Seamus Heaney and Regional Poetry

Regional Poetry is poetry that hones in on a specific location in the world. This location can be as small as a village and its surroundings or as broad as an entire province or territory, such as the American Southwest.

Regional poetry also tends to focus on the idiosyncrasies of that location, including its native inhabitants, geography, culture, wildlife, history, etc. Many of the best regional poets have lived there for a significant portion of their lives.

The most common effect regional poetry has is that of revelation, often bringing to light a relatively unknown part of the world. However, it’s important to note that while regional poetry can pay homage to a location, it can also cast a location (especially its people) in a negative light and bring unwanted attention.

In the following poem, Seamus Heaney writes about a town in Ireland called Anahorish, where he attended primary school. Note that it isn’t an epic poem; he doesn’t chronicle every nook and cranny. Heaney only offers a few select snapshots, a few specific details, and yet it’s enough to evoke the town’s mood and character.

The town was made famous after him.

Anahorish

My ‘place of clear water’,
the first hill in the world
where springs washed into
the shiny grass

and darkened cobbles
in the bed of the lane.
Anahorish, soft gradient
of consonant, vowel-meadow,

after-image of lamps
swung through the yards
on winter evenings.
With pails and barrows

those mound-dwellers
go waist-deep in mist
to break the light ice
at wells and dunghills.

by Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)

Yeats on Love and Age and Rhetoric

 

When You Are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Polysyndeton

Polysyndeton is a rhetorical device consisting of the repetition of conjuctions such as “and,” “but” and “or.” The obvious function of polysyndeton is to join units of language (words, clauses, etc.) together, but it is also a stylistic feature that can affect the rhythm and pace of both poetry and prose.

This poem by Yeats—the first stanza in particular—is rife with polysyndeton. Note that the poem is written in iambic pentameter, and that the conjunctions always serve as unaccented syllables to aid in the rhythm.

Next, look closely at the poem’s punctuation: the only period occurs at the end of the poem. This makes it read as though it were one uninterrupted succession of thoughts and actions. Alongside his punctuation choices, Yeat’s use of polysyndeton helps him achieve this effect.

Finally, polysyndeton works to speed up the pace of the poem, giving the reader less of a breath between pauses.