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North, Wintering Out, The Bog People

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: New from Tartary to Frank O'connor

Seamus Heaney's fourth collection of poems, published in 1975. The book consists of two parts, the second of which addresses aspects of the Troubles in Northern Ireland in verse of conversational directness; ‘Whatever You Say Say Nothing’ forms an urgently topical expression of anger and frustration, while the ‘Singing School’ sequence deals with the sectarian conditioning of Heaney's upbringing and confronts the difficulties of artistic detachment. The importance of North is generally considered in terms of its longer first part. Its eighteen loosely sequential poems, mostly in stanzas of lapidary concentration, have at their centre a group pursuing the implications of ‘The Tollund Man’ in Wintering Out (1972), his preceding collection; that poem establishes imaginative parallels between deaths in the course of Ireland's struggle for nationhood and the body of an Iron Age victim sacrificed to the earth goddess, then preserved in a Danish peat-bog. Like ‘The Tollund Man’, ‘Bog Queen’, ‘The Grauballe Man’, ‘Strange Fruit’, ‘Punishment’, and other poems draw on P. V. Glob's The Bog People (1969) to present what Heaney designates, in a phrase from Yeats's ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’, ‘befitting emblems of adversity’. ‘The goddess’ of North, who ‘swallows our love and terror’, is broadly equivalent to Yeats's Cathleen Ni Houlihan and other feminine personifications of Ireland. The poems constitute a compassionate but sometimes shockingly clear-sighted acknowledgement of the force of territorial and cultural imperatives in human affairs, locating the Troubles within a historical and mythological frame of reference.

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