Published online by Cambridge University Press: 15 March 2021
In lectures and interviews, Seamus Heaney spoke candidly and revealingly about the influence of T.S. Eliot on his poetry and poetics. There was never an immediate or instinctive allegiance; rather, it was an acquired taste, a matter of having to ‘grow up’ to Eliot. Eliot’s essays shaped Heaney’s own prose writings in the early 1970s and Eliot’s idea of the ‘auditory imagination’ had a profound effect on his critical methods. Increasingly, Eliot’s example in Four Quartets gave sustenance to Heaney’s poetry. ‘Little Gidding’ came to be seen by Heaney as an exemplary instance of how the imagination might endure the destruction of war, while the mystical qualities of Four Quartets helped to shape the visionary poetics of Seeing Things. In the later work, Eliot’s presence is pervasive and subtly assimilated, often manifesting itself in Heaney’s adaptations of Virgil and Dante.