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The Spirit Level: Poems

4.14 of 5 stars 4.14  ·  rating details  ·  521 ratings  ·  30 reviews
The Spirit Level was the first book of poems Heaney published after winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. Reviewing this book in The New York Times Book Review, Richard Tillinghast noted that Heaney "has been and is here for good . . . [His poems] will last. Anyone who reads poetry has reason to rejoice at living in the age when Seamus Heaney is writing."
Paperback, 82 pages
Published April 10th 1997 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1996)
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They Won't Shut Up by Cindy J.  SmithMeeting With Christ and Other Poems by Deepak ChaswalVoices In My Head by Cindy J.  SmithFrom Where I Stand by Robert   ZimmermannA World of Verse by Christopher  Shields
Best Collection of Poems by Living Authors
87th out of 291 books — 344 voters
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. MartinAngela's Ashes by Frank McCourtFight Club by Chuck PalahniukInto the Wild by Jon KrakauerWe Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates
Best Books of 1996
106th out of 220 books — 99 voters

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Community Reviews

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Since Seanus Heaney’s recent death I been spending time reading and rereading his poetry. This collection is one that I’ve not read before, and I’m glad that I now have done so. The Spirit Level was published in 1996, in the middle of Heaney’s career. It contains a variety of poetic forms, some poems being formal, some using free verse. Each matches its content well.

Here are some examples of Heaney’s use of language:

From “The Rain Stick” –

“…In a cactus stalk
Downpour, sluice-rush, spillage and ba
I have to admit, even as I hate doing it, that the only Heaney I have read prior picking up this book is his translation of Beowulf.
To say that the poems in this collection are good would be correct. They are bag of Irish life, ancient myth, and family life. It is the Irish ones and “Mycenae Lookout” that tend to be the most powerful. The power of Mycenae Lookout is obvious. It is about Troy, told from various views, including a solider waiting for the return of his king and fellow soldiers ev
This is a gem of a book. It is deceptively short: the poems require you to read very slowly.

Heaney really knows how to end a poem: he never wastes your time. Every poem in this little volume is good and worth thinking about. Heaney has remarkable powers of description, but he never uses them just for description's sake. He makes every image work, and the reader is left with a feeling, a sympathy or an idea.

As usual, Heaney uses the imagery of Ireland, of pastoral life, and of work. His poetry of
This collection of poems from 1996 was the first to be published after he won the Nobel Prize in 1995 and it didn't diminish his reputation at all. Highlights include "The Rain Stick", "Keeping Going", "Mycenae Lookout" and "Postscript". Good enough to "catch the heart off guard and blow it open".
This guy's pretty good. I am probably not the first person to note that. In this collection he gives us ordinary lives, illuminated and made beautiful.
Pretty good collection, but the "Mycenae Lookout," is on entirely different level. To date, the best thing I've ever read by Heaney. Awesome, 6 stars!!!
Courtney Johnston
The Spirit Level contains my favourite of Heaney's work, the 'Mycenae Lookout' sequence, based on the stories of the Iliad

Some people wept, and not for sorrow - joy
That the king had armed and upped and sailed for Troy,
But inside me like struck sound in a gong
That killing-fest, the life-warp and world-wrong
It brought to pass, still augured and endured.

I have loved Heaney's mixture of nature rhapsody, old English words (trindle, thrawn), family history and Irish history for years now. I have a thi
the great irish poet declan macmanus wrote a line in a song I have always thrown away while singing along...until recently, when i found myself realizing for the first time the true depth of its meaning.."diving for dear life when we could be diving for pearls'....and so generations of potential poets and inventors and visionaries are lost to poverty, despair and war.

the great irish poet seamus heaney dove for pearls and polished them into a string you can pick up and move between your fingers
I read this because Heaney had won the Nobel Prize. OK, time for a confession. I am not a voracious reader of poetry, but I enjoy it, and yet, because it deals largely with moments and its magic is spun out in phrases and clauses, it simply doesn't stay with me the way prose does.

I know this was good, and was certainly enough to pull me through, which is not necessarily easy with poetry. But the adehsion of the content? Not much.
Nathan Pearson
Buying one bigger volume of Heaney's poetry will make more sense in terms of economy and comprehensiveness; but one would be hard-pressed to find a more compelling pamphlet-sized book to pocket on a walk. 'St. Kevin and the Blackbird' is a particularly poignant poem (and one in which, as in any good Heaney poem, earth/ground/dirt/soil/loam makes at least a cameo appearance).
I am not a frequent poetry reader, but I recorded this one for Reading for the Blind & Dyslexic and was mesmerized the whole time. I recommend immersing yourself in it by reading it aloud. In addition to being a master imagist, Heaney is also obsessed with the sound of words and your mouth will love you for letting it shape such scrumptious passages.
Celebrity annoys me, but I can't grudge Heaney any of his popularity in recent years. He oozes talent like other people ooze...other things. Poetic, right? But there is something special about each of these pieces. If you found one of them floating free in the world or in an anthology, it would make you take a second glance up at the author.
Heaney's usual and intensely personal theme of identity comes up, again, with this book. But here there is an added element. As with Death of a Naturalist, Heaney brings his father into the poems. But here, it's unclear how he works in, especially considering the middle poems centered around the return of Agamemnon from the Trojan War.
Michael Armstrong
I find comfort in this book of poems by Seamus Heaney. Growing up in eastern Kentucky I learned early on, on the hard, sometimes cruel road, that life is hard and you can find beauty in a stone or dipper of water. His Irish poetry will echo in your soul if you will allow yourself to get lost in it.
Dayna Smith
A wonderful collection of Heaney's poetry. His vivid imagery and careful word choice make him one of Ireland's best-loved poets, and a must read for all poetry lovers - and those who would like to be.
Seamus Heaney is one of those poets who doesn't make you feel silly for reading poetry. His writing is muscular and visceral and funny and sad. It's life, in meter. (Or sometimes not.) It's not always pretty, but it often rings true. Makes me glad I've got some Irish in me.
Sabne Raznik
Heaney is that most rare of beings: a true rockstar poet but without the slightest characteristic of the rockstar. A universally acknowledged "great" who walked the earth with unshakable humility and thus belonged to it as few ever will.
Kate Thompson
Acceptance speech/reading for the 2003 Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism, yet the speech was all poetry and good natured humor (thank god). Gorgeous language in a mellifluous, rolling accent.
I read this in 1996. I recently came across the list of books I read in 1996. Adding them to Goodreads now. I didn't quite get all the titles accurate on the list.
A lot of his illusions definitely went over my head...I'll have to study up and read him again. The postscript was absolutely beautiful. He's a fantastic poet
Neil White
There were some good poems in this, but much of it I had trouble following. Much of it may have made sense if I understood the author's context better.
Just not getting into the poetry--neither subject matter nor poetic voice are holding my interest.
Sep 23, 2008 Rachel rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Poetry Lovers
This poetry is beautiful and interesting. I recommend it to anyone who loves poetry.
Unsentimental poems about mothers & fathers. And nature. And growing old. And, and...
I probably shouldn't have read this all in one sitting but yeah whatever.
Tammy Marie Jacintho
Seamus Heaney is an author who is sure to last. Truly artful. Conscious.
If you read any two poems by Seamus Heaney, I recommend Two Lorries and Mint.
Ian Perkins
Beautiful, thoughtful poetry
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  • Outside History: Selected Poems, 1980-1990
  • Of Mutability
  • Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad
  • A Scattering
  • The Overhaul
  • Sweet Machine
  • Collected Poems, 1948-1984
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  • Without: Poems
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  • Tales from Ovid: 24 Passages from the Metamorphoses
  • Selected Poems and Two Plays
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  • Collected Poems
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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.
More about Seamus Heaney...
Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996 Selected Poems, 1966-1987 Death of a Naturalist North District and Circle

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