Seamus Heaney had many influences on his life that shaped him, and consequently, his poetry. Moving from his childhood home Mossbawn at the age of fourteen was the first of many such influences. He loved his home, and the surroundings, and the loss of this, as well as the subsequent loss of the ‘innocence of childhood’ was a major theme in his first work Death of a Naturalist.
Growing up as the eldest of nine children of a farmer, as a Catholic in a predominantly Protestant environment, in the midst of such unrest, inculcated a deep sensitivity and perception in Heaney as a child. He was deeply aware of boundaries, accentuated by an accident of local topography. A stream ran very close to his house, dividing the townland into the diocese of Deny and
Armagh. “He was always going backwards and forwards...and he seemed always to be a little displaced; being in between was a kind of condition, from the start”. This topographical division inevitably shades into the greater divisions of religion and culture.
This awareness of a ‘split culture’ in him took on a deeper meaning at University, where he had to balance attending university sherry parties with meetings of the Bellaghy Pioneer Total Abstinence Association; reading Shakespeare with being a member of the Bellaghy Dramatic Society. The social forms of Heaney’s life were all Catholic—the schools he attended, the Gaelic football team he played with, the village hall.
A further influence on much of his work were the Irish rituals attendant on death, where, being the eldest of his family, it fell upon him to represent them. “My childhood was full of death...the sight of a corpse...were quite common to me...I’m certain all those funerals and corpses had some definite effect”. Poems such as Mid-Term Break and Funeral Rites take-off from these childhood memories.
The People of the Bog
Heaney acknowledges an attachment to the soil, with things buried. His ‘bog poems’ reveal this fascination, as with an almost morbid interest he describes the objects buried in the bog. P.V. Glob’s book, The Bog People, serves as an influential book, as soon after reading it, Heaney’s interest in these people leaped. He has written many poems, appearing in his third and fourth volumes of poetry, dealing with themes and descriptions of the bog people, and employing the bogland as a metaphor.
The Irish Conflict
The most lasting and significant effect on his work however, was obviously the unrest in
. Being a Catholic in a primarily Protestant neighbourhood he knew what the situation was like firsthand. His early work shows a preoccupation with his own life, and an indifference to the world around him. After ‘Door into the Dark’ however, when clashes in Northern Ireland Derry became more serious, and thirteen men were killed on Bloody Sunday, his poetry turned to incorporating political themes. He rarely spoke out directly, but his words had a deeper meaning and value that struck a far more profound chord in his readers than outspoken syllables may have.