An episode from 6/22/21: From nearly from the first week or two it went live, this episode has remained the most popular I’ve ever done. It not only features excerpts from one of the great poetry collections of the twentieth century–Seamus Heaney’s North, from 1975–but it also includes readings of interviews with him on the writing of the poems themselves. Rarely have we been given the double-treat that Heaney’s fame offered us, of great poetry coupled with the story of its creation.
If we want to imagine poetry having a more public impact today, and if we want to wonder how poetry can deal powerfully with history as well as the issues of the day, we can hardly do better than Heaney’s poems of Iron Age violence. Only Heaney could have taken the haunting and brutal remains of the bog bodies found all across ancient Europe, and used them against the backdrop the Troubles in Ireland in the 1970s.
The poems I read are:
- Funeral Rites
- Bog Queen
- The Grauballe Man
- Strange Fruit
North can be purchased here; the book of interviews with Heaney that I read from is Dennis O’Driscoll’s Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney. The relevant books on the bog bodies themselves are P. V. Glob’s The Bog People: Iron Age Man Preserved, Wijnand Van Der Sanden’s Through Nature to Eternity: The Bog Bodies of Northwest Europe, Timothy Taylor’s The Buried Soul: How Humans Invented Death, Miranda Aldhouse-Green’s Bog Bodies Uncovered: Solving Europe’s Ancient Mystery.
I’ve collected the full texts of all of Heaney’s “bog poems,” not just those from North, here.