Three Poets and the Issue of Relating Past to the Present/ UC Sair Ve Gecmisi Bugunle Iliskiledirme Meselesi

By Ozcan, Ilker | Civilacademy Journal of Social Sciences, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Three Poets and the Issue of Relating Past to the Present/ UC Sair Ve Gecmisi Bugunle Iliskiledirme Meselesi


Ozcan, Ilker, Civilacademy Journal of Social Sciences


"I am a poet before I was a woman poet"

Carol Ann Duffy

Seamus Heaney, Tony Harrison and Carol Ann Duffy are famous and important poets in English Literature. They are very popular in today's literature. These three poets use some different themes in their poetry and they have different understandings in their poetry. They are concerned with relating past to the present in different ways. Seamus Heaney and Tony Harrison relate past to the present via using their own experiences. However, Carol Ann Duffy doesn't use her personal experiences in relating past to present. She relates the past to the present with a focus on feminist ideals as well as other factors. The purpose of this essay is to show that Carol Ann Duffy is less self-centered in her relationships to the past thanks to her feminist ideals when compared to Seamus Heaney and Tony Harrison.

In my opinion, the poetry of Seamus Heaney can be grouped into three categories in terms of dealing with the past. Some of his poems are just about ancient history and national history, some of his poems are only about his family history and some of his poems are about the mixture of national history and family history. In the last category of his poems, he touches on issues of Northern Ireland and the history of Ireland. He benefits from his personal experience and memories while relating the past to the present in some of his poems

'Digging' is the name of the first poem in his collection. The poem 'Digging'is a good example about how Seamus Heaney relates the past to present. Anthony Juda notes in his essay 'The Use of Memory' that "Heaney revisits the memories of the literary tradition to help him make sense of the crisis of present. He brings the poetic tradition into what he had called significant relationship with his own experience." (1) In the poem, Heaney digs through family history as well as national history. He goes past and mentions about his father and grandfather and describes them how they dig. Seamus Heaney notes in his poem 'Digging' "My grandfather cut more turf in a day/Than any other man on Toner's bog". (1-2) Cutting turf was a common job in Ireland. People cut turf for sale and to use in heating their homes. Heaney explains this through how his grandfather "cuts turf" (1) He makes a cultural reference to the past of Ireland through using the image of his grandfather cutting turf. Therefore, he illustrates national history through using family history and family experience.

Heaney finishes the poem with these lines: "But I have no spade to follow men like them/ Between my finger and thumb/ The squat pen rests/ I'll dig with it." (2). These lines indicate that Seamus Heaney will dig through history with his intellect unlike his father and grandfather. These lines also show how he connects past and present. Seamus writes the last lines in the simple present tense which means that he is writing about today. The lines that came just before the last lines are written with the past tense. Seamus Heaney goes between past and present and connects them by using his experience and family history.

Seamus Heaney thinks that poetry and farming are very similar in terms of usage of the material. In farming, you have to cultivate the land. In poetry, you have to cultivate the language to produce a poem. Heaney's ancestors use spades to dig and cultivate the land. However, Seamus Heaney takes his "squat pen" (Heaney, 2) to cultivate language and dig through the history. James Booth notes in his essay 'The Turf Cutter and the Nine-to-Five man' "Lacking a spade, he may not be able to achieve his father's and grandfather's primitive authenticity, but he will still dig ... in a more cultural sense" (376). This quote illuminates the ways that Seamus Heaney will use his pen like spade to dig through national history, not physically but culturally. By digging through the past, he relates the past to present through his personal experience.

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