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Seamus Heaney (Cobee) (Paper) [Paperback]

Helen Vendler
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Mar 2000
Join Professor Helen Vendler in her course lecture on the Yeats poem "Among School Children." View her insightful and passionate analysis along with a condensed reading and student comments on the course. Poet and critic are well met, as one of our best writers on poetry takes up one of the world's great poets. Where other books on the Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney have dwelt chiefly on the biographical, geographical, and political aspects of his writing, this book looks squarely and deeply at Heaney's poetry as art. A reading of the poet's development over the past thirty years, "Seamus Heaney" tells a story of poetic inventiveness, of ongoing experimentation in form and expression. It is an inspired and nuanced portrait of an Irish poet of public as well as private life, whose work has given voice to his troubled times. With characteristic discernment and eloquence, Helen Vendler traces Heaney's invention as it evolves from his beginnings in "Death of a Naturalist "(1966) through his most recent volume, "The Spirit Level "(1996). In sections entitled "Second Thoughts," she considers an often neglected but crucial part of Heaney's evolving talent: self-revision. Here we see how later poems return to the themes or genres of the earlier volumes, and reconceive them in light of the poet's later attitudes or techniques. Vendler surveys all of Heaney's efforts in the classical forms--genre scene, elegy, sonnet, parable, confessional poem, poem of perception--and brings to light his aesthetic and moral attitudes. Seamus Heaney's development as a poet is inextricably connected to the violent struggle that has racked Northern Ireland. Vendler shows how, from one volume to the next, Heaney has maintained vigilant attention toward finding a language for his time--"symbols adequate for our predicament," as he has said. The worldwide response to those discovered symbols suggests that their relevance extends far beyond this moment.

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Seamus Heaney (Cobee) (Paper) + Selected Poems of Seamus Heaney: York Notes for GCSE
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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (1 Mar 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674002059
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674002050
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13.9 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 719,768 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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[Helen Vendler's] reading of Heaney is a marvelously illuminating achievement Most magically of all, [this book] manages, while rejecting engagement on the 'thematic' level, to be constantly stimulating towards other readings while it entertains.--Bernard O'Donoghue "Essays in Criticism "

From the Back Cover

A dazzling assessment of the life and work of the poet and winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize for literature, by one of the finest literary critics now writing. Helen Vendler links the poet to his work and his poetry to two rich literary traditions, the English and the Irish. Seamus Heaney has grappled to find symbols adequate to the predicament of his Ulster background and create an ethical poetry that recognizes authentic human intensity wherever it occurs. Collections such as ' Death of a Salesman, Station Island' and most recently, the best-selling 'Spirit Level' document his lyrical mastery and moral rigour. This powerfully written critical biography is the first to illuminate both the art and the life of Heaney, the world’s most celebrated poet.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise and useful 11 Oct 2002
This is, I think, the best briefish discussion of Heaney's work available. (I also like Blake Morrison's, but that is currently out of print.) The opinions offered on the poems are sensible and supported by convincing reference; it deals with quite difficult issues, including other critical approaches, but is still accessible; and it deals very well with Heaney's tendency to revise his approach to some of his habitual themes. All in all, very useful, and I'm ordering it for my Advanced Higher class!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Invaluable 20 Oct 2009
I found this to be an intelligent, intuitive and highly sympathetic guide to Heaney's poetry. An excellent aid to study at all levels.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
By C. Scanlon - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great poet. 4 Oct 2013
By Opera lover - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This volume should be in every poetry lover's (digital) library. The Kindle edition is great because it allows me to easily access the poetry "on the go".
5.0 out of 5 stars ... careful and illuminating reading of the work of a great poet by a splendid critic 20 July 2014
By Jane D - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A careful and illuminating reading of the work of a great poet by a splendid critic, An important contribution.
11 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fumblin in Dublin 10 Feb 2004
By A Customer - Published on
In my humble opinion, this is a pretty dull book of criticism. Vendler's clear personal affection for Heaney--revealed by her familiar biographical detail and history teaching alongside the poet at Harvard--doesn't so much bias her critical approach as much as limit the reach of her inquiry.
She's made up her mind so neatly, boxed her topoi up so tightly, that these essays feel more like a hermetic prescription than a platform from which to launch interesting criticism and discourse. One gets the feeling that a critic with more distance from her subject might produce fresher, more engaging criticism.
Heaney's stunning work and Vendler's accomplished scholarship have both seen better settings.
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