Dante, Heaney and Their Companions
More than one contemporary Irish poet becomes anxious when quoting Dante, not only because Dante is the unsurpassable poet of all times, but also because Heaney’s improvisations on the Florentine poet appear, in Ireland, to carry more weight than that of the Italian poet himself. The path Heaney followed in his ‘research’ mainly meant ‘digging’ into the depths of history, language and myth. Dante, in particular, had surely not been studied prior to Hopkins and Frost, Hughes and Hardy, MacDiarmid and Larkin, MacCaig and Maclean, all the poets Heaney had read and, in part, even met before producing some of his middle- and late-career masterpieces. From the very beginning, Heaney’s ‘underground’ theme was his personal process of ‘digging’. In his interviews and essays, Heaney often quoted the Inferno and the Purgatorio and his insights into the ‘underground’ were often presented as spatial and symbolic contraries: surface/underground; high/low; light/darkness, outside/inside, hell/heaven; demon/angel, etc. The attraction to Dante and the presence of the Florentine poet as a background influence on Heaney’s poetry is here underlined by exploring some of his key collections and poems.
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