"Old ploughsocks gorge the subsoil of each sense / And I am quickened with a redolence / Of the fundamental dark unblown rose." In the face of such mastery, we cannot comment or explicate, for fear of impertinence; we can only quote, and hope that something of the maker's joy communicates itself.
This was the third book of poetry that this reviewer purchased as a youth, the first two being Eliot's Four Quartets and Rimbaud's Illuminations. This book remains a favourite of ours, fifteen years after its purchase.
The Glanmore Sonnets occupy a central position in this slender but rich volume, as is fitting; it is perhaps Heaney's masterwork. The Elegy to Robert Lowell, the "welder of English" who composed "heart-hammering blank sonnets of love for Harriet and Lizzie" is also noteworthy.
There is much about the sectarian warfare of the troubled six counties of Northern Ireland, but like Dante (who appears via epigraph and translation in this book) Heane!y can transfigure the sins of his land into glorious language that is an exemplar of poetry's redemptive potentiality. "I think our very form is bound to change ... Unless forgiveness finds its nerve and voice."
There is much here about love, nuptial, natural, sexual. At the end of "The Guttural Muse," there is a couplet of exclusion from the joyful earthiness that the poet observes: "I felt like some old pike all badged with sores / Wanting to swim in touch with soft-mouthed life."
There is warfare and loss, violence and bliss, the joys of the flesh and the crucifixion of a country. But after reading the poems in FIELD WORK, the reader will doubtless share in Seamus Heaney's faith that "the end of art is peace."