Seamus Heaney: the Free State of Image and Allusion

  • Alan Robinson


In the 1980s Seamus Heaney has discovered an increasing affinity with East European writers in exile, particularly Czeslaw Milosz and Joseph Brodsky. What Heaney admires in them and in their illustrious forebear, Osip Mandelstam, is their refusal to succumb to the pressures of a totalitarian regime, but instead to champion the illusion of individual autonomy enshrined in art’s ‘free state of image and allusion’. They are writers who succeed in reconciling ethical responsibilities with a commitment (total in Brodsky’s case) to the irreducible freedom of the imagination and ‘the possibilities of language’;1 as such they are exemplary mentors in Heaney’s own vacillation between ‘the collective historical experience’ and ‘the recognitions of the emerging self’. This debate dominates Station Island (1984) and The Haw Lantern (1987), but has a long history in Heaney’s life and poetry, to which these collections frequently allude. Accordingly, to place their revaluations in context, I will begin by giving a resumé of Heaney’s changing conceptions of his role as a poet.2


Symbolic Order Totalitarian Regime Hunger Striker Magical Realism Cave Painting 
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Notes to Chapter 7: Seamus Heaney: The Free State of Image and Allusion

  1. 26.
    James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916; repr. Harmondsworth, 1975) p. 203.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Alan David Robinson 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alan Robinson
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LancasterUK

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