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Sweeney Astray by Seamus Heaney

Sweeney Astray (1983)

by Seamus Heaney

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I read this after finishing Bryan Doerries' book Theatre of War, and perceived the poem as an extended metaphor of post traumatic stress/ combat trauma. The famous warrior Sweeney has furious rages, triggered by perceived slights or nothing in particular. He breaks the rules of combat and is ejected from his community, his body cannot touch the ground and he's condemned to fly about the countryside, chased by people who want to catch and restrain him. Images from this poem have stayed with me for weeks after finishing it, although I wasn't particularly engrossed or enthralled at the time of reading it. A book to keep, read again, and reflect upon.
  Pencils | May 16, 2016 |
I first encountered some of these poems and associated prose passages in Opened Ground, the mid-'90s selection of work from Heaney's career, and was at the time not terribly enamoured of them. In that volume the aesthetic best of the pieces were selected, and it made them more than a bit obtuse and impenetrable at times — artistically pleasing, perhaps, but narratively adrift.

Taken as a relatively complete whole — a number of lines are omitted for stylistic reasons — in my opinion those same passages don't inspire the same reaction. Though Heaney himself comments that the poem occasionally has some moments of less inspired verse, I found that I had a greater appreciation for the sublime sections when I was less confused over just who the characters speaking were, and what precisely they were talking of.

While I understand why the selections appeared in Opened Ground, the improved ease of comprehension in the longer narrative of Sweeney Astray and the subsequent increased appreciation makes me glad that I didn't act according to my initial feelings after reading it, and instead picked up the full work. ( )
  g026r | Jul 14, 2011 |
What a rare treat--the magic of medieval Irish prose translated with the poetic brilliance of Seamus Heaney. A poignant and beautifully told story. ( )
  thesmellofbooks | Feb 11, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374518947, Paperback)

Sweeney Astray is Seamus Heaney's version of the medieval Irish work Buile Suibne. Its here, Mad Sweeney, undergoes a series of purgatorial adventures after he is cursed by a saint and turned into a bird at the Battle of Moira. Heaney's translation not only restores to us a work of historical and literary importance but offers the genius of one of our greatest living poets to reinforce its claims on the reader of contemporary literature.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:49 -0400)

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