Poetry Seamus Heaney Electric Light: Poems

ISBN 13: 9780374146832

Electric Light: Poems

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9780374146832: Electric Light: Poems

A powerful new collection by the bestselling translator of Beowulf.

In the finland of perch, the fenland of alder, on air

That is water, on carpets of Bann stream, on hold
In the everything flows and steady go of the world.
--from "Perch"

Seamus Heaney's new collection travels widely in time and space, visiting the sites of the classical world and revisiting the poet's childhood: rural electrification and the light of ancient evenings are reconciled within the orbit of a single lifetime. This is a book about origins (not least, the origins of words) and oracles: the places where things start from, the ground of understanding -- whether in Arcadia or Anahorish, the sanctuary at Epidaurus or the Bann valley in County Derry.

Electric Light ranges from short takes to conversation poems. The pre-Socratic wisdom that everything flows is held in tension with the elegizing of friends and fellow poets. These gifts of recollection renew the poet's calling to assign things their proper names; once again Heaney can be heard extending his word hoard and roll call in this, his eleventh collection.

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Review:

Seamus Heaney's 11th collection of poems, Electric Light, continues his excavation of childhood, his vivifying love of nature, and his quest into the meaning of poetry itself in an utterly pleasurable and satisfying way. As the poet squares up to his own mortality, many of the poems are dedicated to the memory of lost friends and poets like Joseph Brodsky. Yet the urgency and optimism of new birth is a lively presence in the book too. "Bann Valley Eclogue," for example, prophesizes a time when "old markings / Will avail no more to keep east bank from west. / The valley will be washed like the new baby." And in "Out of the Bag," the child narrator believes that newborns emerge from the doctor's bag--or, in one hallucinatory moment, from the washbasin: "The baby bits all come together swimming / Into his soapy big hygienic hands."

Childhood is an unfading, unfailing element in Heaney's work, and is caught with a breathless vitality. "The Real Names" revisits the schoolboys who played Shakespeare: Owen Kelly as "Sperrins Caliban" with "turnip fists," and "Catatonic Bobby X" as Feste, "with his curled-in shoulders and cabbage-water eyes / speechlessly rocking." Here is the humor, exactness, scope, and tenderness of Heaney at his best. His language is as muscular and inventive as ever. Idiom meets innovation in compounds like rut-shuddery and flood-slubs--and waver is neatly subverted into a noun in "Perch." Throughout Electric Light, Heaney demonstrates exactly how poetry can capture the "flows and steady go of the world." --Cherry Smyth

About the Author:

Seamus Heaney received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. A resident of Dublin since 1976, he teaches regularly at Harvard University. His recent publications include Beowulf (FSG, 2000), Diary of One Who Vanished (FSG, 2000), and Opened Ground (FSG, 1998).

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