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Sweeney Astray

4.1  ·  Rating Details ·  228 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews
Sweeney Astray is Seamus Heaney's version of the medieval Irish work Buile Suibne. Its here, Mad Sweeney, undergoes a series of purgatorial adventures after he is cursed by a saint and turned into a bird at the Battle of Moira. Heaney's translation not only restores to us a work of historical and literary importance but offers the genius of one of our greatest living poets ...more
Paperback, 96 pages
Published April 1st 1985 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1983)
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Nov 19, 2009 Nick rated it really liked it
"Sweeney Astray" is Seamus Heaney's version of a very old Irish poem that sounds strikingly modern. Sweeney, the King of Dal-Arie, becomes involved in a territorial dispute with the priest Ronan. After Sweeney killed one of Ronan's priests, the cleric cursed the king, who, at the battle of Moria suddenly lost his wits and courage and fled, the text says, like a bird, literally. He spent the rest of his life mostly in trees, eating watercress and often speaking in poems, many of which lament his ...more
May 22, 2016 Miriam rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry, celtic
Eh, Sweeney had it coming.
Nancy Heard
May 01, 2009 Nancy Heard rated it really liked it
This story is a combination of narrative and verse and tells a story based somewhat on historical events in 637 AD. Like gossip, the story takes on a life of its own.
Sweeney, an Irish king insults and assaults a priest. (His wife tries to deter him by grabbing his cloak, but he gets out and makes his assault buck naked.) The king then is called to battle, which he loses. The priest puts a curse on him, and he goes mad, grows feathers and leaps and flies all over Ireland subsisting on watercress
Annemarie Donahue
Really beautiful translation. Granted, Heaney is best known for his Beowulf translation, but he just sits around translating every ol' thing... sort of like our generation's Tolkien. Well written, clever word usage, beautiful story. Sweeney is a war hardened lord who after loosing a battle suffers from what we would identify as PTSD but his medieval world has no word or understanding of this. He goes on another journey constantly putting himself outside of a community as he can't allow himself t ...more
Sep 17, 2013 Thomas rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, irish
A friend who shares my love of Flann O'Brien gave me a copy of Heaney's Sweeney many years ago and I thought of it wistfully when Heaney made his last leap a few weeks ago. The story is of Sweeney the Celtic king and his adventures after he is cursed with madness by a cleric. There is no plot to speak of, just a narrative broken by spontaneous verse delivered by Sweeney as he is driven throughout Ireland by his madness and further encounters with the Church. The theme is of relentless persecutio ...more
Aug 16, 2012 Greg rated it liked it
After reading Heaney's translation of Beowulf, I was excited to read his narrative/verse translation of the Irish legend of "mad" Sweeney, based loosely on events from 600-700 AD. Sweeney is an Irish king who insults and, in the buff, assaults a priest. His wife is somewhat complicit in the scandalous assault in that she tries to grab his cloak to stop him, but in so doing causes an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction. Sweeney then goes to battle, loses, and becomes a wanderer. He traverse Ireland, ...more
Jul 12, 2007 Cristina rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who enjoy Irish legends or Heaney's translations/verse.
Despite the "author" of Sweeney Astray being listed as "Anonymous" on this site, this particular translation was actually done by poet (and Beowulf, translator), Seamus Heaney.

Although I understand that the repetition of words/facts and the constant shifting from prose to verse and back again are very much in line with the "original" legend, I found the format (and, again, the redundancies) a bit aggravating at times. For a relatively short play, the repetitions are particularly noticeable. I f
Jul 13, 2011 g026r rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, 2011, 2015
I first encountered some of these poems and associated prose passages in Opened Ground , the mid-'90s selection of work from Heaney's career, and was at the time not terribly enamoured of them. In that volume the aesthetic best of the pieces were selected, and it made them more than a bit obtuse and impenetrable at times — artistically pleasing, perhaps, but narratively adrift.

Taken as a relatively complete whole — a number of lines are omitted for stylistic reasons — in my opinion those same p
Dec 29, 2008 Kent rated it really liked it
The second version translation I've read of Heaney. I like how he frames this at the beginning, by explaining that this is an Irish tale about a king going mad, and that one should look to Lear for a similar kind of story. It helps to give context. But what makes this madman so exceptional is that he is masquerading as a bird. A real bird? The poem, the entire poem, keeps that a mystery. He's a man in a tree, and he has feathers, but anytime someone sees him up there, you get the feeling the who ...more
Jan 10, 2008 Rick rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry
This good as it gets version of the Irish medieval saga, Buile Suibhne, isn’t all that good. Sweeney is a not too interesting king who offends a priest, as Ireland sits on the cusp of Christian supremacy, and is turned mad (and into a kind of bird). He flits around the country, fleeing from un-fated dangers until his fated death eventually occurs. Heaney is wonderful but the tale lost whatever tragic potential it carried long ago and works best as a kind of early travelogue of the Irish countrys ...more
Feb 07, 2011 Peter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this wonderfully sad and funny story about Mad Sweeney and his lonely wanderings across Ireland and Briton. Sweeney's plight seems to me an awkward clash between old Celtic paganism and early Christianity; those who refuse to accept the latter are outcast, and are doomed to wander alone and bare, away from their tribe or clan. Perhaps Sweeney represents the last of the old ways of Eire, before the arrival of the religion from the East?
For a review in Dutch, see Summer Challenge 2014 (message 41).

After reading At Swim-Two-Birds, I just had to read Sweeney Astray and I wasn't disappointed in my expectations :-)
Sheila Gunter
Aug 11, 2015 Sheila Gunter rated it it was amazing
Heaney captures the erratic energy of Sweeney with surges of emotion and a great sense of humor. Having Irish, Welsh and Scottish ancestors, I better understand why my family and myself sometimes act like we do! A brilliant work.
Oct 01, 2016 Adam rated it really liked it
"I pined the whole night
in Derville’s chapel
for Dal-Arie
and peopled the dark

with a thousand ghosts."

I feel you, guy who sprouted feathers and fell in love with trees. I feel you.
Maggie Hesseling
Nov 30, 2015 Maggie Hesseling rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
I loved this book. A combination between epic poetry and prose, it brings to life Buile Suibhe, which I read years ago. Heaney's understanding of language and myth is unlike so few other writers and Sweeney Astray really shows his genious. By far my favorite of his works.
Dec 04, 2011 Richard rated it it was amazing
One of the books dearest to my heart - it was the starting point for a project I did which turned out to be my favourite - well well well
May 06, 2008 Dorothy rated it liked it
man goes crazy and is a bird? great. seamus heaney? great.
Jun 24, 2009 Marck rated it it was amazing
A great and insane Irish tale of a mad king. Brilliant translation.
Jun 27, 2013 Bill rated it liked it
Very strange, but interesting. I don't think I was able to grasp the significance, what makes it such a classic.
Justin Howe
Jan 02, 2009 Justin Howe rated it liked it
A quick enjoyable read about "mad" king Sweeney. For full enjoyment it probably requires a better grasp of Irish geography than I possess.
May 22, 2013 Jeffrey rated it liked it
Not my favourite Heaney - interesting but I prefer his own verse or his translation of Beowulf!
Dec 31, 2012 Bethany rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
Three and a half stars.

Has that weird meandering, disjointed feeling of a lot of early Irish legends and poetry, but the language of the translation is beautiful.
Aug 15, 2007 Jacob rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In all seriousness, the version of Buile Shuibhne embedded within At Swim-Two-Birds is superior.
Oct 11, 2013 amy rated it really liked it
So strange and birdlike the sudden pause in prose to declaim short, choppy poems. All very peaty and old.
Brian Robbins
Jun 27, 2014 Brian Robbins rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, seamus-heaney
An absolute joy!
Ellie Red
Ellie Red rated it it was amazing
Oct 15, 2013
John rated it really liked it
Jan 05, 2015
Emily Mcdaniel
Emily Mcdaniel rated it really liked it
Dec 07, 2014
Tim Clark
Tim Clark rated it really liked it
Jan 22, 2015
Marcia rated it liked it
Apr 18, 2015
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Seamus Justin Heaney was an Irish poet, writer and lecturer from County Derry, Ireland. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995, "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past."

Heaney on Wikipedia.
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