This article analyzes the influence of Polish poet Czesław Miłosz on Northern Irish poet Seamus Heaney in reference to two poems — Miłosz's biographical, ethically self-critical “Bypassing Rue Descartes” and Heaney's ethical allegory “From the Republic of Conscience” — which serve as case studies to elucidate the way in which Milosz's poetic changes as it travels westward and influences Heaney's volume The Haw Lantern (1987). Heaney's experiments with the parable form, and his corollary desire to bring the “aerated” language of abstractions into a poetry based on concrete experience, are conducted under the aegis of Miłosz, his “Master.” These experiments are not historically neutral, and the political dimension of Miłosz's poetic meditation is not lost upon Heaney, whose own desire is to forge a poetic more de-materialized than that of his previous volumes North (1975) and Field Work (1979). His view of Miłosz, however, is affected by associations against which Miłosz himself rebels. Most notable for this comparison is Miłosz's insistence that “noble feelings” are dangerous for literature and — in spite of his avowed anti-Romanticism — his bardic aura. Heaney's experience with Miłosz must be seen in the cultural context with which each poet was associated and in the context of Heaney's desire at the time to attune himself to Eastern European poetry in general and to his “Master” in particular. This article first situates Heaney's encounter with Miłosz in literary-historical and biographical space, then closely compares the two poems at hand, and, finally, considers the sort of transnational reading strategy that these poems demand.
Magdalena Kay; Dialogues across the Continent: The Influence of Czesław Miłosz on Seamus Heaney. Comparative Literature 1 June 2011; 63 (2): 161–181. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00104124-1265465
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