The Government of the Tongue: Selected Prose, 1978-1987
In this volume of critical essays, Seamus Heaney scrutinizes the poetry of many masterful poets. Throughout the collection, Heaney's gifts as a wise and genial reader are exercised with characteristic exactness, and we are reminded, above all, of the essentially gratifying nature of poetry itself.
Paperback, 225 pages
Published June 1st 1990 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
(first published January 1st 1988)
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While Heaney’s virtuosity as a critic is as well-known and justly admired as his verse, I have a single reservation about this volume, which I first read in 1989, the year of it's publication: “The Indefatigable Hoof-Taps: Sylvia Plath” is marred both by his friendship with Hughes and his own deeply Wordsworthian relationship to nature. The latter renders Heaney unable to see--despite the beautiful elegies for his mother, endearing uxoriousness, and even his typical empathy for women--how fright...more
Though I suppose the essays in this collection are arranged more in chronological order, "The Government of the Tongue" itself best conveys the aim of Seamus Heaney's prose. The title phrase has two meanings which together capture his vision of the interplay between the sound and the sense of poetry. On the one hand, poets seek to govern the tongue by giving their lyrics a structure and often a didactic sense, but Heaney argues that it is ultimately more important that the tongue be allowed to g...more
In this 1988 collection of essays,each tackling the poetics of a particular 20th C poet, Seamus Heaney, winner in 1995 of the Nobel Prize for Literature, fleshes out an argument for poetry as "a category of human consciousness" that only survives when it puts "poetic considerations first-expressive considerations, that is, based upon its own genetic laws which spring into operation at the moment of lyric conception." It self-governs,is not beholden to the demands of a given political or social c...more
Very fluid material here. This fellow is seventy-two. Just finished chapter one of two. One interesting discussion in the book is later in the chapter about studying inspiration in language. Lifelikeness mentioned is the involvement of juxtaposition, where the sun is likened to flower and a dove is likened to a girl