Date of Award


Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Edward Duffy

Second Advisor

Michael Patrick Gillespie


This dissertation has two interrelated aspects. First, throughout his career, Heaney has resisted the call to conserve the past as well as the call to arms. He is neither a gentle yet plaintive pastoralist nor a defiant yet articulate patriot. In his early volumes, Heaney faces the task of finding a voice (or voices) that assimilates yet subverts these two, often contradictory, facets of his tradition. While tradition may provide a rich resource of experience for exploration, act as a source of continuity, or provide a sense of ready-made identity, it can also act as a deterrent to creative exploration, insist upon a singular or linear perspective upon its own development, or repress the possibility of continuing self-identification. In his first two volumes of poetry, Death of a Naturalist and Door into the Dark, Heaney searches for emancipating voices that articulate his ambivalence toward his tradition--voices whose allegiance is to the multiple and heterogeneous refractions which often result from an excavation of that tradition. Second, the language of Irish writers who write in English is that of the "other," of the oppressor, of the empire, of the British. One way to combat the imperialism of "their" language is to celebrate regional dialects, variations on the language that make it "our" language rather than "their" language, as Heaney does, for instance, in the language poems of Wintering Out. The focus of the final chapters of the dissertation is the connection of these two interrelated aspects in Heaney's popular but controversial collection North. Throughout the poems of North, voices that articulate various competing perspectives, in particular voice of mythification and voices of de-mythification. Also, I examine Heaney's involvement with The Crane Bag, the Field Day Theatre Company, the political and philosophical agenda of Field Day, and the way Heaney tries to break free of, what he calls, the "gravities" of Irish tradition in order to seek a "new commonwealth of art." The thrust of the argument is that Heaney's involvement with The Crane Bag and Field Day provides him with an opportunity to question both tradition and language.



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