the pathetic sigh of the self for itself

I think a lot of writing that passes under the name of poetry is actually self-indulgent, and too self-satisfying, and kind of profiles itself in a flattering way. You can hear the pathetic sigh of the self for itself, which is the voice of the decade or of the times. Much that is being written doesn't place enough scrutiny upon itself; it's not aware of the demands which are there in the art. On the other hand, having said that, poems have absolutely no ethical duty to stand between the goalposts of history and save all the balls that are flung at them. They can stand and be umpire and watch them go past, put up a flag, or they can turn their back. But the poem has to know at least that there is a game going on. The poem has to understand its place and its placing, even if it is a poem of total harmony, total beauty, and apparently total innocence.

- Seamus Heaney, in interview with Harry Thomas' class at Davidson College, as published in Talking with Poets.

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