cover image Government of the Tongue

Government of the Tongue

Seamus Heaney. Farrar Straus Giroux, $17.95 (225pp) ISBN 978-0-374-16578-9

The 20th century saw the emergence of the poet as witnessvoicing solidarity with the doomed, the victimized, the dispossessed. Irish poet Heaney here gauges this trend in essays on Wilfred Owen, Osip Mandelstam, Zbigniew Herbert. He admits that the power of the poem to change the world is almost nil. Then, turning to T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, he affirms the healing value of poetry as its own vindicating force, restoring us to our true selves. Interrelated essays investigate the ways in which W. H. Auden, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath each became an ``antenna,'' getting beyond the ego to voice the spiritual yearnings and anxieties of our time. Heaney has a fine ear for Derek Walcott's lush Caribbean verse, which he calls ``a common resource,'' and for ``the wire-sculpture economy'' of Miroslaw Holub's games of knowledge. Beautifully written, these essays and reviews reconfirm poets as unacknowledged legislators of the world. (Jan.)