we are in a new world of understanding and character

Courtney Robertson: Last year I was studying a University College, Cork. I took a poetry course, and your name came up a number of times. We were talking about the idea of women as nature and men as culture in looking at "Digging." How do you respond to that critical argument?

Seamus Heaney: Well, it's a critical language, it has a new approach. Patricia Coughlan has written an article, a polemical article, about that. And it's necessary that those inherited tropes be interrogated. Nevertheless, poetry isn't just its thematic content. Poetry is in the musical intonation. What is missing in a lot of that criticism is any sense of the modulation, the intonation, the way the spirit moves in a cadence. It deliberately eschews the poetryness of poetry in order to get at its thematic and its submerged political implication. That's perfectly in order as a form of intellectual exercise and political protest, but it is not what the thing in itself is. Within this new critical dispensation, Rilke's "Sonnets to Orpheus," you know, could be taken to task for silencing the little girl who is the occasion of them - the child who died. You could see a fierce political point being made against Rilke for this, At the same time, the Sonnets refuse the terms of that argument. This is the old argument between, if you like, truth and beauty, put in another way. Or between the Puritans and the playwrights. That criticism is very Puritan: extirpate the mistaken because we are in a new world of understanding and character. This is a pattern that keeps repeating.

- Seamus Heaney, in interview with Harry Thomas' class at Davidson College, as published in Talking with Poets (Handsel Books, 2002).

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