Seamus Heaney and the Irish Ethnic Memory

By Fu-Yuan Shen.

Published by The International Journal of Literary Humanities

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: May 7, 2014 $US5.00

Seamus Heaney uncovers the concrete ground of Irishness, exploring such issues as the irreversible historical sorrows, the desperate hope of the colonized, and the pantheism of nature. From a viewpoint of cultural studies, Heaney’s poetic description of bogs is examined to illuminate how Heaney endeavors to dig up ethnic memory from the Irish bogland. The central impulse of his poetic work is, in a sense, to break decisively with the violent homogenization of Ireland with Anglo-Saxon or Scottish Britain, to restore the lost native identity. Heaney strikes his poetic roots deep down into the heart of Ireland. It is his relentless quest for Irishness through history, culture, and mythology that makes Heaney a spokesperson for Ireland. During the 1960s, he was actively involved in the Catholic civil rights movement and witnessed social upheaval and violence in Northern Ireland. As a civil-rights activist, Heaney sets out in pursuit of a pure Ireland in his earlier collections such as Death of a Naturalist (1966) and Door Into the Dark (1969). The poems in these two collections reflect his romantic nostalgia for a unified, innocent Ireland. One of the most important motives of Heaney’s work is his search for Irishness. This motif is most eminently explored particularly in his poems concerning digging and bogland, each category of which is respectively based on rural traditions and archaeological facts. The digging poems expose the uniqueness of Irish country life; the bog poems treat Ireland’s special landscape of that scene as a symbol for an ethnic consciousness.

Keywords: Bogs, Digging, Identity, Irish Landscape

The International Journal of Literary Humanities, Volume 11, Issue 3, May 2014, pp.9-17. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: May 7, 2014 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 355.284KB)).

Dr. Fu-Yuan Shen

Associate Professor, Department of English, National Taitung University, Taitung City, Taiwan

Fu-Yuan Shen is an associate professor in the Department of English at National Taitung University, Taiwan. He earned his master’s degree in English from National Taiwan University and his PhD in English Education from Ohio State University. His current research is in the areas of L2 literacy learning, literature instruction, and critical theory.