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Drawing extensively on archival material, this chapter analyses Seamus Heaney’s involvement with the Field Day Theatre Company through the lens of his long friendships with two of the company’s other directors, Brian Friel (who co-founded Field Day in 1980 with actor Stephen Rea) and Seamus Deane. In addition to serving on Field Day’s board of directors, Heaney wrote two works specifically for the company: the verse pamphlet An Open Letter (1983), which protested the use of the adjective 'British' as applied to himself, and The Cure at Troy (1990), a Hiberno-English version of a late play by Sophocles. Heaney’s membership in the Field Day collective gave him a sense of camaraderie, the opportunity to address himself to his country’s urgent needs at a critical point in its history, and the challenge to do things he would not have done otherwise.
Heaney’s translation work not only registered his engagement with literary history, and an evolving awareness of his position in the poetic world, but it was an intrinsic aspect of his poetics more generally. Specifically, Heaney spoke of how Frost’s notion of the ‘sound of sense’ lay at the root of both his poetry and his mode of ‘impure translation’. As a result, translational fidelity, for Heaney, privileged the uncovering of echoes that might capture and recreate the sound of the original text. This chapter charts how this conception of translation found expression in his renderings, in particular, of Sophocles, Dante, Virgil, Sweeney Astray and Beowulf. Focusing on the diverse dramas of fidelity these translations embody, this chapter explores how these texts assert his native soundscape’s ability to convey classics of world literature while, at the same time, they also defamiliarize and profitably disrupt Heaney’s domestic linguistic and cultural world.
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