The Irish Times view on Seamus Heaney: The craftsman at work

A revelatory new exhibition traces the trajectory of the poet’s writing life

President Michael D Higgins and Sabina Higgins at the opening of the National Library of Ireland’s exhibition ’Seamus Heaney: Listen Now Again’ at the newly created Bank of Ireland Cultural and Heritage Centre at College Green, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The mysteries of the poet's craft – how a poem is nudged into existence – hold a certain fascination for students and readers of poetry and, perhaps even more so, for poets themselves. Those curious about the evolution of Seamus Heaney's work will be well sated by the exhibition Listen Now Again in the impressive new heritage centre at the Bank of Ireland in College Green in Dublin. The Heaney papers, which the poet handed over to the National Library in 2011, form the basis for this revelatory display and provide a literary trove that will further enhance the library's archives and reputation.

On the page a poem might appear as a seemingly effortless or spontaneous creation, but in most cases behind the finished, polished version there is a process of birth, requiring the clearing away of the evidence of the birth-process. What this exhibition provides is access to much of that evidence in the form of early drafts, rewrites, notebook entries, all opening our eyes to the way in which Heaney drew on his skills to achieve the rightness of each line and stanza.

A poem that received its first outing in this newspaper, Postscript, is shown to be given the revision treatment almost immediately on publication, with the poet's hand-written emendations on the newsprint page. But this exhibition is much wider in scope, tracing the trajectory of his career, his path to the Nobel podium and status at home as national poet required to shoulder civic and public duties. Five years after his death, it reaffirms not only that status, but also his place in public affection.

The stimulating choreographing of the exhibits prompts attention not only to Heaney’s genesis and growth as a poet but to his signature themes, beginning in the rich domain of his Derry childhood, on what he called “the ground of memory and sensation”, and advancing to that later stage of his career, which he recognised as a “Time to be dazzled and the heart to lighten”.


Listen Now Again will dazzle all who, through this exhibition, encounter the Heaney imagination at work.