By Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney is thought to be one of the most important and prominent Irish poets in history, with poetic influences including Robert Frost, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Wordsworth. Heaney uses his life in Northern Ireland to cultivate thought, and his resulting poetry has a tangible, natural feel that connects readers to the earth in its most basic forms. Many of Heaney’s poems are dedications to his family members and homeland. Heaney’s subject matter is grounded in his Irish upbringing. In ‘At a Potato Digging,’ Heaney looks at man’s relationship with the land—the cultivation of the potato is a way into Ireland’s social history.
Many of his poetical settings are in rural Ireland, referring back to experiences or his childhood on the family farm (also known as “Mossbawn”) in Londonderry. His heritage consists of both the traditional and the progressive: his father, clinging to the traditional Irish past, was a cattle-dealer, and his mother, moving forward into the developing future, had relatives employed in local mills.
Opened Ground is a collection of poems from Heaney’s various volumes and an excellent introduction to the poet. The poems are accessible to even non-English majors and offer something for even those who don’t like to delve too deeply into ideas. Each time I reread this volume I am reminded that with words we not only have the power to persuade and declare, but also have a beautiful tool. Granted, we may not be able to touch the world tangibly or dig with an actual spade, but we can choose, like Heaney, to boldly pick up our pen.