Made up and yet true

Made up and yet true

A piercing rationale for the arts, if a rationale is needed.  They are made up, but …The paradox of the arts is that they are all made up and yet they allow us to get at truths about who and what we are or might be.  Source: Seamus Heaney, Finders Keepers:...
Language in orbit

Language in orbit

A poet can provide the initial lift-off, but then the poem enters its own orbit and runs on its own fuel; perhaps the same can be said of any well-crafted powerful writing.  No doubt NASA would approve the metaphor.  Poetry is language in orbit.  It may start with...
Swarming possibility

Swarming possibility

An unusual image, of possibility swarming like larvae, ready to burst into butterfly winged realization.  … to swarm with larval possibility. For a rich selection of other Heaney similes and metaphors, see our celebration of Beowulf, both his version and that of...
Bull’s eye writing

Bull’s eye writing

You can just hear and see the word-arrow striking home and whooshingly vibrating its meaning as its velocity comes to rest in the bull’s eye.Closing lines like these would tremble in the ear like an arrow in a target.Oh for such twangingly sharp writing!For a...
From pantheon to palate

From pantheon to palate

A piled up commentary of poets on poets: Heaney on Mandelstam on Dante.  Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938), who died in uncertain circumstances following his second arrest under Stalin’s purge-fest, took Dante with him when he was sent into internal exile and wrote an...
Relief of the gods

Relief of the gods

A gratitude, therefore, that the whole race or culture has not been wiped out even if the city has been razed; gratitude that one strong torch-bearer has escaped the flames with one essential flame burning, to light another place. The reader feels the kind of...
Ripening writing

Ripening writing

In this comment on Zbigniew Herbert’s Report from the Besieged City (title of both a poem and a poetry collection), Heaney likens the development of the Polish poet’s writing to an apple ripening from a pure green hardness to something more mellow and...
Unreel writing

Unreel writing

There’s something of fairy-tale magic in this idea of writing as a thread teased out from the writer’s cupboard of experiences, unwinding like a ball of story silk. The writing unreels like a skein long stored in the cupboard of the senses. For a rich...
Technique as dousing

Technique as dousing

In discussing the technique of writing, Seamus Heaney conjures a water diviner as a metaphor.  At first glance far-fetched, as he follows it through, he builds a close parallel between the function of a diviner and that of a poet, one working with water, the other...
The masonry of verse

The masonry of verse

A brick-solid image to convey a sense of Anglo-Saxon verse, implying it is precisely constructed and built for the ages.  But then this is a poet writing about poetry.  … the pointed masonry of Anglo-Saxon verse. For a rich selection of other Heaney similes and...
A circular accent

A circular accent

Seamus Heaney describes a circle to convey the sounds of the Ulster accent, drawing an image of tangential consonants and rolling vowels.  Lovely.Our tongue strikes the tangent of the consonant rather more than it rolls the circle of the vowel. For a rich selection of...
Resurrection in barley

Resurrection in barley

An astonishing image used by Seamus Heaney in his ‘Requiem for the Croppies’, as he explains here regarding the poem written 50 years after the Easter Uprising: The poem was born of and ended with an image of resurrection based on the fact that some time...
Accumulated silence

Accumulated silence

I found this idea interesting, that suffering comes to lodge in us from the first time we hesitate to speak.  That said, I also believe that there are moments when holding back on speech can save us from ourselves, and so avoid later regret and suffering. A fine line...
As healthy as …

As healthy as …

A bracing, surprising simile for presenting something as a picture of health and wholesomeness.  Here it is about reading material, but it could apply to anything else. Our Boys appeared regularly, a cultural antidote with official home backing, healthy as a Christian...

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