Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

Virgilian Hauntings in the Later Poetry of Seamus Heaney

Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

Virgilian Hauntings in the Later Poetry of Seamus Heaney

Article excerpt

Many Irish poets have been quick to adopt classical mythology into their work because it adds a sense of universality to their primary worlds. Richard Kearney notes that Seamus Heaney is similar to Kinsella, Montague and Durcan in that all have "succeeded in rediscovering home away from home, in rereading their native myths and memories from an alternative place--foreign, uncharted, unhomely, unheimlich" (43). In doing so, poets are enabled to view their society from a different viewpoint. This article will focus on the poetry of Seamus Heaney with specific emphasis being placed on the influence that Virgil had on his works. Jacques Derrida's idea of hauntology will be used as a lens through which to view this influence, and also to show that history repeats itself through the guise of what he terms the spectre. In Specters of Marx Derrida notes that "the spectre is the future, it is always to come, it presents itself only as that which could come or come back" (48). Much of Heaney's later poetry borrows from certain aspects of Virgil's works to add a sense of universality to the Northern Irish experience. The Irish poet draws carefully chosen parallels between his world and that of Virgil's to show that the actions and ideas of the past can be linked with the present and future. Derrida notes that each text has an original text from which it is created and that the act of writing itself is merely recreating or repeating that which has already happened:

repetition does not reissue the book but describes its origin from the
vantage of a writing which does not yet belong to it, or no longer
belongs to it, a writing which feigns, by repeating the book, inclusion
in the book. Far from letting itself be oppressed or enveloped within
the volume, this repetition is the first writing. The writing of the
origin, the writing that retraces the origin, tracking down the signs
of its disappearance, the lost writing of the origin (Writing and
Difference 372).

The recreation of older, original texts is something that has been done for centuries in Ireland. At the beginning of the twelfth century, according to Declan Kiberd, "the first Irish language translation of Virgil, Imtheachta Aeniasa, made its appearance: and therefore texts abounded with comparisons between local heroes and Aeneas, local beauties and Helen, local scholars and Ennius" (vii). Thus, Heaney choosing to incorporate Virgilian myth into his poetry is not unique but something that has been repeated throughout Irish literary history. This article will examine three poems from the later poetry of Heaney: "Bann Valley Eclogue", "Virgil: Eclogue IX" and "The Riverbank Field". It will be shown that the present and future is inherited from the past through the workings of the Derridean spectre.

Many similarities can be drawn between the personal and private lives of both Heaney and Virgil, but these connections also hold true in a poetic sense. Virgil was born into a peasant family in the countryside in the Andes area near Mantua where he lived for much of his childhood. Much of his early life revolved around the pastoral and the rural. His early poetry reflects his childhood memories and has deep agricultural images within it. In a manner which anticipates Heaney's early modus operandi Virgil wrote about what surrounded him in the countryside. In Preoccupations Heaney discusses the definition of the "pastoral" noting that:

"Pastoral" is a term that has been extended by usage until its original
meaning has been largely eroded. For example, I have occasionally
talked of the countryside where we live in Wicklow as being pastoral
rather than rural, trying to impose notions of a beautified landscape
on the word, in order to keep "rural" for the unselfconscious face of
raggle-taggle farmland... Originally, of course, the word means "of or
pertaining to shepherds or their occupation" and hence a poem, play,
etc, in which the life of shepherds is portrayed, often in conventional
manner: also extended to works dealing with country life generally. … 
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