In "Digging", the first poem in Opened Ground
, Heaney likens his pen to both spade and gun. With these metaphors in place, he makes clear his difficult poetic task: to delve into the past, both personal and historic, while remaining ever mindful of the potentially fatal power of language. Born and raised in Northern Ireland, where any hint of Gaelic tradition in one's speech was considered a political act, Heaney is all too aware of the dire consequences of speaking one's mind. Indeed, during times of crisis, he has been expected to appear on television and dispense political wisdom. Most often, however, he stays out of the fray and opts for a supreme sense of empathy to guide his words.
As excavator--of earth, of his beloved Gaelic, of his own life--Heaney is unmatched. In "Bone Dreams", the archaeologist's task is synonymous with reaching for a cultural past:
I push back
the erotic mayflowers
and the ivied Latins
to the scop's
twang, the iron
flash of consonants
cleaving the line.
And in early poems like "Blackberry Picking", Heaney's images--deftly, delightfully--carry us back to childhood fields:
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot Opened Ground
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full...
is a pleasure and a triumph. These three decades of work confirm Heaney as one of the most important poets of his time. --Martha Silano
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Opened Ground: Poems 1966-1996 by Seamus Heaney comes as close to being a 'Collected Poems' as its author - the Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet - cares to make it.