Author (Your Name)

Jeni Kate Spear, Colby College

Date of Award


Document Type

Senior Scholars Paper (Colby Access Only)


Colby College. English Dept.


Peter B. Harris

Second Advisor

Douglas N. Archibald

Third Advisor

David Suchoff


"Selected Poems of Seamus Heaney: Constructions of Eden and Innocence Lost" provides a thorough examination of many poems from Seamus Heaney's collection, Selected Poems 1966-1987, with a specific focus on the themes of innocence and corruption and the tension between the two in Heaney's poetry. As a spokesperson of sorts about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and as an internationally celebrated Nobel Prize winning poet, Seamus Heaney constructs images and motifs that reflect past and present violence in Ulster due to the divisions between North and South, British and Irish, and Protestant and Catholic, but also that speak to more universal themes of youth, innocence, purity, age, corruption, and impurity, thus making his poetry accessible to both Irish and non-Irish readers. This project is concerned with presenting how the construction and deconstruction of innocence that is, in part, representative of precolonial and postcolonial Ireland respectively is depicted metaphorically in four paradigms in Heaney's poetry: first, in Heaney's poetry about his childhood on Mossbawn in which he establishes pastoral/antipastoral nature imagery; secondly, in Heaney's depictions of women as both chaste and virginal as well as corruptible and tainted; thirdly, in Heaney's perception of the earth as healer and sanctifier as but also as violent deity; and lastly, in Heaney's poetry concerned with the loss of the Gaelic language to the English tongue. Parts two through six of the project discuss how Heaney constructs idealized images of Ireland's past in order to protect and preserve the memory of Ireland's indigenous culture. However, as is argued in these sections of the paper, this illusion of Edenic bliss is deconstructed because realistically Ireland's past is embedded in a history of war, invasion, and foreign powers. The juxtaposition of Edenic bliss and war and violence is exemplified by the four paradigms discussed above. The last three parts are concerned with interrogating the binaries established in the first part of the paper. These sections will examine how Heaney often refutes expectations to speak in partisan language or from a entirely subjective Irish Catholic nationalist perspective, and instead, creates metaphors that speak to general themes of innocence lost and peace challenged. This paper ultimately is concerned with presenting the work of a poet who is inspirational in his call for peace in his poetry, essays, lectures, and interviews. "Selected Poems of Seamus Heaney: Constructions of Eden and Innocence Lost" provides an overview of Seamus Heaney, an individual who epitomizes the role of the ideal modem poet by writing poetry that speaks to his time and place in history, that recalls what and who have happened and lived before him, that crosses racial, ethnic, and gender boundaries but is grounded in personal experience, and that takes responsibility for the documentation of life without excluding moral implications and personal involvement.


Poems, literature, Seamus Heaney


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