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Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996

4.23  ·  Rating Details ·  4,594 Ratings  ·  134 Reviews
In "Digging", the first poem in Opened Ground, Heaney likens his pen to both spade and gun. With these metaphors in place, he makes clear his difficult poetic task: to delve into the past, both personal and historic, while remaining ever mindful of the potentially fatal power of language. Born and raised in Northern Ireland, where any hint of Gaelic tradition in one's spee ...more
Paperback, 464 pages
Published October 25th 1999 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published October 1st 1997)
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Jul 07, 2008 Sparrow rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Sad day for the rest of us.
It's the time of year when everything brings this poem into my head. I think Seamus Heaney has a brilliant ability to create momentum. Also, blackberry picking is one of my favorite things that I never do anymore.


Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
Mar 21, 2013 Jonathan rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Re-reading as homage. God, the hard-edged music of him! Lines you feel in your mouth like chewy, brackish bread.

Interestingly, for me (and possibly for any of you who read my Recognitions review), is that the location of my first sighting of the ship in the sky was here (from Lightenings):

The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.

The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And t
PGR Nair
Aug 31, 2013 PGR Nair rated it it was amazing

Homage to Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)

Seamus Heaney, Ireland's foremost poet who won the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature 'for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past' , died on Friday, August 30 . As the greatest Irish poet of his generation, he never lost his instinctive feel for the universal rhythms of rural life, his ability to see the extraordinary in the humblest of places, and to express it with an eloquence and beauty
Anthony Buckley
Apr 23, 2009 Anthony Buckley rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ireland, literature
People in Northern Ireland rather think that Seamus Heaney – “Famous Seamus”, they say with irony – belongs to them. They feel he is close to them, expressing their everyday concerns. Even when he ventures into abstruse territory, for example, translating Beowulf or Antigone, Ulster people sense that even these texts express concerns they share with him.

Gaelic football is a big preoccupation in the area he was brought up. So when I found myself there discussing football, it was no surprise that
If you like poetry then give this poet a try. I am glad I did. What a pleasure to read. I read this in the early morning part of my commute and it was wonderful to drink my morning coffee and enjoy such beautiful sentiments about both serious and humorous subject matter and even some mythology. Best reads pile. Highly recommended to those who enjoy reading poetry.
Apr 21, 2009 Brad rated it it was amazing
I made this five stars in defiance of Michelle. I am THE Five Star Slut. And proud of it. But no...this is a brilliant collection of poetry. Seriously.
Jul 03, 2012 Sasha rated it it was amazing

Heaney's diction reminds me that there are many small, old words which I do not know. When I read his poetry, I sense that he loves our language, but especially the kinds of words which are timeworn and can be held in the hand, words which, like old, oiled tools, have served and been put to good use. His metaphors rise up out of the landscape of his country; he writes of earth and natural setting, but he also wrtites with the perspective of an older man, looking back on familiar places and memo
Sarah Ryburn
Jul 08, 2008 Sarah Ryburn rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
This should really be on my "always reading shelf." I love his poetry. It's grounded, almost smelling of the earth (of his native Irish soil), and gritty without being graphic or turning too hard an edge. In an interview following the publication of his new translation of Beowulf, Heaney talks of the old Anglo-Saxon poet and the warrior culture evoked in the poem. He speaks about the heart of the poet grieved by the cruelty of the world, the loss of home, of safety, of companions: a grief not un ...more
Feb 10, 2008 Matthew rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary
Poems mostly on the strange and ambiguous spaces of everyday life, which I often found a bit too vague to be very moving. The language, though, is unbelievable. I've never read anyone who had such an amazing ear for the jagged music of the English tongue, nor such an ability to craft the hard-edged cadences of Anglo-Saxon speech.
As I started reading this collection, something struck me as familiar, and then I hit the poem “Digging”, wherein in I said aloud to myself: “Oh, this is the bog poet!”. The other people on the Greyhound (who weren’t asleep) were probably like, “what?”, but who cares about them! I remembered I had read Heaney before, back in University, where the professor I had quite a crush on spent 3-4 classes on Heaney’s work, specifically on his bog poems such as “Bog Queen” and “Tollund Man.” So, there is ...more
David Mills
Mar 05, 2013 David Mills rated it really liked it
The books I had been looking for had been checked out. There was nothing but crap to be found on the new acquisitions shelf. The librarian was announcing the library would be closing in five minutes. I saw this book waling towards the exit.

I had heard "Famous Seamus'" praises sung by historians, fellow celtaphiles (anam caras), Nobel Prize groupies, and even by my son who brought home a college assigned copy of Heaney's translation of Beowulf. What is more the feast of St. Patick's was to take
Jul 12, 2007 Cristina rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: modern poets and those who enjoy Irish literature.
As if we needed any proof that Seamus Heaney's Nobel Prize in Literature was well-deserved--the (somewhat abridged) collection of his volumes of poetry from 1966-1996, contained in Opened Ground prove this. Heaney's collected poems illustrate a discovery of (Irish) heritage, an awakening from childhood into adulthood, and an astounding awareness of the "little" things in life. From the opening poem--the well-known "Digging"--we are immediately immersed in Heaney's world of ancestry, the burden o ...more
Peter Holford
Jun 01, 2016 Peter Holford rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In recent years I have tried to read one major poetry anthology each year. Heaney's 'Opened Ground' seems to have been that book for 2016. I've not read a great deal of Irish literature, but earlier this year I read James Joyce's 'Dubliners' and enjoyed it very much. Heaney's poetry has been a good counterpoint to that.

The poetry is rich and meaningful and rewards close study. It is heavily situated in Irish geography, culture and the politics of the second half of the 20th Century, so is more e
Kathleen Jones
Nov 22, 2013 Kathleen Jones rated it it was amazing
I love Seamus Heaney's poetry and I have a few scattered collections - Stations, Death of a Naturalist - but I've recently treated myself to this because it covers most of Seamus' collections, from the first in 1966 right up to The Spirit Level in 1996. This gives a wonderful overview of the development of his work and it also includes his Nobel lecture 'Crediting Poetry'.

Seamus chose the poems to be included himself, weeding out ones he was no longer happy with and some of the poems were re-wri
Nov 06, 2016 Sylvester added it
Shelves: poetry, 2016
Seamus Heaney has so many qualities I appreciate in a poet. He's grounded. He writes about fields, work, nature, relationships, people. His word choices - well, he's Irish, and it shows all over the place - and there's some of that old Beowulf influence in there too.

One of his more well-known and characteristic poems as a sample:


Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digg
Sherry Elmer
Oct 31, 2016 Sherry Elmer rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
It doesn't seem right to say I "read" Opened Ground, as if at a moment in time I read the poems and now I am finished. It is more that I opened the cover and stepped into Seamus Heaney's Ireland and spent some time there conversing with the people he conversed with, smelling the scents he smelled, feeling the land that nurtured him; it seems more that I spent some time with the poet, observing and absorbing.

As a little teaser, here is the Chorus in "Voices from Lemnos":

Human beings suffer.
Oct 25, 2011 Nathan rated it it was ok
Shelves: franklin-library
This is vintage Heaney, of course, and Heaney is one of those poets who can never be anyone other than who he is and whose voice is so a part of him and his words and themes that opening this book is like being rushed by a wave of Heaniness. The images of Ireland: cold, foggy, soggy, boggy, and peat-covered, are the meat of his art, even when the subject is not explicitly Irish. That aesthetic is the prevailing one throughout. Heaney has an eye for the quotidian as quotidian; he doesn't have to ...more
J. Mark
Oct 21, 2007 J. Mark rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: poets, poetry fans
Shelves: poetry
What does a Nobel Prize for poetry mean? Nothing unless it is accompanied by the kind of work Heaney has accomplished. Among my top 5 favorite poets ever, he may not appreciate my claim that he is a direct descendant of William Carlos Williams, but every poem has that same laser-like observation, that talent of looking into objects and scenes until they flower open into the world again. One could spend a life with this book.
Jan 27, 2010 Stuart rated it it was amazing
Very much love Seamus Heaney's work and this collection contains much of his very best. To be sure, there is plenty that I find obscure and difficult to penetrate (at least without a good teacher), but an equal number of poems with impeccable, compelling use of language that is completely accessible.
Nov 11, 2010 Julie rated it it was amazing
It is, of course, pointless to mark a volume of poetry as "read." I will be returning to this volume, to read those poems yet undiscovered, to reread those that have touched me. This volume explores thirty years of Heaney's work; I enjoyed selecting a few from each era to compare and contrast how his writing and themes changed over time. Heaney is a storyteller, a weaver, a conjurer.

Mar 09, 2017 Corbin rated it it was amazing
A fine primer to Heaney's poetry, which manages to blend a rustic, folksy realism with a classically-informed surrealism, all rooted firmly in the history and turmoil of the Ireland he grew up in. His essay at the end, "Giving Credit to Poetry," is worth reading for its eloquence and directness. Overall, it's definitely worth checking out for anyone who's a fan of his work.
Katie Herring
Feb 28, 2017 Katie Herring rated it liked it
Shelves: verse
I really like his Bog poems, and the one about the alphabet, and a couple of lines here and there-- but in general, I was not in love with his words. A couple of the poems left me uncomfortable, and I don't think that would change with understanding.
Brian Wasserman
Jan 27, 2017 Brian Wasserman rated it did not like it
not impressed
Angela Paolantonio
Oct 08, 2016 Angela Paolantonio rated it it was amazing
When I read a Seamus Heaney poem I run, sprint, to my desk and write.
Cheryl Gatling
Jul 12, 2015 Cheryl Gatling rated it it was amazing
When Seamus Heaney writes, "Between my finger and my thumb, the squat pen rests, snug as a gun," that "snug as a gun," is for me the sound of Seamus Heaney. Of course it is not the only sound of Seamus Heaney. These poems clash, hiss, whisper, whoosh, hum, splash, and ring, but the guttural, earthy grunting is always there: hum, gulp, pluck, pump, slung, glut, plunge, muddied, puddled, scuffled, clutch, grunts, muck, slugged, thumped, mush, rump, and more.

The Ireland of Heaney's memories is a pl
Oct 13, 2013 Janebbooks rated it it was amazing
In the author's note at the front of the paperback, Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) tells us that the number of poems in this volume is somewhere between a selection and a collection. Indeed, OPENED GROUND contains the essential poems from twelve of the previous published volumes of Heaney's amazing and accessible poetry and his 1995 acceptance speech for the Nobel prize. I ordered this volume because it contains his love poem to his wife Marie..."The Skunk."

Several days after Heaney's passing on Aug
Mar 04, 2013 Natalie rated it really liked it
I picked this book to comply with the Literary Awards Mini Challenge from the 2013 Reading Challenge group to read a book by an author who has received the Nobel Prize in Literature. I went through the list and ended up with Seamus Heaney. He wrote in English and I haven't read a lot of poetry.

I didn't realize till after that I had already read a book by him:
Beowulf: A New Verse Translation
which I read in high school and the only thing I remember about it is that Beowulf refused to die in the e
Ike Sharpless
I'm not usually a poetry guy, but wow - this collection has some of the most striking, powerful, evocative language I've ever come across. Heaney is second to none (Well, maybe second to Nabokov - but the two styles are quite different) in the sheer knock-you-over force of his imagery.

A favorite: Oysters

"Our shells clacked on the plates.
My tongue was a filling estuary,
My palate hung with starlight:
As I tasted the salty Pleiades
Orion dipped his foot into the water.

Alive and violated
They lay on th
Ben Doeh
Feb 21, 2016 Ben Doeh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Heaney's oeuvre is an achievement - rich and various in numerable ways. He is dexterous with form, has a "treasure-hoard" of words and is versatile in subject matter. He has a peculiar attuned-ness to nature, and reflexive understanding of man at work in his landscape, and has an inimitable power to capture Ireland's ghosts (his family and friends, its literary heritage, its ancient past and, of course, the Troubles).

That said, it took me many many months to work through the 440 pages on offer h
Scott Reeves
Dec 07, 2013 Scott Reeves rated it it was amazing
Have owned this volume for years and sampled from it on occasion. For some reason the poems had never really connected with me. I don't know if it was Heaney's recent death or my rapid advance through middle age but my latest foray into this volume has made me a believer.

The first poem that got me was "Mid-Term Break", a heart-breaking but entirely unsentimental look at the death of a much younger sibling. Things just get better from there. "Clearances," an homage to Heaney's mother, is stunning
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  • Migration: New and Selected Poems
  • In a Time of Violence: Poems
  • Collected Poems
  • The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems, 1966-1996
  • Poems 1968-1998
  • Selected Poems and Four Plays
  • New and Collected Poems: 1931-2001
  • Poems New and Collected
  • Collected Poems, 1948-1984
  • Poems and Prose
  • The Best of It: New and Selected Poems
  • The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems
  • Selected Poems
  • Otherwise: New and Selected Poems
  • Fire to Fire
  • Selected Poems
  • Above the River: The Complete Poems
  • Paterson
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.
More about Seamus Heaney...

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“Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.”
“The form of the poem, in other words, is crucial to poetry’s power to do the thing which always is and always will be to poetry’s credit: the power to persuade that vulnerable part of our consciousness of its rightness in spite of the evidence of wrongness all around it, the power to remind us that we are hunters and gatherers of values, that our very solitudes and distresses are creditable, in so far as they, too, are an earnest of our veritable human being.” 3 likes
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