Seamus Heaney’s Selected Poems 1988-2013 commits itself to finding ornate detail in things commonly considered simple. While lots of poems translate something complicated into more easily digestible terms, Heaney’s collection turns the everyday into the ineffable. Objects like pitchforks, something that would elicit little poetic thought in most, are examined under an interesting lens and made to seem an incredibly special thing. Heaney writes of the pitchfork, “Of all implements, the pitchfork was the one/That came near to an imagined perfection” (12). I’ve never compared a pitchfork to perfection in my head, but it’s a thought provoking line, and also a sonically appealing one.
A poem later on speaks of lightning, deeming it a “Phenomenal instant when the spirit flares/With pure exhilaration before death” (35). Lightning may be a more likely candidate for poetry than a pitchfork, but all the same I found this description especially striking (Pun intended). Throughout this collection, Heaney’s language continually shines. Usually I’m desperate to find some sort of meaning in a poem but I was willing to put that hunt aside for Heaney’s work. I would often find myself caught up in the sounds, drifting pleasantly along without questioning very deeply. Phrases like “Hazel stealth” (36) didn’t necessarily make sense to me, but that didn’t stop them from sounding good.
Occasionally I did feel that Heaney’s work got a little too cryptic, but perhaps this is just my fault as a reader? I also felt that at points Heaney relies too heavily on quoting other poets such as Yeats. Sometimes he’d throw in such a good line by Yeats that I’d find myself thinking more of that singular line than the poetry of Heaney which surrounded it. However, these are both minor issues and didn’t detract from my appreciation of the overall work.
Heaney, in some sense, re-wired the way I read poetry. I took a trust fall into sheer sonic enjoyment as opposed to seeking out a solid narrative. It seems that every word is put in its proper place with great consideration. Though it’s easy to read, Heaney’s poetry doesn’t seem as if it was at all easy to write. I found this collection incredibly well written and greatly enjoyed it.