UNIVERSITY OF ABERDEEN
SCHOOL OF LANGUAGE & LITERATURE
SESSION 2008 – 2009
EL43SA: MARKINGS: THE POETRY OF SEAMUS HEANEY
15 CREDIT POINTS: 6 WEEKS
Mondays 13.00 – 15.00 in seminar room, Humanity Manse (HMG1)
Thursdays 13.00 – 15.00 in seminar room, Humanity Manse (HMG1)
Prof Patrick Crotty
HMF5 Humanity Manse; telephone 272196; email email@example.com
Office hours: Tuesday 14.00 – 16.00
Dr Shane Alcobia-Murphy
Room F13 Old Brewery; telephone 272630; email firstname.lastname@example.org
This course guide must be read in conjunction with the following booklets
which are available from the School office:
Guide to Written Work
Guide to Honours and Level 3 English
Guidance on Avoiding Plagiarism
NOTE School/university regulations relating to this course are set out in full in the Guide to Honours, which is available from the School
office and on the School web site
You must familiarise yourself with this important information at
the earliest opportunity
Markings: The Poetry of Seamus Heaney: The Course
Seamus Heaney has written some of the most popularly accessible as well as some of the most intellectually challenging poetry in English in the last half century. His early poems recreate aspects of his childhood in rural Northern Ireland in vividly sensuous language. The denser, more poignant and self-conscious lyrics of Wintering Out (1972) and North (1975) brood on the cultural
and historical implications of words, exploring their use and history in the context of the unfolding Northern Irish „troubles‟. Later volumes are notably various in
style and attitude and are characterised by a suspicion as well as a celebration of the rhetorical resourcefulness that marks Heaney off from his British and Irish contemporaries. The stately elegising of Field Work (1979), the self-lacerating
confessionalism of Station Island (1984), the cerebral parable spinning of The
Haw Lantern (1987), the visionary meditations of Seeing Things (1991) – a book
as airy as Heaney‟s debut volume was earthy – and the formal plenitude and
moral rigour of The Spirit Level (1996) exemplify a self-renewing energy that has evoked comparisons with W. B. Yeats. The course traces the relationship between the apparently “reader friendly” poems of Death of a Naturalist (1966)
and the more rebarbative and demanding writings of the later collections. Heaney‟s work is placed in its historical context in relation both to the politics of
Northern Ireland and the crisis of representation in late twentieth-century poetics.
The aims of the course are:
; To provide knowledge of the formal range of Seamus Heaney‟s verse from
1966 to the present
; To explore the continuities and discontinuities of theme and approach in
Heaney‟s poetry from Death of a Naturalist to The Spirit Level
; To consider the set texts in their political and aesthetic contexts ; To facilitate a theoretical appreciation of some of the problems of
representation in contemporary poetry
The table that follows summarises the knowledge and skills you should have acquired by the end of the course.
A: Knowledge and Understanding of:- C: Practical Skills – the abilities to:-
; the poetic development of Seamus ; think and speak cogently about Seamus
Heaney Heaney‟s poetry and its relationship to
modernity/post-modernity ; the critical debate about poetic mimesis
; discuss the critical and formal contexts ; the cultural, political and aesthetic
within which Heaney‟s work may be placed contexts for poetic production in
contemporary Ireland and Britain ; write critically about poetry that engages
formally and thematically with contemporary
debates about representation, meaning and
B: Intellectual Skills – the abilities to:- D: Transferable Skills – the abilities to:-
; read and appreciate a representative ; discuss complex issues with clarity and
selection of Seamus Heaney‟s verse and cogency, both orally and in writing
understand its literary and cultural ; write clearly, succinctly, grammatically and
contexts and significance idiomatically
; comprehend the formal, stylistic and ; organise study time effectively
critical issues relating to poetic
composition and reception
; understand the linguistic and political
pressures informing literary production in
The teaching in this course will take the form of seminars. Seminars will involve
whole class and group discussion and you should come along ready to participate.
Week 1: Monday 10 November: Introduction: An overview of Heaney‟s career in its Northern Irish, Irish, British and American contexts.
Week 1: Thursday 13 November: Birth of a Naturalist?: The early poetry:
Poems for discussion will include „Digging‟, „Personal Helicon‟, „The Diviner‟, „Blackberry-Picking‟, „Churning Day‟ and „Death of a Naturalist‟.
Week 2: Monday 17 November: Digging Deeper: Poems for discussion will include „Antaeus‟, „The Forge‟, „Relic of Memory‟, „Bogland‟, „Requiem for the
Croppies‟, „Bog Oak‟, „Toome‟ and „A New Song‟. This session will chart the expanding resonances of the artesian metaphor in Heaney‟s early work.
Week 2: Thursday 20 November: The Bog Strikes Back: Three poems -
‟Broagh‟, „The Other Side‟ and „The Tollund Man‟ – will be be at the centre of this seminar‟s discussion of Heaney‟s artistic response to communal division and political violence of Northern Ireland in the early 1970s.
Week 3: Monday 24 November: North: „Hercules and Antaeus‟ and „Funeral
Rites‟ will be closely examined in the course of this class‟s discussion, but you
should have read all the poems from p.96 to p.130 by way of preparation.
Week 3: Thursday 27 November: The dead as relics of memory: This
seminar will contrast the mythopoeic approach to victims in North with the more
historicised and particularised treatment of Field Work. It will also consider the
elegiac strand in Heaney‟s subsequent development. Poems for discussion will
include „The Strand at Lough Beg‟, „Casualty‟, „A Postcard from North Antrim‟
(see Appendix) and „Clearances‟.
Week 4: Monday 1 December: Heaney Astray: This session will examine the
role of the Sweeney figure in Heaney‟s work from „The Strand at Lough Beg‟
through Sweeney Astray, „King of the Ditchbacks‟ and „Station Island I‟ to Sweeney Redivivus in the light of the career‟s characteristic dialectic between
attachment and detachment.
Week 4: Thursday 4 December: Objects as relics of memory: This class will
trace the concern with the recuperative powers of poetic language which informs Heaney‟s work at all stages of his career, and will examine some of the later poems that return to the childhood settings of his earliest canonical work. Poems
for discussion will include „The Harvest Bow‟, „Sandstone Keepsake‟, „from Shelf
Life‟, „Hailstones‟, „The Spoonbait‟, „Markings‟, „Seeing Things‟, „The Pitchfork‟,
„The Settle Bed‟, „Wheels within Wheels‟ and „A Sofa in the Forties‟.
Week 5: Monday 8 December: Frontiers of Writing: This seminar will examine
the way Heaney‟s poetry can be read as both anticipating and answering criticism of its aesthetic procedures. The parable poems of The Haw Lantern will
be considered in relation to the poet‟s systematic widening of the horizons of his work and also as a partly self-critical response to the earlier poetry‟s indulgence
of the „mimetic fallacy‟.
Week 5: Thursday 11 December: Falling Ground: This concluding session will
consider the „Squarings‟ sequence in terms of the airiness and awareness of
transience which counter the earthiness and solidity with which Heaney‟s poetry
is conventionally associated.
Week 6: Monday 15 December: No meeting.
Week 6: Thursday 18 December: Essay to be submitted to the School office by 13.00. .
Seamus Heaney, Opened Ground: Poems 1966-1996
Allen, Michael, Seamus Heaney (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997) Casebook Series
Andrews, Elmer, All the Realms of Whisper: the Poetry of Seamus Heaney (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988)
nd edition, Corcoran, Neil, The Poetry of Seamus Heaney: A Critical Study (2
London: Faber, 1998)
Murphy, Andrew, Seamus Heaney (Writers & Their Work) (Tavistock: Northcote House, 1996)
O‟Donoghue, Bernard, Seamus Heaney and the Language of Poetry (New York:
Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1994)
Parker, Michael, Seamus Heaney: the Making of the Poet (Dublin: Gill and
Vendler, Helen, Seamus Heaney (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998)
Deane, Seamus, A Short History of Irish Literature (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994)
Deane, Seamus, Celtic Revivals: Essays in Modern Irish Literature, 1880-1980 (London: Faber, 1985)
Kelleher, Margaret and O‟Leary Philip, eds., The Cambridge History of Irish Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 2 vols.
Schirmer, Gregory A, Out of What Began: A History of Irish Poetry in English (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998)
Vance, Norman, Irish Literature: A Social History (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990)
There are two elements in the assessment of this course: an essay (80%) and
seminar performance mark (the SAM): (20%)
Basis of Assessment
A: Knowledge and Understanding C: Practical Skills
; Formative assessment of knowledge and ; Written work will be assessed for clear and effective
understanding will occur through the tutor‟s expression and cogency of argument. Normally it monitoring of seminar discussions and through will be word-processed; neatness of presentation
written comments on the essay will be taken into account
; Final assessment will occur through the essay ; Oral work will be assessed for effectiveness of and through assessment of students‟ participation in group discussion, articulation of participation in seminar discussions literary issues, relevance of argument and cogency
B: Intellectual Skills D: Transferable Skills
; Intellectual skills will be formally assessed ; Transferable skills will be assessed for evidence of through the essay and seminar participation. ability to think, write, and speak grammatically, These will be assessed for appropriate idiomatically and cogently
coherence of analytical argument, cogency of ; Punctuality in meeting deadlines will also constitute expression, substantive knowledge, relevant a criterion of assessment
use of evidence, skill in analysing the set literary
texts, comprehension of appropriate critical
approaches to Scott‟s fiction, and sensitivity to
the relationships between creative writing and
national cultural identity
Seminar Assessment Mark (SAM) is based on the following criteria:
Regularity of Attendance
Course Regulations state that attendance at each meeting of every course is compulsory. Students may miss no more than one class if they are to be awarded a first-class SAM; miss two classes and the maximum SAM will be 17, miss three classes and the maximum SAM will be 14; miss four classes and the maximum SAM will be 11; miss five classes and the maximum TAM will be 9; miss more than five classes and this will mean that the class certificate will be refused. In each of these cases allowance will be made for absence covered by a doctor‟s medical certificate. Students who are persistently late for the class may, after warning, be considered as though they were absent.
Frequency of participation:
It is expected that all students will participate voluntarily in open forum and in group work as appropriate. Participation includes asking questions of the course leader or of other students, exploring or contesting views expressed by others, summarising discussion, etc., etc. To obtain a first-class assessment for frequency of participation, regular participation in each class is required; to obtain a 2i grade, regular participation in a majority of classes attended will be expected; those who contribute to discussion only occasionally will be awarded a 2ii grade, rd-class grade. while persistent silence will merit a 3
Quality of participation:
The quality of participation will be measured by the nature of the arguments or perceptions or evidence offered to the seminar; relevant knowledge; evidence of the care with which the text or film has been read, or data interpreted; evidence of having prepared the assignments; willingness to initiate discussion; intellectual interaction with other members of the seminar.
Criteria for Essay Assessment
Good essays will be identified by the quality of argument, use of evidence, relevance to topic and quality of expression. Inaccuracies in punctuation, spelling, grammar, idiom, referencing and bibliography, and sloppiness in presentation (numerous insertions, deletions, coffee stains, etc.) will be penalised by the deduction of up to 4 marks. Students should refer to The Good Writing Guide for further advice.
Students who are referred by the tutor to the Academic Writing Support programme are strongly advised to make use of this service so as to improve their essay writing skills.
Write on one of the following topics. Your essay should be between 2500 and
3000 words long, including quotations and footnotes; students should note that they will be penalised for work which is either too long or too short. Your essay
must be submitted to the School Office by 11am on Thursday 1 November.
1. Compare and contrast the poetry of any one of Heaney‟s first four individual
collections with that of one of his volumes from 1979 onwards. You may limit your answer to the selection from the chosen volumes included in Opened
2. Discuss the treatment of poetry and/or writing as a theme in Heaney‟s work.
3. Write an essay on the connection between language and history in a range of poems by Seamus Heaney.
4. Discuss the relationship between consistency and variety in Heaney‟s poetic output. Your answer should make reference to the full temporal scope of the career as represented in Opened Ground.
5. Discuss Seamus Heaney‟s poetry in terms of its attempts to render sensation in language. Your answer should make reference to the full temporal scope of the career as represented in Opened Ground.
6. Discuss Heaney‟s use/treatment in his poetry of any ONE of the following:
(b) the English poetic tradition
(c) the Gaelic literary tradition
Submission arrangements for essays:
There will normally be no meetings of the course in week 6. Instead, this week will be devoted to essay writing. Essays must be submitted to the School Office by the class hour on the day of the last scheduled meeting of the course (Thursday of week 6), but students may opt to write an essay under examination conditions in the two-hour class period on that Thursday instead. You must
notify the tutor in advance if you wish to use this opportunity.
Three marks will be deducted for late submission (up to a week late) without supportive medical evidence.. Essays submitted after this date will receive a NIL mark.
Extensions can be granted by tutors for up to one week on medical grounds or other good reasons. Further extensions beyond one week can be granted only by the Undergraduate Programme Co-ordinator.
For further information refer to the late submission guidelines contained within the Guide to Honours and Level 3 English Studies section on Written Work and
A Postcard from North Antrim
IN MEMORY OF SEAN ARMSTRONG
A lone figure is waving
From the thin line of a bridge
Of ropes and slats, slung
Dangerously out between
The cliff-top and the pillar rock.
A nineteenth century wind.
Dulse-pickers. Sea campions.
A postcard for you, Sean,
And that’s you, swinging alone,
In your gallowglass’s beard
And swallow-tail of serge:
The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Ghost-written on sepia.
Or should it be your houseboat
Redolent of grass?
Should we discover you
Beside those warm-planked, democratic wharves
Among the twilights and guitars
Drop-out on a come-back,
Prince of no-man’s land
With your head in clouds or sand,
You were the clown
Social worker of the town
Until your candid forehead stopped
A pointblank teatime bullet.
Get up from your blood on the floor.
Here’s another boat
In grass by the lough shore,
Turf smoke, a wired hen-run –
Your local, hoped for, unfound commune.
Now recite me William Bloat,
Sing of the Calabar
Or of Henry Joy McCracken
Who kissed his Mary Ann
On the gallows at Cornmarket.
Or Ballycastle Fair.
‘Give us the raw bar!’
‘Sing it by brute force
If you forget the air.’
Yet something in your voice
Stayed nearly shut.
Your voice was a harassed pulpit
Leading the melody
It kept at bay,
It was independent, rattling, non-transcendent
Ulster – old decency
And Old Bushmills,
Soda farls, strong tea,
New rope, rock salt, kale plants,
Potato-bread and Woodbine.
Wind through the concrete vents
Of a border check-point.
Cold zinc nailed for a peace line.
Fifteen years ago, come this October,
Crowded on your floor,
I got my arm round Marie’s shoulder
For the first time.
‘Oh, Sir Jasper, do not touch me!’
You roared across at me,
Chorus-leading, splashing out the wine.