interest also because Heaney’s place in contemporary Irish national life is of a kind that no Irish poet since Yeats has enjoyed, or endured. One consequence of this has been that, as early as the mid-1970s, Yeats was adduced in critical discussions of Heaney with the clear implication that he was to inherit the mantle. This must have been at least as daunting as it was encouraging; and it certainly put him in the way of the scepticism of his younger contemporary Paul Muldoon, who, in a prominently placed review of Station Island in 1984, said tartly that ‘a truly uninvited shade’ to the title poem’s purgatorial setting would advise this poet ‘that he should resist more firmly the idea that he must be the best Irish poet since Yeats, which arose from rather casual remarks by the power-crazed Robert Lowell and the craze-powered Clive James, who seem to have forgotten both MacNeice and Kavanagh’.16 That advice may not have been entirely innocent of this reviewer’s jostling at the time for his own place in the firmament, not least because it would be hard to credit that these power-crazed and craze-powered international luminaries would ever, in the first place, have remembered Patrick Kavanagh sufficiently to have forgotten him; and I have written elsewhere of the complexities of the Heaney-Muldoon entanglements, to which I do, in fact, find the Bloomian categories in some ways appropriate.17 But Muldoon’s review certainly makes it plain that the relationship between Heaney and Yeats which I am discussing here is an affair of peculiar delicacy, in which the bold but wary subtleties of Heaney’s negotiations over the years may have been almost matched by the subtleties of suspicious scrutiny to which they have been subjected.

  • 18 Rui Carvalho Homem, ‘On Elegies, Eclogues, Translations, Transfusions: An Interview with Seamus He (...)

12But I am interested here in the way Yeats figures in Heaney’s poems as well as in his critical prose. Any full treatment of this would prominently consider the sequence ‘Singing School’ in North in 1975, whose title derives from ‘Sailing to Byzantium’, and whose epigraphs set a quotation from the Autobiographies against another from Wordsworth’s Prelude in a way that makes, of itself, an ironic political point; and it would examine many other poems in that volume too. It would think about the poem ‘The Master’ in the sequence ‘Sweeney Redivivus’ in Station Island, published in 1984, where the anonymous figure of authority is dressed in very Yeatsian imagery; and it might think about that poem all the more because Heaney in fact identifies the master in an interview as the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz.18 It would consider the poem ‘A Peacock’s Feather’, published in The Haw Lantern in 1987, but punctiliously dated 1972—an extremely significant date in Irish history, about which I shall have more to say shortly. This is an apparently occasional poem written for the christening of a niece, but its ironically Marvellian octosyllabics offer a consideration of Anglo-Irish and class resentments in which prominent reference is made to Yeats’s poems of Coole Park, the Irish house owned by his patron, Lady Gregory. A full treatment of the topic would also examine the references to Yeats in the sequence ‘Squarings’, published in the volume Seeing Things in 1991, in some of which we would discover, I think, a poet learning from Yeats’s astonishing poem ‘The Cold Heaven’ one way of registering a religious sensibility without using the terms of religious orthodoxy. However, I want here to focus the relationship between Heaney and Yeats by bringing three texts together: the essay of Heaney’s to which I have already referred, ‘Yeats as an Example?’, written in 1978 and published in Preoccupations in 1980; Yeats’s poem ‘The Fisherman’, published in The Wild Swans at Coole in 1919; and Heaney’s poem ‘Casualty’, published in his volume Field Work exactly sixty years later, in 1979.


  • 19 Heaney, Preoccupations, 100.
  • 20 Ibid., 101.
  • 21 In fact, as Warwick Gould has demonstrated, the decision to place ‘Under Ben Bulben’ last was not (...)

13‘Yeats as an Example?’ is one of the most spirited of Heaney’s earlier essays, in which we witness his approach to another writer with the clear awareness that this is going to be a significant phase of self-development. The essay notices, as much criticism has, something cold, violent and implacable in Yeats’s art, and asks if this can be regarded as in any way exemplary. Heaney does admire, he tells us, what he calls Yeats’s ‘intransigence’, and admires too the way ‘his vision did not confine itself to rhetorics, but issued in actions’.19 He respects, that is to to say, the inextricability of the life and the work in this poet who nevertheless maintained a theory of their separation. He then offers a quite unpredictable reading of a couple of moments from the life. One is from the 1890s, in the first flush of Yeats’s enthusiasm for spiritualism, and the other from 1913, when he spoke in outrage against Irish middle-class philistinism. He did so on this occasion because Dublin Corporation had refused to fund a gallery for a collection of Impressionist paintings offered to the city by Lady Gregory’s nephew, Hugh Lane: this episode also lies behind such poems as ‘To a Wealthy Man’, ‘Paudeen’, and ‘September 1913’. Where others have found only Yeats’s silliness or snobbery in these episodes, and have ridiculed him, Heaney reads them as moments in which Yeats admirably ‘took on the world on his own terms, defined the areas where he would negotiate and where he would not’. Heaney assumes that ‘this peremptoriness, this apparent arrogance, is exemplary in an artist, that it is proper and even necessary for him to insist on his own language, his own vision, his own terms of reference’.20 Such admiration is in fact tempered in the essay as a whole by a concerted attempt to find in Yeats moments not peremptory or arrogant at all, but instinct with a kind of saving humanitarianism. The end of the essay, for instance, finds Yeats’s poem ‘Under Ben Bulben’ unfortunate, even ethically obnoxious, in itself—this is not hard to do—and particularly so as the intended final poem of his Poems. Heaney would, he says, ‘put a kinder poem last’—and he believes that he has found such a thing in the certainly superb ‘Cuchulain Comforted’.21

14But, to understand why, nevertheless, Heaney might approve of Yeatsian ‘arrogance’, I turn to the ‘image of Yeats’ which ‘the malicious eyes of George Moore cast into shape’. Heaney quotes extensively if selectively from Hail and Farewell, wondering as he does so whether ‘“maliciousness” is too severe an adjective’. ‘As soon as the applause died away’ after a lecture of Moore’s on the Impressionists,

  • 22 Quoted in Preoccupations, 106-07.

Yeats, who had lately returned to us from the States with a paunch, a huge stride, and an immense fur overcoat, rose to speak. We were surprised at the change in his appearance, and could hardly believe our ears when, instead of talking to us as he used to do about the old stories come down from generation to generation he began to thunder against the middle classes, stamping his feet, working himself into a temper, and all because the middle classes did not dip their hands into their pockets and give Lane the money he wanted for his exhibition. When he spoke the words, the middle classes, one would have thought that he was speaking against a personal foe, and we looked round asking each other with our eyes where on earth our Willie Yeats had picked up the strange belief that none but titled and carriage folk could appreciate pictures...
We have sacrificed our lives for art; but you, what have you done? What sacrifices have you made? he asked, and everybody began to search his memory for the sacrifices Yeats had made, asking himself in what prison Yeats had languished, what rags he had worn, what broken victuals he had eaten. As far as anybody could remember, he had always lived very comfortably, sitting down invariably to regular meals, and the old green cloak that was in keeping with his profession of romantic poet he had exchanged for the magnificent fur coat which distracted our attention from what he was saying, so opulently did it cover the back of the chair out of which he had risen...22

  • 23 George Moore, Hail and Farewell: Ave, Salve, Vale, ed. by Richard Cave (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smyt (...)
  • 24 Preoccupations, 108.

15This passage has the confidence, and perhaps the condescension, of Moore’s own certain knowledge that he is himself, as the scion of a (Catholic) Big House far grander than Lady Gregory’s, socially several cuts above ‘our Willie Yeats’. (Possibly because it would distract attention from his argument here, Heaney omits a sentence from the passage in which Moore makes the specifically directed social point: ‘And we asked ourselves why Willie Yeats should feel himself called upon to denounce his own class, millers and shipowners on one side, and on the other a portrait-painter of distinction’.)23 Nevertheless, the critique of Yeats’s aristocratic pretensions hits its target. Animated by animosity, Moore deflates Yeats in a rhetoric of bathos. And one might expect Seamus Heaney to have some sympathy with this, since he seems congenitally incapable of any such behaviour himself. He does of course note the ‘theatricality’ of Yeats’s performance, but he regards it as deliberate. Yeats is busy creating out of himself, he says, ‘a character who was almost as much a work of imagination’ as James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus. And, Heaney thinks, for the same reason: the exercise of intransigence is a protection, he says, of ‘his imaginative springs, so that the gift would survive’—by which he means, of course, the gift of poetry.24

  • 25 Ibid., 108-09.

16I suppose that most poets dread the departure of the gift. There are, after all, many precedents in literary history for that, including Wordsworth, who is probably, despite Heaney’s far more thoroughgoing critical engagement with Yeats, the most deeply informing presence in Heaney; and a lot is made in this essay of the fact that Yeats is particularly exemplary for a poet ‘approaching middle age’, as Heaney may well have considered himself in 1978, when he was nearing forty. Yeats is of course, paradigmatically, the post-Romantic poet who managed to go on writing and, indeed, produced some of his greatest work in, and about, old age. It’s in this context of writerly survival that Heaney then quotes the ending of ‘The Fisherman’ and comments: ‘The solitude, the will towards excellence, the courage, the self-conscious turning away from that in which he no longer believes, which is Dublin life, and turning towards that which he trusts, which is an image or dream—all the drama and integrity of . . . ‘The Fisherman’ depend to a large extent upon that other drama which George Moore so delightedly observed and reported’.25 The apparent silliness or snobbery of the behaviour, that is to say, is a way of making possible new developments in the art. The drama of the life and the drama of the art, which must superficially seem almost destabilisingly discontinuous, are in fact continuous at the deepest creative level.

17‘The Fisherman’ is written in iambic trimeters: three-stress lines, occasionally varied to two-stress ones by Yeats. The form is stately but also taut, even nervous. It seems to permit the possibility of a heightened tone while at the same time preventing any such thing from being too easily achieved; and this tonal hesitation is underlined by the irresolution of the poem’s pararhymes. In its first verse paragraph Yeats has disdained the urban middle classes—‘The craven man in his seat, | The insolent unreproved’—and then he turns to the West of Ireland fisherman of the poem’s title. Such a person must seem, on the face of it, an unlikely recipient of the work of William Butler Yeats but he is celebrated here as the work’s ideal, and ideally demanding, audience:

Maybe a twelvemonth since
Suddenly I began,
In scorn of this audience,
Imagining a man,
And his sun-freckled face,
And grey Connemara cloth,
Climbing up to a place
Where stone is dark under froth,
And the down-turn of his wrist
When the flies drop in the stream;
A man who does not exist,
A man who is but a dream;
And cried, ‘Before I am old
I shall have written him one
Poem maybe as cold
And passionate as the dawn’ (VP 348).


18What exercises Heaney throughout ‘Yeats as an Example?’ and what ‘The Fisherman’ explicitly considers too is the relationship between poet and audience. The questions raised by this encounter between one Irish poet and another concern the way a relationship with an audience may become a worrying element in the attempt to survive properly as a poet; the desirability of remaking yourself, at a point in your life when you have become a public person as well as a private poet, in order to resist certain expectations; the necessity of refusing certain kinds of invitation or co-option. Heaney’s poem ‘Casualty’, published in Field Work in 1979, just a year after this essay was written, makes it clear why such issues should be the focus of his attention when writing about Yeats in the 1970s; and the poem is in some significant ways the acknowledgement of debts.

  • 26 Opened Ground, 454-55.
  • 27 ‘Nobel Poet Discloses his Despair at Bloody Sunday’, Sunday Times, 2 February 1997, 3.

19‘Casualty’, one of several personal elegies in this volume, is Heaney’s sole poem ‘about’ Bloody Sunday, one of the crucially defining moments in the history of Northern Ireland since 1969. Heaney’s attitude to the killings then, and to the judgement of the Widgery tribunal which followed them, has never, I think, been much in doubt. My assumption is that he shares the view of Catholic nationalists, and others, that the finding represented a fundamental injustice, and his Nobel Prize speech is explicit about how ‘the “mere Irish” in oneself was appalled by the ruthlessness of the British Army on occasions like Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972’.26 He also published, for the first time, in the Sunday Times on 2 February 1997, to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the event, some of the lyrics of a broadside ballad called ‘The Road to Derry’, which he had written in 1972, to be sung by the Irish singer Luke Kelly of The Dubliners folk group.27 These read, in part, ‘In the dirt lay justice | Like an acorn in the winter | Till its oak would sprout in Derry | Where the thirteen men lay dead’—where the metaphor, drawing on the Irish etymology of the word ‘Derry’ (from ‘doire’, the oakwood), carries minatory implications of both resentment and the necessity for reparation. It is also not without relevance that it was later in 1972 that Heaney resigned from his lecturing job at Queen’s University in Belfast and moved with his family to the Republic. What bearing, if any, the events of Bloody Sunday and their aftermath had on this move I am not in a position to say, but it was the material of considerable media speculation at the time, and the figure of the poet as ‘inner emigré’ in ‘Exposure’ in North, published in 1975, may be thought to reflect this political and topographical move from North to South, just as one significance of the poem’s title is undoubtedly the media ‘exposure’ which accompanied it.

20Whatever the reactions of Heaney as a man and as the composer of a song lyric, however, his reactions as a poet are much more complex, and their complexity resides in, precisely, his sense of audience. ‘Casualty’ is, among other things, the register of that complexity. It is also, in a way insufficiently realised, I think, an affront to nationalist sentiment, since it is an elegy not for the thirteen dead of Bloody Sunday, but for one man, a fisherman, killed by the IRA in the reprisal bombing of a pub shortly afterwards: the word ‘Casualty’ of the poem’s title is the anonymising of this person in the usual neutrally exculpating way of the military, or paramilitary, strategist who also, of course, conventionally ‘regrets’ such casualties. That this is Heaney’s only explicit consideration of Bloody Sunday, and that he waited seven years before he published it is in itself very revealing, particularly when you remember that the much admired poet Thomas Kinsella published an outraged satire called Butcher’s Dozen within a week of the publication of the Widgery report. In concentrating on the individual death, Heaney is honouring, first of all, a personal rather than a political obligation: the poem seems initiated by the commemorative and preservative desire to give a character back to this man who would otherwise be only an anonymous statistic. This is, that is to say, a real as opposed to Yeats’s ideal, fisherman: he is ‘dole-kept’ indeed, even though ‘a natural for work’, because Northern Ireland in the 1970s had one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe.

  • 28 Blake Morrison, Seamus Heaney (London: Methuen, 1982), 79.
  • 29 ‘A Tale of Two Islands’, 11.

21There is no doubt that Heaney intends an allusion to Yeats’s poem, since not only do both involve fishermen, but they share a metre (the trimeter) and the subtle and tactical deployment of pararhyme, even though Heaney does vary the rhyme scheme itself. The connection between the two poems was pointed out, in fact, by Blake Morrison in the first critical book on Heaney, in which Yeats, along with Joyce, is read as a ‘governing spirit’ of the poem, although not much more than this is made of the relationship there.28 Heaney’s revision of Yeats’s ideal into a real man in a socially particularised Northern Ireland—rather than, as in Yeats, in an idealised Connemara—is managed deftly and uninsistently: but it carries a large cultural freight. Some of this is explicated in one of the critical essays I referred to earlier, ‘A Tale of Two Islands’, published in 1980. There, Yeats’s vision of the West and its noble peasantry and hard-riding country gentlemen is read as ‘not ennobling but disabling’.29 Yeats’s image of the fisherman is found to share with other such images and symbols in his work a mystificatory quality which offers the Irish a self-image that, if accepted, could only prove sentimentalising, nostalgic or fey, an image deriving from the cultural condescensions of a post-Arnoldian Celticity and a more recent Celtic Twilightery. That essay, and this element of the poem ‘Casualty’, are in complete harmony with the revisionist criticism of Yeats which has dominated the study of his work since the early 1970s.

22But there is also in the poem a vivid evocation of the amiably masculine relationship between fisherman and poet—an evocation that nevertheless includes a strong sense of constraint in a way that may critique, or may be allowed to critique, even as it evokes, the norms of Irish masculinity. Where Yeats’s fisherman—coldly isolated from all the appurtenances of modernity in an idealised, aristocratic West of Ireland—is unambiguously the poet’s ideal first audience, Heaney’s, the poet tells us, finds his ‘other life’—the life of poetry, that is—‘Incomprehensible’. Yet it’s the fisherman who raises the subject, seeking understanding, and the poet who refuses to pursue it, even if, understandably, ‘shy of condescension’—because to speak at all would be to speak about all they do not share. Arguably, however, this refusal is in fact the greater condescension, the commiting by silence or elision of precisely the offence which the poet claims to wish to avoid; and a readerly unease at this point matches the deep social unease which attends the encounter. The poet of ‘Casualty’ falters where the poet of ‘Digging’, the first poem in Heaney’s first book, bridges a comparable gap with the metaphor of the pen as spade, and does so with apparent confidence (‘I’ll dig with it’), but perhaps with a certain stridency that is itself a register of vulnerability. And when the word ‘educated’ does finally figure in ‘Casualty’, it does so almost as rebuke or taunt to, and certainly as challenge from, fisherman to poet: ‘Now you’re supposed to be | An educated man. | Puzzle me the right answer | To that one’. In subsequent poems of Heaney’s, such as ‘Casting and Gathering’ in Seeing Things (1991), as if in apology for such actual condescension, poetry and fishing are in fact soldered metaphorically together; and ‘The Daylight Art’ in The Haw Lantern (1987) runs a conceit on the conjunction when it figures ‘a natural gift’ for practising the art clos-est to one’s nature as

  • 30 Seamus Heaney, The Haw Lanthern (London: Faber and Faber, 1987), 9.

poetry, say, or fishing; whose nights are dreamless;
whose deep-sunk panoramas rise and pass
like daylight through the rod’s eye or the needle’s eye.30

23In ‘Casualty’ the question to which the fisherman asks the poet to ‘puzzle the answer’ is ‘How culpable was he | That last night when he broke | Our tribe’s complicity?’ and it occurs after the poem’s description of the funerals of the thirteen dead in its second section, where the fisherman’s refusal of ‘complicity’ is opposed by that peculiarly ambivalent imagery used of the mourners, the ‘swaddling band, | Lapping, tightening | Till we were braced and bound | Like brothers in a ring’. In fact, the word ‘braced’ does occur occasionally in Heaney’s prose, where it’s always a term of approbation. Here, however, when combined with ‘bound’ and ‘swaddling’, it suggests something both constricting and infantile in the kinds of complicity which the tribe may demand. The complexity of this poem’s sense of complicity is that it’s the fisherman’s refusal of it—specifically, his refusal to honour the IRA’s curfew, those ‘threats [that] were phoned’—that is paradoxically, but causally, both his freedom and his death: the fisherman has become the fish, ‘Swimming towards the lure | Of warm, lit-up places’ and, by doing so, has been lured to his death. And so the final part of the poem sets him as the object of this poet’s agonised self-enquiry, as it commemorates a shared moment—

that morning
When he took me in his boat,
The screw purling, turning
Indolent fathoms white,
I tasted freedom with him.
To get out early, haul
Steadily off the bottom,
Dispraise the catch, and smile
As you find a rhythm
Working you, slow mile by mile,
Into your proper haunt
Somewhere, well out, beyond...

  • 31 Heaney, Opened Ground, 157.

Dawn-sniffing revenant,
Plodder through midnight rain,
Question me again.31

24In this respect, however—and this is a kind of allusive irony in ‘Casualty’—this fisherman turns back into something much more like Yeats’s ideal. In his ghosthood, Heaney’s fisherman too is a man who does not exist, a man who is but a dream. And actually this staging of the encounter as a dialogue within the poem—which does not happen in Yeats—may represent a crossing of Yeats with Wordsworth, the poets also joined in ‘The Makings of a Music’, that essay of 1978 to which I have already referred. The moment is like the one in ‘Resolution and Independence’, for instance, where the poet says of the leech-gatherer that

  • 32 William Wordsworth, Poems, in Two Volumes, and Other Poems, 1800-1807, ed. by Jared Curtis (Ithaca (...)

...the whole Body of the man did seem
Like one whom I had met with in a dream;
Or like a Man from some far region sent,
To give me human strength, and strong admonishment.32

25No longer the socially realised character of his first appearance in the poem, but the symbolically challenging and questioning ‘revenant’, the fisherman cannot supply any actual answers, but only those the poet chooses to ventriloquise on his behalf and to draw from his example or admonishment: ‘How culpable was he | That last night when he broke | Our tribe’s complicity?’—where the word ‘tribe’, inflected with the demotic, also has the harshness of judgement.

  • 33 It is striking that the same imagery recurs in the penultimate poem, no. XLVII, of the ‘Squarings’ (...)

26I have just said that the fisherman ‘turns back’ into something more like Yeats’s fisherman; and in doing so, I am using the language of the poem itself, where the image of the turned back is prominent, and so too is an imagery of the specular. ‘Casualty’ is a poem preoccupied with watching, observing, seeing and being seen, and with how, in these processes of scrutiny, you might choose to turn, to turn your back, to turn back.33 It’s a poem, that is to say, about how a poet, or a poem, might discover his, or its, own appropriate or ‘proper’ audience—this dead fisherman—and might do so by resisting another audience’s—the ‘tribe’s’—expectations or assumptions. ‘Casualty’ is a refusal of instrumentality, an insistence on the virtue of reflection. Far from being what he has sometimes been accused of being—a poet who, whatever he says, says nothing—Heaney is here, schooled by the Yeatsian example in self-protective intransigence, insisting on the poet’s right to do otherwise. I think that one might assume behind the poem actual confrontations between poet and audience in Irish, and probably Irish-American, public spaces; and Heaney would have been newly returned from the United States in the mid-1970s, as Yeats was in Moore’s unflattering reminiscence. But rising through the mists of the ellipsis, or aposiopesis, of the ending of Heaney’s penultimate stanza—‘Somewhere, well out, beyond...’—we can also surely just about perceive some other Yeatsian questions, those which end his best-known poem of all, and one also written in iambic trime-ter, ‘Easter 1916’, that elegy for the dead, or the casualties, of an earlier phase of Irish political violence, which Yeats also waited some time—until 1920—to publish in its definitive form:

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name;
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born (VP 394).

  • 34 Life of W.B. Yeats, 275.

27Yeats’s poem, which, as I said earlier, is sometimes popularly read—or misread, or even unread—as though it approves or celebrates the tragic destiny of the fifteen executed leaders of the rebellion of 1916, a destiny in which banality and routine are transformed into the aesthetics of self-sacrificial tragic fulfilment, is in fact elaborately self-questioning: ‘when may it suffice?’ ‘What is it but nightfall?’ ‘Was it needless death after all?’ ‘What if excess of love | Bewildered them till they died?’ These naggingly insistent anxieties undermine the magisterial balladic inevitabilty of the refrain, with its apparent assurance about transformative historical and political metamorphosis. That the poem is the place for such self-questioning, a self-questioning which is that of the individual poet first of all, certainly, but which might also be that of a culture, a community or even a ‘tribe’ too, is a lesson which ‘Casualty’ may well have inherited from ‘Easter 1916’—even if, as Terence Brown has pointed out, when Yeats did finally publish the poem, on 23 October 1920, in the London-published journal The New Statesman, the lines ‘For England may keep faith | For all that is done and said’ would have sounded out with ‘corrosive irony’ in the context of the contemporary war of independence.34

  • 35 Seamus Heaney, The Government of the Tongue: The 1986 T. S. Eliot Memorial Lectures and Other Crit (...)

28But if, in the end, it’s Yeats who is looking at Heaney in ‘Casualty’, and the ghosts of Yeats’s metres and rhetorical inflections which haunt Heaney’s, the ethic of ‘Casualty’ is in fact the emulation not of Yeatsian arrogance or intransigence, such as Heaney found in the performing self of George Moore’s anecdote, but rather of the urge to decison, singularity, authoritative independence. The mood of this in Yeats’s ‘The Fisherman’ is passionately indicative and promissory, voicing itself in a cry; in Heaney it’s still mutedly interrogative, although the poem’s final use of the verb ‘Question’ is itself voiced in the imperative. The result is that ‘Casualty’ could never be accused, as Kinsella’s Butcher’s Dozen—however justified its anger— perhaps could, of being itself complicit with military action or reaction. The poem’s ellipsis and its self-questionings are a deeply meditated and a profoundly considered stepping to one side of the ethic of revenge. Even so, the questions about poetic responsibility in relation to public atrocity which are raised here, in the context of Bloody Sunday, with a painful, even piercing, intensity remain unanswered in the poem, only to be raised again and again in the work of this much-haunted and endlessly self-questioning poet. The encounter with Yeats in ‘Casualty’ and the formal indebtedness that it manifests also surely mark a crucial stage in the creative processes which inspire and then underwrite some of the theoretical formulations of Heaney’s critical prose, with, first, its rather forbiddingly forensic concept of the ‘jurisdiction of achieved form’ in The Government of the Tongue (1988) and then with the more benignly humane concept of poetry’s ‘redress’, a ‘total adequacy’ that will prove ‘strong enough to help’ in The Redress of Poetry (1995).35


29What does the relationship between Yeats and Heaney tell us, then, about the nature of poetic inheritance; what does it say about the way literary history happens and can be described? Certainly Heaney, pace Harold Bloom, revises Yeats in this encounter by, as it were, putting ‘a kinder poem last’, since ‘Casualty’ is ‘kinder’ than ‘The Fisherman’, more obviously humanitarian in its emphases and empathies, even if it needs the supreme assurance of that coldly passionate ‘precursor poem’ to come into being. It could be, of course, that Heaney has to misread Yeats as kinder than he is in order to read him at all, has to transform him into a poet more manageably like himself. But an adjustment in the direction of kindness is hardly what Bloom has in mind, or would permit, in his theory of misprision. I hope that I have shown too, though, that Heaney means it, and means it deeply in relation to his own practice, when he admires Yeats’s intransigence: and this is reading, not misreading. Sometimes too, reading Bloom, you can feel that the contest between poets is conducted at an extraordinarily remote level of abstraction that does not leave much scope for the consideration of something essential in the relationship I have discussed here: poetic form. ‘Casualty’ is initiated by what it calls, self-referentially, ‘finding a rhythm’, and the rhythm is, characteristically, although not exclusively, Yeats’s, just as the poem’s progress is towards the realisation of a quasi-Yeatsian figure. ‘Casualty’, in my view, does a richly inventive and surprising thing with this rhythm and this figure. Behaving like this, Heaney is, arguably, following that famous, magisterially arrogant instruction that Yeats gave his contemporaries in ‘Under Ben Bulben’:

Irish poets, learn your trade,
Sing whatever is well made,
Scorn the sort now growing up
All out of shape from toe to top (VP 639)

  • 36 Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, II, 790. In a study of the influence of Yeats’s stanzaic poe (...)

30But if he follows the instruction, it is in no spirit of aridly prescriptive formalism, but in the art and scope of his recognition, made in the teeth of certain antagonisms both political and literary-theoretical, that ‘Yeats’s essential gift is his ability . . . to make a vaulted space in language through the firmness, in-placeness and undislodgeableness of stanzaic form’.36

  • 37 Fiona Stafford, Starting Lines in Scottish, Irish, and English Poetry: From Burns to Heaney (Oxfor (...)
  • 38 Julia Kristeva, ‘Revolution in Poetic Language’ (1974) in The Kristeva Reader. ed. by Toril Moi (O (...)

31‘Casualty’ suggests powerfully that the relationship between successor poets need not be, or need not be only, a matter of contestation. It may also be a difficult education in the exemplary, and an education found where you might least expect it: in Yeats, a haughty Anglo-Irish Protestant kow-towing to the aristocracy and sometimes venting anti-Catholic spleen, for instance, when you are Heaney, an apparently genial Northern Irish Catholic from a farming background who was subjected in youth to some of the political results of the venting of anti-Catholic spleen. Form, which involves inter-relationship as well as self-limitation, is a kind of society; and, if you are an exceptional poet, it’s where you encounter the only true society of your peers, your only true first audience. As in all well regulated societies, contractual relationships of obligation, indebtedness and responsibility obtain. But so too, and at the most intimate level, do relationships of challenge, inquiry, scrutiny and self-advancement. Relationships between poets, that is to say, may be corroborative as well as competitive, but only when they are bravely entered into; and this is a conclusion also reached by Fiona Stafford, as part of an argument against the singularity or monodrama of Bloom’s view of poetic influence, in her book Starting Lines in Scottish, Irish, and English Poetry, where, in her reading of one of the ‘Squarings’ poems in Seeing Things, she derives the word ‘corroborative’ from Heaney himself.36 Formal indebtedness of the kind I have been considering here is something substantively, and ethically, distinct from intertextuality. In Julia Kristeva, in fact, the theorist who first, in her readings of Bakhtin, gave the term currency, intertextuality has nothing whatever to do with human agency, with intersubjectivity, but with the ‘transposition of one (or several) sign-system(s) into another’: the use of the term ‘intertextuality’ to denote the ‘study of sources’ is, she says, ‘banal’.37 It’s far too late now in literary history and criticism to avoid that banality, and in any case I hope that what I have offered here has been something more complex in its poetics, ethics and politics than the de-haut-en bas Kristevan phrase ‘study of sources’, which seems intended as a slur, might suggest. In my view, to attempt an engagement with form, to show how and why particular forms both derive from, and meet, specific contingencies, necessarily involves criticism in the processes of agency, and not only the agency of the individual poet, but the agency also of historical and political circumstance.38

32In any such consideration, questions of value also matter. Heaney is braced but not bound by the Yeatsian heritage, difficult as that is to approach and assimilate, and in this he differs from many lesser poets. ‘Casualty’ is not so much a ‘map of misreading’ as the graph of a brave engagement with the best that is itself one of the signatures of the newly excellent. This engagement is figured explicitly in one of the ‘Squarings’ poems of Seeing Things, poem xxii of the sub-sequence ‘Settings’. This ends with a reference to Yeats as, here, himself the revenant, now become the object of the poet’s questions. These have their gnomic or riddling element, but they are clearly to do with the co-habitation between what the poem calls ‘spirit’, which is a substantial word in Yeats, and what it calls ‘perfected form’. ‘Spirit’ I take to be what it is traditionally, the animating principle, cognate with the more explicitly religious term ‘soul’, which is a word the poem also risks. And ‘perfected form’ is, I think, the initially daunting architecture of the Yeatsian poem, or poetic sequence (that very Yeatsian genre). The imagery of this ‘Squarings’ poem, with its birds, its dawn cold, its stone tower, its Big House statuary and horticulture, is all Yeatsian. The questions it ends with are those of a Seamus Heaney who, even if now undaunted, turns aside, in the parenthesis of the final line, with what I take to be a wry, even embarrassed, but saving, moue at this act of his own presumption— the poet suddenly become examiner of the schoolboy Yeats, asking impossibly large questions which, if they can be answered at all, can be answered only by the next, and then the next, and then, again, the next poem:

How habitable is perfected form?
And how inhabited the windy light?

  • 39 Seeing Things, 78.

What’s the use of a held note or held line
That cannot be assailed for reassurance?
(Set questions for the ghost of W.B.)39


1 Richard Ellmann, Eminent Domain: Yeats among Wilde, Joyce, Pound, Eliot, and Auden (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), 3.

2 T. S. Eliot, ‘Philip Massinger’, in Selected Essays, 2nd ed. (London: Faber and Faber, 1951), 205-20 at 206.

3 Harold Bloom, Yeats (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970).

4 See Neil Corcoran, English Poetry since 1940 (London: Longman, 1993), xv, and Naomi Segal, The Adulteress’s Child: Authorship and Desire in the Nineteenth-Century Novel (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992), 11.

5 Christopher Ricks, Allusion to the Poets (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 5-6.

6 Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973), 153.

7 Terence Brown, The Life of W. B. Yeats: A Critical Biography (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), 381.

8 These essays are collected in Seamus Heaney, Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978 (London: Faber and Faber, 1980).

9 Seamus Heaney, ‘A Tale of Two Islands: Reflections on the Irish Literary Revival’, in Irish Studies, 1, ed. by P. J. Drudy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 1-20.

10 Seamus Heaney, The Place of Writing (Atlanta: Scholars Press, [1988]), and Finders Keepers: Selected Prose 1971-2001 (London: Faber and Faber, 2002).

11 Seamus Heaney, The Redress of Poetry (London: Faber and Faber, 1995), 160, 147.

12 ‘William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)’, in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, ed. by Seamus Deane (Derry: Field Day Publications, 1991), II, 783-90, and Introduction to W.B.Yeats: Poems selected by Seamus Heaney (London: Faber and Faber, 2000).

13 Seamus Heaney, Opened Ground: Poems 1966-1996 (London: Faber and Faber, 1998), 445-67.

14 Peter McDonald, ‘Faiths and Fidelities: Heaney and Longley in Mid-Career’, in Last Before America: Irish and American Writing: Essays in Honour of Michael Allen, ed. by Fran Brearton and Eamonn Hughes (Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 2001), 15.

15 Seamus Deane, Heroic Style: The Tradition of an Idea (Derry: Field Day Publications, 1984), reprinted in Ireland’s Field Day (London: Hutchinson, 1985), 50; and General Introduction to The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, I, xxvi.

16 Paul Muldoon, ‘Sweeney Peregrine’, London Review of Books, 1-14 November 1984, 20.

17 Neil Corcoran, Poets of Modern Ireland: Text, Context, Intertext (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1999), 121-36.

18 Rui Carvalho Homem, ‘On Elegies, Eclogues, Translations, Transfusions: An Interview with Seamus Heaney’, The European English Messenger, 10.2 (2001), 30. (‘But “The Master” is specifically about meeting with my hero, Czeslaw Milosz. Many people think it’s about Yeats because it’s set in a tower and so on’.)

19 Heaney, Preoccupations, 100.

20 Ibid., 101.

21 In fact, as Warwick Gould has demonstrated, the decision to place ‘Under Ben Bulben’ last was not Yeats’s but George Yeats’s after his death. For the details of the arrangement and ordering of the poems, see Warwick Gould, ‘W. B. Yeats and the Resurrection of the Author’, The Library, 7th ser., XVI (1994), 101-34. I am very grateful to Professor Gould for bringing this article to my attention.

22 Quoted in Preoccupations, 106-07.

23 George Moore, Hail and Farewell: Ave, Salve, Vale, ed. by Richard Cave (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1976), 540. This edition contains the text of the revised edition from 1933.

24 Preoccupations, 108.

25 Ibid., 108-09.

26 Opened Ground, 454-55.

27 ‘Nobel Poet Discloses his Despair at Bloody Sunday’, Sunday Times, 2 February 1997, 3.

28 Blake Morrison, Seamus Heaney (London: Methuen, 1982), 79.

29 ‘A Tale of Two Islands’, 11.

30 Seamus Heaney, The Haw Lanthern (London: Faber and Faber, 1987), 9.

31 Heaney, Opened Ground, 157.

32 William Wordsworth, Poems, in Two Volumes, and Other Poems, 1800-1807, ed. by Jared Curtis (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), 128. I am grateful for this point to Paul Muldoon.

33 It is striking that the same imagery recurs in the penultimate poem, no. XLVII, of the ‘Squarings’ sequence in Seeing Things, which figures potential and fulfilment—in life, or in poetry—as the sensing of things in an ‘offing’: ‘The emptier it stood, the more compelled | The eye that scanned it. | But once you turned your back on it, your back | Was suddenly all eyes like Argus’s’, Seeing Things (London: Faber and Faber, 1991), 107.

34 Life of W.B. Yeats, 275.

35 Seamus Heaney, The Government of the Tongue: The 1986 T. S. Eliot Memorial Lectures and Other Critical Writings (London: Faber and Faber, 1988), 92; and The Redress of Poetry: Oxford Lectures (London: Faber and Faber, 1995), 8-9. The phrase ‘strong enough to help’ is quoted from George Seferis.

36 Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, II, 790. In a study of the influence of Yeats’s stanzaic poems on contemporary Northern Irish poetry Peter McDonald also emphasises the resourcefulness with which these poets adapt or accommodate the Yeatsian structures: Heaney, Derek Mahon, Michael Longley and Paul Muldoon, he says, ‘offer a use of Yeats’s forms which is something other than either ideological grudge or formalist imitation’. See Serious Poetry: Form and Authority from Yeats to Hill (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2002), 166.

37 Fiona Stafford, Starting Lines in Scottish, Irish, and English Poetry: From Burns to Heaney (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 294, where she quotes from Heaney’s Foreword to Lifelines: An Anthology of Poems Chosen by Famous People, ed. by Niall Macmonagle (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993).

38 Julia Kristeva, ‘Revolution in Poetic Language’ (1974) in The Kristeva Reader. ed. by Toril Moi (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), 89-136 (111). She has in mind the way the sign-system of the novel, for instance, is formed ‘as the redistribution of several different sign-systems: carnival, courtly poetry, scholastic discourse’.

39 Seeing Things, 78.