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The Spirit Level: Poems

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  718 Ratings  ·  40 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 January 1st 1996)
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Nov 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Tom Hembree
My favorite line was from someone else - Horace: "Skies change, not cares, for those who cross the seas"
Hana Bouziane
Feb 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
A Sofa in the Forties

All of us on the sofa in a line, kneeling
Behind each other, eldest down to youngest,
Elbows going like pistons, for this was a train

And between the jamb-wall and the bedroom door
Our speed and distance were inestimable.
First we shunted, then we whistled, then

Somebody collected the invisible
For tickets and very gravely punched it
As carriage after carriage under us

Moved faster, chooka-chook, the sofa legs
Went giddy and the unreachable ones
Far out on the kitchen floor began to wa
Feb 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 16, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
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.
Jun 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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".
Apr 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
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!!!
Jun 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Hampton Stall
Jun 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
gorgeous, cutting work by heaney. can't describe in a review, but this is now my go-to recommendation for poetry for those who will appreciate it
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
Oct 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Spirit Level, by Seamus Heaney, 1996.
If you love poetry, or want to read some poetry to see how it hits you, read these poems by Seamus Heaney, the late Irish poet.
What I love the most about this book of poetry is the in-the-moment presence Heaney describes and connects to another idea or time, another reality. In “Mint”, it’s the almost- beneath-notice plant in his backyard with the image of freedom and worth: “Let the smells of mint go heady and defenceless/Like inmates liberated in that
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
Donald Owens II
Jan 23, 2016 rated it liked it
I love poetry, and Heaney's word-hoard sparkled, but I only shoot 3 stars aloft for 2 reasons. First, I agree with Robert Frost, that writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down. Second, some of the language is crude. I know, I know, it's art. But I worship God, not the muses, and the spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet. So yeah. Well-forged but unfinished and unfiltered.
Aug 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
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.
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.
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.
Dec 15, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Danny Daley
Dec 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
The energy and insight of the poems was a tad inconsistent, especially in the second half, but there were 4 or 5 poems in this collection that were among Heaney's best ever, especially "To a Dutch Potter in Ireland," "A Bride's Girdle," and "Mycenae Lookeout," the latter being long enough to account for the weight of several poems. Overall, and excellent collection.
Nathan Pearson
Apr 25, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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).
Sabne Raznik
Oct 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 09, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
James DeMarco
Jul 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Equality is something western countries such as US, UK and Austrailia should look at as a cure for what ails society. Despite their wealth, it's western countries rank worst when it comes to teen pregnancies, paranoia, drug addiction, prison incarceration, depression. Something's gotta give.
Kate Thompson
Aug 01, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: authors-ive-seen
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.
Carolyn Crocker
Jan 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This collection focuses on tools, other objects, and places that call up childhood memories, mythical and historical associations, and the incidental figures--e.g. a mason, a tailor, a blind neighbor-- who captured the poet's imagination as a child and persist into his consciousness in old age.
Dayna Smith
Dec 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
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.
Dec 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Like a song you love that just doesn't lose it's grip you...
Aug 25, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Poetry Lovers
This poetry is beautiful and interesting. I recommend it to anyone who loves poetry.
Michelle Hoogterp
Just not getting into the poetry--neither subject matter nor poetic voice are holding my interest.
Dec 17, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-of-2012, poetry
Apr 30, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-and-loved
If you read any two poems by Seamus Heaney, I recommend Two Lorries and Mint.
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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...