Published online by Cambridge University Press: 15 March 2021
Music haunts Seamus Heaney’s poetry and criticism. The word music and its siblings – song, chorus, rhythm, note, etc. – appear throughout his work. Again and again, Heaney urges us to pay attention to words, to feel how they sound, to believe what we hear. The textbook distinction between sound and sense does little to elucidate Heaney’s poetry, where so often the sense is the sound, and vice versa: Gweebara, omphalos, rasp, nick, squelch. What gives music such force in Heaney’s work is its ability to coordinate a range of concerns. It troubles the primarily discursive function of language; it posits the body as an instrument of knowing; and it summons the powerful figure of Irish folk tradition. In short, music allows Heaney to reckon both with what it means to be a lyric poet, and what it means to be an Irish poet.
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