cover image The Redress of Poetry

The Redress of Poetry

Seamus Heaney. Farrar Straus Giroux, $22 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-374-24853-6

The 10 essays on poetry collected here, adapted from lectures delivered at Oxford between 1989 and 1994, display much of the intellectual restlessness, linguistic wizardry and political conscience that have shaped Heaney's own poetry. His thesis is that poetry of the highest order must redress social imbalances, at once transfiguring the circumstances it observes and offering an unforeseen, more humane, aesthetic alternative. This is an abstract and rigorous idea, yet nonacademic readers will find much to savor as Heaney tests and refines his paradigm in light of a largely canonical selection of poets (most are from the British Isles). Ranging freely from a brief life of each poet to a close reading of a few poems by him or her, he addresses, for instance, how Elizabeth Bishop's ``One Art'' assuages the ``loss'' to which it alludes; how Christopher Marlowe's ``Hero and Leander'' ``extended the alphabet'' of Elizabethan sexual mores; and how 19th-century rustic poet John Clare achieved a truly lyrical local idiom at odds with official English. With their palpable evocation of the writing process and their disavowal of jargon and trendy political abstractions, these are exemplary essays--and tell us much about the influences and obsessions of this year's Nobel laureate in literature. (Nov.)