The Work of Seamus Hini

The following sample essay on The Work of Seamus Hini tells the story of an Irish writer, poet, translator and teacher.

Seamus Heaney, born in April of 1939, is considered to be both a child of Ireland’s past and its future. His early work shows a preoccupation with his own life, and an indifference to the world around him, however; in the Heaney’s poem “Summer 1969” he transitions his work to reflect themes of political and cultural importance. The most noteworthy muse for this political influence upon his work lay in the unrest of his homeland, Northern Ireland.

Although Heaney was away in Spain as the Troubles of Northern Ireland progressed, it remained a source for deep, emotional connection with his work. In fact, Spain itself became an influence on Heaney as he continued to study their culture and war history. This persuaded him to compare his contemporary situation to that of the historical circumstances of Spain. Through this, he found a connection to other artisans such as Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca and painter Francisco Goya rooted in civil unrest.

Heaney felt obligated to represent his people and homeland similarly which ultimately pushed him to replicate their voice in his own personal work. Heaney rarely spoke out directly, but instead used his words to convey a deeper meaning and value that struck a far more profound chord in his readers. Seamus Heaney’s creation of his poem, “Summer 1969” showcases powerful, cultural influence taken from street rioting in Northern Ireland, Spanish painter Goya as well as Irish artist, James Joyce.

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With the intent to understand why the Troubles of Northern Ireland had significant influence over the creation of “Summer 1969” it is crucial to analyze the political tensions that existed during this moment in Irish history. Web article, Northern Ireland and The Troubles provide a basic insight to this political unrest between 1969 and 1999. Northern Ireland was religiously divided between British Protestants and Irish Catholics. The Catholic minority, known as the Nationalists, had suffered many years of political discrimination ultimately pushing them to fight for equal treatment in the 1960’s.

However, the protestant community wished to maintain the British rule over Ireland. The protestants fought back against the Catholics, causing the first violent act, a street war, in Derry, Ireland in 1969. According to the article, Seamus Heaney Biographical, Heaney grew up in a Catholic household located in County Derry, Northern Ireland. Therefore, it is appropriate to assume Heaney felt passionately during this time of violence. Additionally, he writes, “While the Constabulary covered the mob/ Firing into the Falls I was suffering/ Only the bullying sun of Madrid, to show the contrast between his bully in Spain and the life-threatening bullies he would have faced had he been home in Ireland. While he is “suffering” the inconvenience of stifling heat, he acknowledges that his family and himself, should he choose to return, are suffering through political turmoil. This line also suggests that Heaney feels cowardly as a result of his failed physical presence as a supporter of the Irish National cause.

However, Heaney presents options for possible plans of action regarding the conflict in Northern Ireland. One of his companions says he might “try to touch the people” proposing that he go home and get involved in the conflict. Heaney’s “Summer 1969” was additionally guided by the influential Irish writer and representative of literary culture James Joyce. Within the web article, James Joyce, it is made clear that Joyce lived most of his life in exile. Although he was born and raised in Ireland, Joyce spent the majority of his life in exile as a result of self-alienation from his Irish identity.

Heaney references Joyce in his poem with the following line, I sweated my way through the life of Joyce. Heaney’s emphasis on Joyce’s “life” as opposed to professional name signifies that he identifies with the distress Joyce felt. In the article, Seamus Heaney: A Forgotten Interview, Heaney is asked the question, I noticed you referred to Sweating your way through the Life of Joyce. There’s lots of references to Portrait of the Artist in North. Was his influence on you very significant? Heaney responds with the statement, I don’t know. . . . Reading Joyce was a thrill because it wasn’t like a reading book. It was like reading your own life, and I think that kind of book is always important. Heaney’s response strengthens the argument that he identifies with the struggles Joyce experienced in exile during his time as a writer.

Additionally, Heaney’s poem took cultural influence from Spanish painter Goya. Heaney references Goya’s painting, The Third of May 1808 in the line, Goya’s Shootings of the third of May, covered a wall  thrown up in arms. The scene is a depiction of the Peninsular War in which civilians have surrendered to French troops. Civilians are shown cowering around one Spaniard with raised arms in a moment before they are shot. Additionally, Goya’s painting and Heaney’s line While the constabulary covered the mob, Firing into the Falls, parallel one another through acts of violence in addition to the oppression of another country. Within the web article, The French Invasion of Spain, February to May 1808, author J Rickard informs readers that Napoleon Bonaparte gained overall command of Spain after an invasion occurring mid-February and by late March had offered the throne to his brother, Joseph Bonaparte (Rickard, para. 8).

Soon after Bonaparte’s invasion, on May third, 1808, Spaniards openly resisted the French but were quickly silenced. French troops had rallied all Spaniards into the plaza and massacred them in the streets ultimately ending their riot (para. 14). Heaney ultimately equates the violence done to the Spaniards to that of the violence Catholics in Northern Ireland were experiencing. Similarly, the French invasion of Spain parallels the long-term British invasion of Ireland. Heaney also chooses to emphasize that although the French invasion is similar to that of the British, officials only classify one as a historical act of war.

The people of Northern Ireland feel their experience has not been given the justice it deserves. Finally, Heaney references a bullfighting metaphor in the poem’s final two lines with a description of Goya, He painted with his fists and elbows, flourished. The stained cape of his heart as history charged. Here, Goya is the metaphorical torero welcoming the bull as it charges towards him with. The stained cape of his heart. Goya decides to embrace the turmoil that history brings because he feels as though it is inevitable. With the creation of Summer 1969, Seamus Heaney appears to be imitating Goya’s approach to addressing issues of national crisis. Heaney’s exposure to the “bullying sun” and the “bullfight reports” are indications that he too is waving a metaphorical stained cape at the advancement of history. The poem conveys the concept that an artist can confront reality through art, historical expression. The act of looking back in time and paralleling history in literature, is the most effective way Heaney believes that he can contribute to ending the devastation in Northern Ireland.

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The Work of Seamus Hini. (2019, Nov 23). Retrieved from

The Work of Seamus Hini
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