Why has there been so much fuss about Seamus Heaney? His ‘poetry’, for the most part, neither scans nor rhymes. Even a resident of his home town of Bellaghy says that Heaney wrote poetry for analysis. In other words, it is often incomprehensible. There is an image or message in it somewhere, which, whilst it may have been clear in the mind of the writer, is by no means conveyed clearly to the reader. The over-egged Heaney hype should now be relegated to history and his poetic pretensions be seen in proper perspective.
As to the quality of the content of his poem ‘Digging’, which is among the top ten of his poems, it does not say much for the rest of them.
The best that the Dublin paper The Sunday Independent could come up with in its eulogy was a 21-line poem, ‘The Early Purges’, about the drowning of kittens, “the scraggy wee shits”. This really is the pits, and another example of erroneously esteemed poetry. Only occasionally is there clarity in his poetry, with an attempt to make a few lines rhyme here and there at random.
The Irish author and broadcaster Eamon Dunphy once described Seamus Heaney in 1995 as ‘mediocre’, and a ‘sham’. Now that comment, for which its author later apologised, may be going a bit too far. Heaney the poet was probably doing his level best, at a time when poetry was not uppermost in people’s minds, especially during the recent Troubles. When Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, Dunphy dismissed him as “a sham national poet deserving of real begrudgery”.
People often look for heroes and build them up as part of a cult following. However, we should not get carried away by Nobel Prize awards. There was, after all, the nine-day wonder of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded in 1976 to Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan. Whoever hears of them nowadays? Then there was the Nobel Peace Prize awarded in 1998 to the political has-been David Trimble. It took 95 years to build up the Ulster Unionist Party, and it took David Trimble and his followers just five years to wreck it.
Heaney’s name will be long forgotten after those of such illustrious Irish poets as William Butler Yeats, William Allingham, W. F. Marshall, Francis Ledwidge, C. S. Lewis, Patrick MacGill, Louis MacNeice, James Stephens and Oscar Wilde, to name but a few.Where, in reality, is the evidence that Seamus Heaney was the great poet that he was cracked up to be? It seems, by all accounts, that he was a great family man, a good friend, courteous, modest, decent, humble, kind, considerate, and a great Irish patriot. These fine attributes far outweigh any false considerations that he may have been a great poet.
Neil C Oliver, LL B