Seamus Heaney‘s work rarely ingresses into politics. The one collection that does it most comprehensively was North, written in 1975 around the time he moved south. It contains some seminal pieces that capture northern nationalist attitudes towards the state, which continue to puzzle their southern counterparts, who’ve largely overcome their fear of state power. This snippet from Whatever You Say Say Nothing seems appropriate today:
By Seamus Heaney:
Northern reticence, the tight gag of place
And times: yes, yes. Of the ‘wee six’ I sing
Where to be saved you only must save face
And whatever you say, you say nothing.
Smoke-signals are loud-mouthed compared with us:
Manoeuverings to find out name and school,
Subtle discrimination by addresses
With hardly an exception to the rule
That Norman, Ken and Sidney signalled Prod
And Seamus (call me Sean) was sure-fire Pape.
O land of password, handgrip, wink and nod,
Of open minds as open as a trap,
Where tongues lie coiled, as under flames lie wicks,
Where half of us, as in a wooden horse
Were cabin’d and confined like wily Greeks,
Besieged within the siege, whispering morse.
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