Electric Light Paperback – 19 Mar 2001
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Seamus Heaney's 11th collection of poems, Electric Light continues his excavation of childhood, his vivifying love of nature and his quest into the meaning of poetry itself in an utterly pleasurable and satisfying way. As the poet squares up to his own mortality, many of the poems are dedicated to the memory of lost friends and poets, such as Joseph Brodsky, and yet the urgency and optimism of new birth is a lively and forceful presence in the book. "Bann Valley Eclogue" prophesises a time when "old markings / Will avail no more to keep east bank from west. / The valley will be washed like the new baby". In "Out of the Bag", the child narrator believes that the doctor brings the newborn from his lined bag. The doctor, "like a hypnotist unwinding us" is cloaked in luxury in his camel coat with its spaniel-coloured, fur-lined collar and like a god, he makes baby's bits appear "strung neatly from a line up near the ceiling--A toe, a foot and shin, an arm, a cock / A bit like the rosebud in his buttonhole". Childhood is an unfading, unfailing source in Heaney's work and is caught with a breathless vitality, that is both "earthed and heady". "The Real Names" revisits the schoolboys who played Shakespeare: Owen Kelly as "Sperrins Caliban" with "turnip fists" and "some junior-final day-boy" as Miranda. "Catatonic Bobby X" plays Feste, "With his curled-in shoulders and cabbage-water eyes / speechlessly rocking... Me in attendance, watching sorrow's elf / Bow his head and hunch and stay beyond us". This poem has the humour, exactness, scope and tenderness of Heaney at his best. His language is as muscular and inventive as ever. He subverts the verb "waver" into a noun in "Perch" and idiom meets innovation in words such as "rut-shuddery", "flood-slubs" and "adoze". His address achieves great inclusiveness, extending the local to the universal, invoking the people who first named his world, and granting them meaning and place in the wider one. He seeks to be surefooted, to reach a clarity of understanding, asking in the wonderfully satiric "Known World", "How does the real get into the made-up?" Once more, Heaney demonstrates with humility, grace and lightness how poetry can "hold / In the everything flows and steady go of the world". --Cherry Smyth
"Arguably the finest poet now writing in English."-James Shapiro, "The New York Times Book Review"See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
My favourite poems after this (first) reading are 'Lupins', 'Turpin Song', 'The Clothes Shrine', 'The Gealtacht', the wonderfully evocative 'The Real Names' and many of the poems in the second section, especially the last two: 'Seeing the Sick' about his father which ends 'His smile a summer half-door opening out/ And opening in. A reprieving light./ For which the tendered morphine had our thanks.' and the title poem 'Electric Light' which simply demands reading. Out of chaos, beauty 'The smashed thumb-mail/ Of that mangled thumb was puckered pearl,' This book is steady Heaney conducting word-alchemy in the light of his mind's eye.
One or two poems however mimic his early works very well; in the title poem "Electric Light" Heaney returns to his childhood and the wonder at first coming across the miracle of electricity. Although this may seem irrelevant from today's point of view, it had sharp consequences in rural Ireland's past, and is in a similar style to many of his older poems in the manner that he looks back to his childhood and his inability to comprehend the world around him.
Despite the requirement for an in-depth knowledge to fully appreciate some of the harder poems, especially those in the section where he writes tributes to 'lost' poets such as Ted Hughes, there is something here for every reader. This book is a great introduction to Heaney's work and after reading it you are likely to want to try some of his older collections.
With this books being concerned with, as everyone likes to say, flux, does raise some problems. I begins with a short semi-remembrance piece on Toombridge - the scene of soft " blasting vowel sounds" and this offers up the evocative image " the slime and silver of the fattened eel" A creature in an extreme state of flux - when out the water.
This is where any legitimate criticism can be aimmed. Heaney presents flux in correlation with his own life; School plays, his wife Marie in labour, expeditions with recently departed friends. Whilst this is an effective method of presenting flux in a discerning way, Heaney does not step outside himself, does not offer flux in the frission of verse, he rather ( skillfully) catalogues it. It transpires that great flux elludes here, merely the flux and transience of simple life is offset with things that remain. Perhaps this is more effective, after all a pure representation of flux may not have really been the singular aim here but the weighty final section of elegies does pound down heavily on a sense of movement - aside from the slow, brooding variety of mourning.Read more ›