A Stepping Stone Rather Than a Destination: Analyzing Seamus Heaney's Pastoral

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Virginia Tech

As an Irish farm boy turned educated poet, Seamus Heaney navigates a liminal space between the world of agriculture and the world of letters. Many of his poems draw upon his rural childhood experiences, infusing them with firsthand accounts of life on an Irish farm. As a result, most scholars label Heaney's poetry as antipastoral, noting its failure to provide the idyllic look at the countryside that is characteristic of traditional pastorals. However, reconsiderations of the pastoral mode reveal a unique aspect to Heaney's poems that is derived from his liminal existence as both a rural Irishman and as an educated writer. This thesis aims to analyze Heaney's particular version of the mode, noticing not only specific characteristics of his pastoral but also charting his development as a pastoral poet throughout his career. Through close readings of select poems contextualized by events in Heaney's life, I demonstrate not only why Heaney should be considered a pastoral poet but also how he transforms the pastoral mode.

Seamus Heaney, pastoral, antipastoral, English pastoral, Irish pastoral