I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Descent into Darkness

Descent into Darkness

Magdalena Kay
Aeneid Book VI, trans Seamus Heaney, Faber, 53 pp, €19.99, ISBN: 978-0571327317 Seamus Heaney has long been one acquainted with the night. He does not, however, cut a particularly lugubrious figure. Everyone has an anecdote that highlights his sociability and love of merry-making; photographs of a smiling Heaney abound. This is no pessimist or black-garbed man of mystery. Heaney has consistently valued and celebrated the bright, the open, the glimmering side of life and, indeed, of human belief: he defends his religious faith by stating that it is good for a young poet “to see the whole cosmos ashimmer with God”. This is a beautiful way of putting it, and nobody could gainsay such a statement. It is tempting to see Heaney as a poet of light, a poet of the above-ground world. If this and only this were true, he would be a likeable yet two-dimensional poet – a bard of greeting cards and celebratory toasts, as it were. But there is a deep, dark backdrop for all the gleams and glimmers, and any assessment of Heaney’s last poems must pay due deference to its power and ubiquity. Heaney’s final, posthumously published volume of poetry, a translation of Book VI of the Aeneid by Virgil, is the story of Aeneas’s journey to the underworld to meet the shade of his father. This interest in katabasis, bordering on obsession, has to do with Heaney’s coming of age during the Troubles, with his rural childhood – where one could not avoid coming face to face with the stark biology of animal life – and with his questioning of the early Catholicism that nourished his cosmic vision. There are also the life-altering events of his parents’ deaths, which haunt his work from the mid-80s onward. As Heaney grew older, his interest in the final judgment increased, and his urge to tirelessly imagine and reimagine the crossing from death to life intensified. Let us make no mistake, though: in his first published volume (Death of a Naturalist), written when he was a mere twentysomething, death is already a constant presence within life. The title of his second volume, Door into the Dark, needs no explanation. Two volumes later, in the famous North, once the violence of the Troubles had fully captured his imaginative conscience and he was searching for images adequate to this tragic predicament, he found himself quoting a graffito from Ballymurphy: “Is there a life before…

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