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April 17, 2007


That concern with the "auditory imagination" weighted against the bardic sense of speaking on behalf of others. The individual talent vs tradition, a theme that Heaney interprets so differently from Eliot. Eliot retreats into his somewhat prim Anglo-Catholicism. Heaney nudges his way towards an open Zen-like delight in the contrariness of things. The same tussle with "responsibility" is there, but how different the results are from one poet to another.

You see what I love so about him?

Eliot, by the way, was my favorite poet in my teens, he and Yeats were. And I think their combined influence was what prepared me for Seamus Heaney.

I'm glad you, too, discovered those audio clips. Another, more recent, Heaney resource is this profile of him by the excellent Adam Kirsch: http://www.harvardmagazine.com/on-line/110639.html

"There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying."

Ouch. So beautiful. I really think Eliot initiated us into a new relationship with the simple powere of language. That it could be so spare, and yet so lyrical. There's not a single silver-dollar word in there. (Except "unpropitious" of course!)

You mentioned that before, Teju, about Eliot's "religion"--I was under the impression that he and Pound were very involved in Eastern "religion," and that he preserves the rich imagery of the Catholic tradition, but more as a pagan irony? Do dispel any myths, pls.

He migrated from an embrace of esoteric religions (In "the Wasteland") to high-church Anglicanism (it's evident in a lot of his late work, from "Ash Wednesday" to "Four Quartets.")

He was a religious poet, who also happened to be a spiritual one.

I like the spiritual aspect of him, but have (now) little patience for the religion.

A correction, courtesy of Teju: Seamus Heaney studied at Queen's in Belfast, and did not
approach Oxford until he was named Professor of Poetry there for the five-year term 1994-99.

I hope we three aren't the only ones who managed to stick this one out through all three parts, but I'm enjoying the discussion! One thing I'd like to explore is Eliot's spirituality; he is sometimes "appropriated" by Anglicans, but the poems aren't comforting expressions of faith and grace for the mass market. Well - there's a lot more to learn. Would anyone like to suggest a Heaney poem to read and talk about together?

I'm game--although I received so much criticism about imagery in my writing in workshop, I still stand by the belief that there is much to be gained from poetry--it does all the heavy lifting in writing.

I suggest we start with "Two Lorries."

He "migrated from an embrace of esoteric religions"? I'm not sure that Eliot "embraced" Buddhism (Stephen Spender said he "almost" became a Buddhist) but Eliot certainly studied both Pali and Sanskrit at university along with Buddhist philosophers. There's an interesting paper about this influence on his life and writing here and a thought-provoking analysis of his Four Quartets in the light of Buddhist teachings here.

I meant to post this here, but inadvertently posted it in the comments on part 2. I apologize to anyone who has already read it.

This is a great discussion! It has prompted me to recall an old documentary that I watched on PBS....maybe 15 or 20 years ago....about Elliot. The only concrete thing that I recall is that Elliot believed that after he wrote the Four Quartets he no longer needed to write poetry. I cannot remember why.

rr: I meant "embrace" in a loose sense. I don't think he ever converted.

Squid Sauce and Chopped Gobo

Hairy trees with beared boughs

Roaming the ailes in search of fish eyes.

Why do some lights cast point sources (images, shadows made of light) on the surface of the water and others are search lights bridging the gap from shore to shore.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.