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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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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2019. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 16 October 2019

‘The Forewarned Journey Back’

‘The Forewarned Journey Back’

Katabasis as Nostos in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney

(p.205) 13 ‘The Forewarned Journey Back’
Seamus Heaney and the Classics

Kathleen Riley

Oxford University Press

In his poem ‘The Conway Stewart’ the parental gift of a fountain pen, on the eve of Heaney’s departure to boarding school, performs a symbolic katabasis (descent), as the nib drinks deep of the fresh black liquid in a Lethean prelude to new birth. The pen’s mystical immersion signals the moment of severance from home and family but it also anticipates a return, a reconnection. In his earlier poem ‘Digging’ the pen was to be Heaney’s spade, the instrument that would connect him to the soil of his forbears. Now the pen is transfigured, it is his golden bough, his passage to the netherworld of the past, bearing with it the power to elegize, to revivify memory. This chapter will examine Seamus Heaney’s lifelong preoccupation—culminating in his final collection Human Chain (2010) and his posthumously published translation of Aeneid VI—with the numinous essence of Home and his continual association of the act of nostos (homecoming) with that of katabasis, with crossing and rebirth. It will also consider his notion of ‘poetry as a point of entry into the buried life of the feelings or as a point of exit for it’.

Keywords:   Heaney, katabasis, pen, Virgil, nostos, rebirth

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