Saturday, June 17, 2006

Reader's Diary #108- Seamus Heaney: Selected Poems 1966-1987 (Up to "Oysters")

I'll concede.

These poems are bigger than I. Probably better than I too.

I don't think they're poseurs either. Maybe only Mensa members can grasp them, I'm not sure, but most of them are lost on me. It didn't start off that way. I begun with the first several poems thinking, "I'm going to enjoy these." Then it progressed further and further until I was completely baffled by what they were trying to say.

So it's time I called in reinforcements. And hey, is research cheating? Oh well, I'm cheating. Of all the poems I wanted to delve deeper into, I chose "Act of Union." It's one of his few poems (beyond those written in '66) I had even a smattering of understanding. Granted my understanding was more at a face value. It's obvious there are references to sex and a pregnancy, and on its more poetic side, there's a lot of violent imagery. It's not exactly rape-like as the woman seems more ambivalent or at the very least complacent. While there are phrases like "gash breaking", "bog-burst" and and "conquest" for instance, there's little evidence of a resistance. Still pain is obvious, especially in the pregnancy and subsequent child birth ("parasitical", "...fist already/ beat at your borders...", etc). So it's compelling to say the least, but I still hadn't figured out why he went with a war/conquering scenario to describe the events. So the wise old internet tells me, what in hindsight seems somewhat obvious, it's actually about the the relationship between England (the man), Ireland (the woman), and Northern Ireland (the offspring). But knowing that, I can look back and appreciate a few more of the poem's finer points. I like the points made by Dr. J (whose blog I linked above) about the poem's satirical qualities and have little else to add except that, the satire is still biased in favour of Ireland (the woman) rather than England (the man). After my first reading, I was thinking it had an almost feminist air about it despite the fact it is told from the male perspective. The male is the antagonist, and while it seems set well after the initial act (nine metaphorical months?), despite the fact that he acknowledges that "conquest is a lie", he is cognizant of the lasting scars and the impact he has caused. I didn't have all my questions answered by the internet, and I'm glad of that. I'm still left to ponder why Heaney wrote it with the male viewpoint. Yes, he's male, but he's also Irish. Any ideas?

4 comments:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Maybe he simply wrote it from the English viewpoint because he is male. A little simplistic, I know, but I'm feeling rather simple today.
Speaking of Irish books, have you ever read Breakfast on Pluto? I just rewatched the film last night, but have never read the book.
And Happy Father's Day to you!

John Mutford said...

Barbara, Thanks for the Father's Day wishes. Except for my son being miserable in the afternoon (teething), the day was very nice. We all went to a lobster pool this morning and my little girl had a blast feeding squid to the tame cod that swam in the tank with the lobsters. You could actually pet them. Bizarre, eh? Then in the afternoon while my son stayed back, my daughter and I went to the park and played. She was a cowgirl for some reason (maybe an Albertan in a former life?). It was nice. Now I'm just waiting for the lobsters to boil. Yum.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

What an amazing image - petting cod! And then of course my fevered imagination saw you and your daughter petting the lobsters as well!

I hope they were tasty.

John Mutford said...

Well actually we did pet the lobsters too. They put those elastic bands around their claws, so it's no big deal.