“Past Master”: Czeslaw Milosz and his Impact on Seamus Heaney's Poetry

Parker, Michael Richard (2013) “Past Master”: Czeslaw Milosz and his Impact on Seamus Heaney's Poetry. Textual Practice, 5 (1). pp. 825-850. ISSN 0950-236X

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0950236X.2012.751448


The essay examines the influence of Czeslaw Milosz on Seamus Heaney's writing, focusing primarily on the early 1980s, which was a period of major transition in Heaney's literary and academic career, following the success of Field Work (1979) in the USA and his appointment as a Visiting Lecturer at Harvard. It establishes the political and biographical contexts for Heaney's reception of Milosz's prose and poetry, and discusses the importance of Milosz's Nobel Lecture and his memoir, Native Realm, in fostering Heaney's feelings of affinity and sense of difference. Composed in the wake of Solidarity's challenge to the post-war status quo, Milosz's reflections in the Nobel Lecture on history, art, and the artist's responsibilities had a profound resonance for his fellow exile, uncertain as he was how to address the Hunger Strikes in the collection he was working on, Station Island. The essay thus explores the range of factors which resulted in Milosz becoming The Master to Heaney, and ends offering an analysis of his poem of that title. It draws on a range of literary and historical sources, including the Heaney archives at Emory, Atlanta. Since it is the centenary of Milosz's birth, it offers a timely reminder of his importance in world literature. (Since it may not be familiar to many readers, I have included an outline of Milosz's biography at the start of the essay.) © 2013 Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.

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