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Personal Helicon

Seamus Heaney

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Maith thu, Sheamus!
Added by: Diarmuid
This is a key poem to understanding Heaney (I'd argue). The key lies in the last couple of lines, "I rhyme/ To see myself, to set the darkness echoing". This poem is included in the most notably politicised collection of Heaney's work, North. Yet Heaney states clearly that he is not to be a political poem. The reason he writes is to explore himself and his relationship with the world.

In typical Heaney mode, childhood is a time of delight and horror. The well is attractive to begin with, but what does Heaney use to capture his attraction? “dark drop”, “trapped sky”, “smells…of fungus and dank moss”. Notice too the “rotted board top”. The penultimate stanza takes us to an almost idyllic childhood of echoes (look ahead to Narcissus in the last stanza) and clean new music. Of course, this is spoiled by “the rat”.

Think about the images this juxtaposition conjures up. Childhood is a time of innocence but the world corrupts? Or is Heaney, writing as an adult, unable to escape corruption and remember the world as a child? Or is he painting a picture of delight, tinged with horror to capture the political realities that were unfolding around him?

Events were moving quickly in the north of Ireland. In such a climate, “to pry into roots, to finger slime,/To stare big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring/Is beneath all adult dignity”. When people were being gunned down on the streets, suffering the indiginities of life in an occupied zone, being interned without trial, what right did poetry have to indulge itself in navel-gazing? Heaney asserts his right to reject politics. He uses poetry to see himself in the well; to look back into the darkness of the past and shouting into it, to hear it speak back to him. It would appear that he succeeds with this poem.

From a formal perspective, don’t miss the ten syllable lines and the abab rhymes. For me, the syllables capture the fine work he has done in capturing the right sounds: whisper “Plummeted down at the end of the rope” and notice how the ts and ds are nicely offset by the ps and the ns. The abab rhymes seal each little stanza together and also link each to the others.

A great poem.
'Death of a Naturalist' not 'North'!!
Added by: Rachel
I'd just like to point out that Personal Helicon is not from 'North' but is actually from 'Death of a Naturalist'; his first collection of poetry, which is probably his least politicised.
Added by: Maz
I was just about to say the same thing! I was looking through Heaneys selected poems, and i was trying to find 'personal helicon' under the subheading of 'north' but i couldn't find it, then of course - i saw death of a naturalist, and i found it! I was thinking..i hope his other facts aren't wrong too!!
Added by: lily
Personal helicon was originally published in Death of a Naturalist in 1966 but was included in North when it was published in 1975. its in both
Added by: Louise
I found this quote on a website called 'minstrels' or something, u cud find it on google probably, its really good.

"Heaney's muse is a gritty, plodding, deliberate creature, more Caliban than Ariel"

I think it says a lot about heaney's style, his language is specific but not flowery (especially in later poems), his themes are gritty and real, not airy and irrelevant. I'm often struck by how bluntly honest he is.
Not about ignorance of poetry.
Added by: Guest
To poster above: abac rhyme.

I don't think that the reference to narcisuss was a comment on the ignorance of poetry in the scheme of Ireland's 'troubles'. rather, he is simply too mature to be exploring and reflecting on himself in ways like that.
Added by: vinodhini velkumar
heaney's words and thoughts are beyond anyones love for poetry.he has no equal in the world of english poetry

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