Seamus Heaney’s ‘The Ministry of Fear’, and Derek Walcott’s
‘Homecoming: Anse La Raye’, written within a few years of each
other, bear some striking resemblances, which – together with their
inevitable differences – illuminate the specific national situations
from which their poetry emerges, and the differing ways each poet
takes to negotiate or make the most of their particular histories.
Heaney’s poem is the first in a sequence of six poems called ‘Singing
School’, published in North in 1975; while Walcott’s poem first
appeared in The Gulf and Other Poems in 1969 – both collections in
which the pressures of local histories, and the demands of dramatic
and immediate political events, are explicitly registered. In each case
the poem is concerned with the difficulties caused, and the creative
possibilities made available, by the distance between personal history
and available poetic tradition – though this is a story told in a personal
register, as autobiography, and told with varying degrees of ruefulness,
sadness, and comedy. Both poems tell the story of the ‘growth
of the poet’s mind’, and, indeed, Wordsworth is the explicit startingpoint
for Heaney, whose poem systematically rewrites The Prelude,
insofar as that can be done in a poem of such smaller compass. But
Walcott also takes on one of the great poets and translates him into
local terms – a project to be realised at much greater length some
twenty years later with the writing of Omeros.
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