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Seamus Heaney and the ClassicsBann Valley Muses$
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Stephen Harrison, Fiona Macintosh, and Helen Eastman

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198805656

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198805656.001.0001

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Heaney, Yeats, and the Language of Pastoral

Heaney, Yeats, and the Language of Pastoral

(p.147) 10 Heaney, Yeats, and the Language of Pastoral
Seamus Heaney and the Classics

Bernard O’Donoghue

Oxford University Press

Starting with Seamus Heaney’s essay on the beneficence of pastoral in extremis, I will argue that Heaney moves significantly between pastoral as healing in troubled times and its capacity for a more literary, simple language (as claimed by William Empson) so that the form works for literal rural description as well as for political description and argument. I want to argue that Heaney turned to classical pastoral in the volume Electric Light (2001) in the same way as Yeats turned to it in the volumes after 1916 in Ireland. In both cases there is a tension between what Heaney called ‘The Real Names’ and the generic names within the form, as in Yeats’s ‘Shepherd and Goatherd’ about Robert Gregory and in the name ‘Augusta’ as applied to Lady Gregory and to Heaney’s benefactor Ann Saddlemyer.

Keywords:   Heaney, classical pastoral, Yeats, politics, names

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