'The beheaded girl "outstaring axe / And beautification" in "Strange Fruit" becomes for Heaney an emblem of the martyr, who witnesses (murtus in Greek means witness) historical tragedy but remains independent of those who act as belated witnesses on her behalf. For Anne Ross, whose Pagan Celtic Britain Heaney quotes in "Feeling into Words," what "sums up the whole of Celtic pagan religion and is as representative of it as is, for example, the sign of the cross in Christian contexts ... is the symbol of the severed head". For the Celts "the head was seemingly the centre of the life-force, capable of continued, independent life after the death of the body". Sacks contends that the severed head as well as the other figures of martyrdom and dismemberment in Heaney's elegies could be symbolic of castration. In Greek fertility cults, which underpin the whole Western tradition of elegy, "castration was thought to defend the individual against mortality by conserving his psyche." The castrated head was also associated with the mutilated totem, the sacrificed god or goddess who rose from the dead, as well as the consoling tropes of elegies that guarantee the deceased's immortality. Sacks explains, "Just as the child performs a voluntary symbolic castration, and just as the vegetation deity suffers a particularly castrative martyrdom, so that the phallic principle of fertility may be renewed, so, too, the griever wounds his own sexuality, deflecting his desire, in order to erect a consoling figure for an ongoing, if displaced, generative power". Heaney's erotic attachment to the dead and the fertility goddess (Ireland) also has to be severed in order for him to continue as a poet. The bog victims through a paradoxical apotheosis become the icons of his own poetic power, and of the Irish psyche in general. They are abjured through a sacrificial process that makes possible their longevity in the sublimated form of art.'
In this essay I have set out to use what might be regarded as a very ordinary analysis of this familiar poem in order to focus attention on an aspect of Hughes’s poetry which is sometimes neglected.
Critical discussion of at least three poems Essay …
'Such is the pressure of nounness on this poem that even its adjectives are mostly nouns: "Harbour stillness," "harbour wall," "boat boards," "cockle minarets," "bottle glass," "shell-debris." '
Shooting Stars | Higher English Blog
If, in Hughes is able to explore and express the internalised violence of the rationalist sensibility with more imaginative power than any other modern poet, it is perhaps because he does so from within a poetic sensibility which is itself profoundly intellectual, and deeply marked by that very puritanical rationalism which he so frequently – and I believe justifiably – attacks.
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The title is weak, an instance of Seamus Heaney's , of Seamus Heaney as the less than effective guardian of language. He isn't the kind of poet who generates neologisms with abandon, an audacious remoulder of language. Here, it seems overwhelmingly likely that he intended to follow an established use but inwittingly gave to the word 'westering' a meaning of his own. The entry for 'to wester' in the Oxford English Dictionary, omitting the illustrative examples:
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In this image Hughes is above all an isolated and embattled figure who has set himself against the entire course both of modern poetry and of modern history .He is rather like the hero in one of his most powerful poems ‘Stealing trout on a May morning’, resolutely and stubbornly wading upstream, his feet rooted in the primeval strength of the river’s bed as the whole course of modern history and modern puritanical rationalism floods violently past him in the opposite direction, bearing with it what Hughes himself has called ‘mental disintegration … under the super-ego of Moses … and the self-anaesthetising schizophrenia of St Paul’, and leaving him in secure possession of that ancient and archaic imaginative energy which he invokes in his poetry.