Seamus Heaney and his reader: Orchestrating the discourses

Catharine Denise Malloy, Marquette University


The various discourses in Seamus Heaney's poetry resonate with the personal, social, ideological, and cultural issues heard of a specific historical time. These utterances, however, are not the utterances of a conventional lyric speaker whose voice is unitary. Because there is a continuous intrusion of dialogues orchestrated by the speaker, a polyphony of discourses is created. Although some of Heaney's earlier poetry, particularly North (1975), for example, may be heard as a testimony nearly equal to a historical document because of the many historical voices and references within it, the languages informing the poems in Field Work (1979), Station Island (1984), The Haw Lantern (1987), Seeing Things (1991), are more profoundly influenced by the speaker as a person, rather than as a spokesman for Northern Ireland. In addition, although discourses continue to inform the speaker, silence, too, functions importantly within it. The movement of the dialogues in these poems bears directly on the speaker's perception of discourse as an informer. The discursive activity in Field Work and after begins to work inward. The direction it takes becomes more personal as the consciousness of the artist is explored. In addition, silence in Station Island, word and image and etymologies in The Haw Lantern, and memory in Seeing Things work to implement and fortify this shift toward illumination of the artist's consciousness. Although Mikhail Bakhtin's theory concerning discourse informs my interpretation of Heaney's poetry, it is not soldered to it or defined by it. In fact, my approach may be seen as a dialogical one between poetry, reader and the theory, attesting to the dynamism inherent in language and in its inability to restrict meaning. This methodology is only one way of reading Heaney's poetic texts, but it is one that, as far as I know, has not yet been applied to his work. Using Bakhtin's concept of dialogism is one way to interpret Seamus Heaney's poetry. It offers a post structural approach to it that neither confines nor restricts reader or poet.

Recommended Citation

Malloy, Catharine Denise, "Seamus Heaney and his reader: Orchestrating the discourses" (1992). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9318926.