Day Two Hundred and Forty Nine: Head North

Someone recently recommended Seamus Heaney’s “North” to me and I actually managed to get my hands on a copy from the uni library a few days ago.

This is some of his earlier work – I believe it was published in 1975 – and really reflects his exploration of the relationship between politics and art, and the revolutionary and the artist.

The book itself was written during The Troubles, and is really about what was taking place in Ireland at the time. The second part of the collection is much more obviously focused on the political struggles of the era.

From this piece of work I think it’s pretty easy to see why he would later go onto one a Nobel Prize. He has a wonderful way with language, and the strength of his imagery is staggering.

A true titan.

I’ve only read through the collection once, but one thing that immediately jumped out at me was the continual use and reference too Scandinavia in the first part. In that way, it is aptly titled. Similarly, as the second part is more literal in the way it talks about the Troubles, North is possible a reference to Northern Ireland too.

Summer 1969
by Seamus Heaney

When the Constabulary covered the mob
Firing into the Falls, I was suffering
Only the bullying sun of Madrid.
Each afternoon, in the casserole heat
Of the flat, as I sweated my way through
The life of Joyce, stinks from the fishmarket
Rose like the reek off a flax-dam.
At night on the balcony, gules of wine,
A sense of children in their dark corners,
Old women in black shawls near open windows,
The air a canyon rivering in Spanish.
We talked our way home over starlight plains
Where patent leather of the Guardia Civil
Gleamed like fish-bellies in flax-poisoned waters.

“Go back”, one said, try to touch the people.”
Another conjured Lorca from his hill.
We sat through death counts and bullfight reports
On the television, celebrities
Arrived from where the real thing still happened.

I retreated to the cool of the Prado.
Goya’s “Shootings of the Third of May”
Covered a wall- the thrown-up arms
And spasm of the rebel, the helmeted
And knapsacked military, the efficient
Rake of the fusillade. In the next room
His nightmares, grafted to the palace wall-
Dark cyclones, hosting breaking; Saturn
Jewelled in the blood of his own children,
Gigantic Chaos turning his brute hips
Over the world. Also, that holmgang
Where two berserks club each other to death
For honour’s sake, greaved in a bog, sinking.

He painted with his fists and elbows, flourished
The stained cape of his heart as history charged.


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