Seamus Heaney Poetry

TOPIC: Using at least one text, discuss the idea that literature can help to shape a culture


Literature is a powerful medium, permitting the writer to cause the reader to reflect on various social issues. If the writer is widely read or widely discussed, it may be that literature actually brings about eventual change in a society, politically and culturally. In some cases the transition from literature to politics can be complete. What the world knows of the horrors of the Russian gulags is largely due to Solzhenitsyn. Vaclev Havel moved from dissident playwright under Soviet-ruled Czecholslovakia, to be the country’s President. Mario Vargas Lllosa in Peru is a writer who has had great influence on the politics and culture of Latin America. All these writers were famous in their own countries. If we are to consider a writer to have had an effect on a whole culture, they must be famous.

The Irish have an extraordinary number of famous and widely-read writers, from Yeats to Joyce to Shaw to Wilde, and in that esteemed line is Seamus Heaney, influential enough in Irish society (having been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature) to be called ‘Famous Seamus.’ He is a very visceral writer, his poems often being quite confronting and producing an emotional response in the reader. The Irish traditionally being great readers of prose, reciters of verse and singers, may be more likely to respond to such writing than other cultures. In this essay I will consider two of his poems, ‘Limbo’ (year) and ‘The Strand at Lough Beg’ (year), and how the poet speaks through them to make comments about aspects of Irish society, especially the role of religion versus genuine human kindness, and the price the Irish have paid for nationalism.

With the employment of evocative poetic devices, Heaney deconstructs the universal issue of institutionalized religion as restricting, close-minded, apathetic, prejudiced and tribal. This is shown through his poems where;...