John Burnside on Seamus Heaney

451336544John Burnside at The New Statesman:

It was Auden who famously claimed that “poetry makes nothing happen”, though what he meant by “nothing” is open to discussion. Yet if we choose to take that dictum at face value, there is no better test of its veracity than the work collected here – where, at the very least, poetry makes compassion happen (and compassion in turn gives rise to other events). There are, also, merits in its refusals – in what it will not aid and abet, as when the poet, returning from New York to Belfast, is confronted on the train by his old adversary, the man of violent action, in “The Flight Path”:

So he enters and sits down
Opposite and goes for me head on.
“When, for fuck’s sake, are you
going to write
Something for us?” “If I do write
Whatever it is, I’ll be writing for myself.”
And that was that. Or words to that effect.

This is a dilemma Heaney also works through carefully in “Weighing In”, where he interrogates the efficacy (through the figure of the mocked and crucified Jesus), of “the power/Of power not exercised, of hope inferred//By the powerless forever”. Yet although it may be easy, in moral terms at least, to reject the gunman’s invitation to “drive a van/Carefully in to the next customs post”, it is also the case that, in a world where the balance no longer holds, the temptation to “Prophesy, give scandal, cast the stone” becomes harder to resist.

more here.