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Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  5,438 ratings  ·  166 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 speec
Paperback, 464 pages
Published October 25th 1999 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published October 1st 1997)
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Meredith Holley
Jul 07, 2008 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 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: poetry
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 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 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
Oct 08, 2017 rated it it was ok

OKay i'm sure this collection of poems is fine or whatever and I'm sure Seamus Heaney is a good poet considering he's won a shit ton of awards. but

i hate poetry

i hate it so much

every time we do it in school i want to rip my face off

but ESPECIALLY this collection like this legit seemed like Heaney wrote a paragraph story and then just put rANDOM LINEN BREAKS OH MY LORD I HATE POETRY

anyways, we didn't read all of them we read: Digging, Death of a Naturalist ,Blackberry Picking, Mid-Term br
Jul 03, 2012 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
May 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry

A rowan like a lipsticked girl.
Between the by-road and the main road
Alder trees at a wet and dripping distance
Stand off among the rushes.

There are the mud-flowers of dialect
And the immortelles of perfect pitch
And that moment when the bird sings very close
To the music of what happens.

Can anyone, really, compare with Seamus Heaney? (I think not.) (I could drink of him all day never feel like I'd had enough. And I don't even really know how to read poetry.)

Favorites, which might as well just
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.
Simon Robs
Dec 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing

A rowan like a lipsticked girl.
Between the by-road and the main road
Alder trees at a wet and dripping distance
Stand off among the rushes.

There are the mud-flowers of dialect
And the immortelles of perfect pitch
And that moment when the bird sings very close
To the music of what happens.
Apr 21, 2009 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.
Apr 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Opened Ground, a rich collection of Seamus Heaney's poetry, captures the power and strength of short lines, well-chosen words, and worthy subjects in an almost conversational survey of the spirit viewed through the lens of an upbringing in Northern Ireland.

Heaney wrote up to and through "the Troubles" without polemicizing, moralizing or falling prey to the misconception that politics are more significant than poetry. He seems to have felt a bit uneasy about this premise, given that real blood wa
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
Kathleen Jones
Nov 22, 2013 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
Sarah Ryburn
Jul 08, 2008 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 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. ...more
Julie Christine
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.

David Mills
Mar 05, 2013 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 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 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
Nov 06, 2016 added it
Shelves: 2016, poetry
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 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 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
Corey Wozniak
Feb 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Returning to this book some months after finishing, looking for poems to teach. I think I'd like to teach "Limbo", and "Bye-Child," and perhaps "Mid-Term Break"-- all poems about, in my mind, suffering and the problem of evil. Thumbing the book, I ear-marked a great many of the poems.

I'm grateful to the writers of -- these folks helped me see things about the poems I couldn't have seen on my own.

I also liked the YouTube channel from James Thompson. He does several really gr
Oct 21, 2007 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.
Apr 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Personally, I think the correct way to read this is: obsessively, over and over again, at Denny's in the middle of the night, every night, while writing a 20 page paper about how totally brilliant and masterful Heaney is in his ability to capture 1500 years of history in elegant, heartbreaking poems.

And then if you get the chance, like I did, sign his birthday card when you're out with some well richy-rich friends of family and feel like a total baller.
Jan 27, 2010 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. ...more
Laura Fiorelli
Apr 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Worth it for the poems from North alone. Scary good. Heaney is a masterful poet of ambivalence and ambiguity, two themes that he often reflects on as he navigates irish politics and attempts to reconcile the Ireland of old with modernity. I feel like I've discovered an honest to god treasure in this book. Beautiful beautiful poetry ...more
Nov 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Heaney, a Nobel Prize winner, is one of the extraordinary poets of the twentieth century. This collection is fantastic. Heaney is spare, incisive. Rather than trying to provide a shoddy attempt at a review, I'll just list some of my favorite poems and lines.

The Forge
All I know is a door into the dark.
Outside, old axles and iron hoops rusting;
Inside, the hammered anvil’s short-pitched ring,
The unpredictable fantail of sparks
Or hiss when a new shoe toughens in water.
The anvil must be somewhere in
Dec 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
I believe that much of what we read is about perception. As such, my capacity to view things of relative importance is somewhat hindered by my priorities at that time.

It's easy to connect to something when I'm devoted to the opportunity. So, lately, I've been skimming my bookshelves and the internet and switching between fiction and nonfiction to poetry and sonnets.

With the stated, this month of August I celebrated the birth of someone I hold very dear - my mother. In August, I also mourned the
Erhardt Graeff
May 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a wonderful collection from this treasure of a poet. I bought this volume after studying the poem "From the Republic of Conscience" during an intense summer civics workshop at Tufts University. At the time, I had also stumbled upon Ray Bradbury's writing advice to read a bit of everything every night: a poem, a short story, an essay because there is much to draw from all forms of writing.

In general, I like Heaney's style. I particularly liked a couple of poems near the end, which as many
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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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“Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.”
“We were small and thought we knew nothing Worth knowing. We thought words travelled the wires In the shiny pouches of raindrops, Each one seeded full with the light Of the sky, the gleam of the lines, and ourselves So infinitesimally scaled We could stream through the eye of a needle.” 10 likes
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