I can make no sense at all of the other review of this excellent product, which gives it few stars, anonymously.
This under two hundred page study by one of our best students and teachers of poetry today, Helen Vendler opens immediately even my hardened heart and thick mind to every aspect of Mr. Heaney's art, up to the date of its pblication ten years ago. Unfortunately it also quickly and uncontrollably opened up my bank account to the many Heaney treasures hidden on the broad deep amazon, inclduing his collection of prose works and criticism entitled Finders Keepers: Selected Prose 1971-2001 which includes some pieces of other published lectures and essays on the art and science of crafting poetry. I also quickly acquired The Government of the Tongue: Selected Prose, 1978-1987 and The Redress of Poetry, and hope to find Crediting Poetry: The Nobel Lecture, his 1995 speech upon receiving the Nobel prize. Also through my shopping cart passed a pre-order of his interviews now being released entitled Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney in honor of an earlier collection of his poetry and his vision of his poems acting as stepping stones along a crossing towards a truth. Under audiobooks I was able to locate here his Station Island, read by Seamus Heaney but put it in a wishlist, as well as Stepping Stones (Audio, Faber), and The Spirit Level. I would love to learn more of the inviting The Poet and the Piper as my eyes grow dim now with age. It sounds wonderful.
Reading Vendler on Heaney therefore, this opening of this slender volume, opened to me not the rush of evil from a Pandora's Box but a hidden, buried treasure chest full of bright and brilliant jewels, whose great and pricesless value Vendler makes clear to us, even to me. Vendler is the best equipped for this task, having written among other things the essential The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets and the great Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form along with two other studies of this great Irish poet who so influenced and informed Heaney himself.
Vendler is also well known for her several other works, including Coming of Age as a Poet: Milton, Keats, Eliot, Plath and her long studies of Wallace Stevens and so many other great poets. Her academic credentials are impeccable, which is why the other review here reads so oddly. She is also familiar from her regular poetry reviews in many major literary magazines, inclduing the New York Times books supplement, the New York Review of Books, etc., etc. I am grateful to her, deeply for opening Shakespeare's sonnets to me, and Yeats, a formidable poet to read. She makes everything gently at home, while opening all the profundity and art of their works.
And so here as well. You will no better overview and no more comprehensive examination of the often difficult (to the casual reader, see the reviews elsewhere) Heaney. My only request is the impossible, that it be updated to include his great work of the past ten years including the unmatchable translation of Beowulf: A New Verse Translation (Bilingual Edition) and his own very dry reading of his work in Beowulf: A New Translation [Audiobook].
I cannot in any justice draw from these rich waters of Vendler's study without doing it damage. Read it please whole cloth, and resist coyly the irresistable rush to acquire all that you can of Seamus Heaney, this great Catholic and Irish author. Nevertheless, we read on page 4: "The purpose of this book is to explain, as much to myself as to others, the power of his extraordinary poetry." On tis same page Professor Vendler goes on to apologize: "I cannot - for reasons of space - treat influence here, but Heaney is among the most learned of contemporary poetes, and has brought together influences not often found conjoined in creating his own unmistable style." Unfortunately one ardently wishes all space had been provided Professor Vendler for that greater study written in her clear and accessible yet comprehensive style.
Mentioning how well received his woprk has been, Vendler writes: "I want here chiefly to show by what imaginative, structural and stylistic means Heaney raises his subjects to a plane that compels such worldwide admiration (p.6)." The good professor proceeds therefore to guide us through the artist's atelier, showing us his powerful tools and their use, deeply all within these too brief pages.
Perhaps this how-he-does-it book will not turn you as well into another Seamus Heaney, but it should provide you the tools to explore your own subjects, feelings, forms and lyrical lexicon, to build your own steppingstones upon our lonesome voyage, and to advance. Vendler quotes Heaney's reflection upon how to do poetry in part thus:
"Technique, as I would define it, involves not only a poet's way with words, his management of metre, rhythm and verbal texture; it involves also a definition of his stance towards life . . . (p. 8)."
We find thus nearly a theological and hermeneutical approach to the reading and writing of poetry: "Each successful poem (writes Vendler on page seven) presents itself as a unique experience. The experiment of one can never be repeated in another; each, as Keats said in an 1818 letter to his publisher John Taylor, a 'a regular stepping of the Imagination toward a Truth.' Keat's use of the indfeinite article - 'a Truth' - indicates the provisional nature of all lyric compositions. Each poem says, 'Viewed form this angle, at this moment, in this year, with this focus, the subject appears to me in this light, and my responses to it spring from this set of feelings.' Since no lyric can be equal to the whole complexity of private and public life at any given moment, lyrics are not to be read as position papers."
The same must be said of any of our Theological Truths and their human expression, which is why we find in ancient Ireland the poet considered a holy man of deep widom and great learning.
Please use this humble book as a stepping stone towards the truth of this great, wise and learned Irishman, Seamus Heaney. Just hang on to your pocketbook! In any case the investment in his work as in Vendler's is very well rewarded indeed and in Truth.