Leaning “well beyond the plumb” of his native language: Heaney’s tone and the international style

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Estudios Irlandeses



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Czeslaw Milosz, International style, Poetic tone, Poetry in translation, Richard Wilbur, Seamus Heaney


© 2016 by Nick Norwood. In the last decades of his life Seamus Heaney enjoyed phenomenal worldwide success, outselling, or so it was widely held, all other poets writing in English combined, a fact attesting to the existence of an international component in his work. A close study of the entire body of his poetry, as well as a study of the concurrent poetic interests he himself professed and which other critics have identified, reveals a subtle and gradual shift toward what may be referred to as the “international style”. The reader encounters such a style, prominently manifest, in the work of some of Heaney’s poetic influences, especially Eastern European poets like Czeslaw Milosz and Zbigniew Herbert. This article argues, however, that Heaney’s stylistic shift was too slight to account for the enormity of his international success and asserts instead that his far-ranging appeal is a matter of tone: Heaney’s attitude toward his material, but more so, deep characteristics of his personality – what Ted Hughes refers to as “the ultimate suffering and decision” in him – occupy space below the surface of his work and imbue it with a quality to which readers around the world are drawn.

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