Postcolonialism: Love it
or Hate it- it’s there.
Megan Miller
Seamus Heaney born in
Northern Ireland, won
multiple awards for his poetry.
“Seen as the greatest Irish poet
since Yeats” and he was
influenced by British writers
too. He translated Beowulf and
tries to bring an Irish sound to
his poetry written in English.
William Butler Yeats was “an Irish
cultural nationalist, who helped forge
Irish cultural identity and inspired the
poet-revolutionaries who led the Easter
Rising of 1916 against the British.” (p
91) The Norton Anthology of Modern
Contemporary Poetry
Derek Walcott was influenced by
Yeats. “His loyalties to his African
ancestry and to the ‘English tongue I
love.’” (p 494) The Norton Anthology
of Modern Contemporary Poetry
He is a successful Caribbean poet who
dealt with similar issues as Yeats and
Introduction to Idea:
Postcolonial writers may resent the colonizers, but
without them they wouldn’t have the angst or
oppression to write about.
Not necessarily a binary relationship between the
colonizer/colonized, but a dual person who has
influences of colonizer and attributes of his native
people. (English/Irish)
By at looking Seamus Heaney’s poems and
discussing the themes we will see how his work is
shaped by his upbringing.
Show that similar themes appear in Derek Walcott
and W.B. Yeats.
Literary Critics Say…
“For postcolonial cultures include both a
merger of and antagonism between the culture
of the colonized and that of the colonizer,
which, at this point in time, are difficult to
identify and separate into discrete entities, so
complete was the British intrusion into the
government, education, cultural values, and
daily lives of its colonial subjects.” (p 419)
-Lois Tyson, Critical Theory Today
Tyson also says, “Postcolonial theorists often describe
the colonial subject as having a double consciousness
or double vision, in other words, a consciousness or a
way of perceiving the world that is divided between
two antagonistic cultures: that of the colonizer and
the of the indigenous community.” (p 421)
Edward Said’s view: “Said reads a metaphor of the
colonial relationship, and the question it provokes:
did the colonized benefit from colonization, no matter
how violent the structure of the relationship?”…
“Although it may be clear that ‘Yeats’s poetry joins
his people to its history’, one also notes the fact that
in Said’s formulation, agency is with the national
poet, not the people, and they are yoked to ‘their
history’ whether they wish it or not.” (p 319)
-Conor McCarthy, “Edward Said and Irish Criticism”
Different themes:
 Animal relationship between colonizer/colonized.
 “As with the colonist/colonized relation, the essential
human/animal relation is one of exploitation.” (p 7) Hugh
Denard.. “The association of the colonized with animals
commonly occurs as part of the colonist’s construction of the
“Other” in colonial discourse.”
 Even though colonizer (British) tries to stress they are better
than the colonized; colonized still feels better than them. That
they even have a closeness to nature that the British can’t
I can feel the tug
of the halter at the nape
of her neck, the wind
on her naked front.
It blows her nipples
to amber beads,
it shakes the frail rigging
of her ribs.
I can see her drowned
body in the bog,
the weighing stone,
the floating rods and boughs.
Under which at first
she was a barked sapling
that is dug up
oak-bone, brain-firkin:
her shaved head
like a stubble of black corn,
her blindfold a soiled bandage,
her noose a ring
to store
the memories of love.
Little adultress,
before they punished you
you were flaxen-haired,
undernourished, and your
tar-black face was beautiful.
My poor scapegoat,
I almost love you
but would have cast, I know,
the stones of silence.
I am the artful voyeur
of your brain's exposed
and darkened combs,
your muscles' webbing
and all your numbered bones:
I who have stood dumb
when your betraying sisters,
cauled in tar,
wept by the railings,
who would connive
in civilized outrage
yet understand the exact
and tribal, intimate revenge.
-Seamus Heaney
Us/Them: “The relation between colonist and colonized
becomes essentially one of opposition; the ‘Other’ is
not only different, the ‘Other’ is an enemy”. (p 9)
-Hugh Denard, “Seamus Heaney, Colonialism, and the
“Betraying sisters” our women were with the English
men. That is enough grounds to be tortured on, since
those men are different. Those men are the enemy.
If the English men are different, they are the savage
beasts, than why did the Irish torture the women?
From Station Island
“Who cares,
he jeered, ’any more? The English language
Belongs to us. You are raking at dead fires,
a waste of time for somebody your age.
That subject people stuff is cod’s game,
Infantile, like your peasant pilgrimage.
You lose more of yourself than you redeem
doing the decent thing. Keep at a tangent.
When they make the circle wide, it’s time to swim
out on your own and fill the element
with signatures on your own frequency”
James Joyce is “speaking” to Heaney that it is okay to
write in English.
 Heaney taking the time to debate writing in English,
shows that he feels guilty not writing in Irish
 “The use of native languages often requires native
writers to put forth the double effort of writing in
their indigenous languages and then translating their
work into English or having it translated.”
“Many ex-colonials therefore feel they must assert a
native culture both to avoid being swamped by the
Western culture so firmly planted on their soil and to
recuperate their national image in their own eyes and
in the eyes of others” Lois Tyson, Critical Theory
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.
Under my window a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade,
Just like his old man.
My grandfather could cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner's bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mold, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.
Heaney maybe trying to hide
guilty feelings towards this new
“But I’ve no spade to follow men
like them” refers to he is not as
good as his father or grandfather.
Ireland moving away from
farming into industrial as a result
of colonization.
“This feeling of being caught
between cultures, of belonging to
neither rather than to both, of
finding oneself arrested in a
psychological limbo that results
not merely from some individual
psychological disorder but from
the trauma of the cultural
displacement within which one
lives, is referred to by Homi
Bhabha and others as
unhomeliness.” (p 421) Lois
from The Cure at Troy
Human beings suffer,
they torture one another,
they get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
can fully right a wrong
inflicted or endured.
The innocent in gaols
beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker's father
stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
faints at the funeral home.
History says, Don't hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.
Call the miracle self-healing:
The utter self-revealing
double-take of feeling.
If there's fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky
That means someone is hearing
the outcry and the birth-cry
of new life at its term.
“Heaney’s work boldly opened up a dialogue
between its Sophoclean model and the culture
and politics of Northern Ireland. To the
Sophoclean representation of a wounded,
embittered Philoctetes. Heaney’s version,
avoided merely aestheticizing “The Troubles”
by the toughness and realism of its tenor, and
the long shadows of irony with which it
concludes.” –Hugh Denard, Seamus Heaney,
Colonialism, and The Cure
Mary Robinson and Bill Clinton quoted
Heaney created his version in hopes his people
would see their similar story in this.
Heaney summary
Heaney’s writing is a direct result of his postcolonialist
He is a “hybrid”, he is aware of the impact the English have on
him. Questioning himself for writing in English, but he did
translate several poems into Gaelic. He was influenced by
English writers as well as Irish writers.
If he was a writer not under postcolonialism his writing would
be drastically different. Even his interest in writing versions
like The Cure at Troy.
Heaney may feel superior to the English people, but without
them he may not be Nobel Prize wining Seamus Heaney.
The same can be said about W.B. Yeats and Derek Walcott.
Man and the Echo
Man. In a cleft that's christened Alt
Under broken stone I halt
At the bottom of a pit
That broad noon has never lit,
And shout a secret to the stone.
All that I have said and done,
Now that I am old and ill,
Turns into a question till
I lie awake night after night
And never get the answers right.
Did that play of mine send out
Certain men the English shot?
Did words of mine put too great strain
On that woman's reeling brain?
Could my spoken words have checked
That whereby a house lay wrecked?
And all seems evil until I
Sleepless would lie down and die.
Echo. Lie down and die.
Man. That were to shirk
The spiritual intellect's great work,
And shirk it in vain. There is no release
In a bodkin or disease,
Nor can there be work so great
As that which cleans man's dirty slate.
While man can still his body keep
Wine or love drug him to sleep,
Waking he thanks the Lord that he
Has body and its stupidity,
But body gone he sleeps no more,
And till his intellect grows sure
That all's arranged in one clear view,
pursues the thoughts that I pursue,
Then stands in judgment on his soul,
And, all work done, dismisses all
Out of intellect and sight
And sinks at last into the night.
Echo. Into the night.
Man. O Rocky Voice,
Shall we in that great night rejoice?
What do we know but that we face
One another in this place?
But hush, for I have lost the theme,
Its joy or night-seem but a dream;
Up there some hawk or owl has struck,
Dropping out of sky or rock,
A stricken rabbit is crying out,
And its cry distracts my thought.
-William Butler Yeats
He questions whether his words resulted in
people dying.
Yeats “reclaims a land colonized by the
British; imposes Irish rhythms, images, genres,
and syntax on English-language poetry; and
revives native myths, place-names, and
consciousness.” (p 91) The Norton Anthology
of Modern Contemporary Poetry
Yeats also moves to another style with his
writing, but may not have been the same if he
did not start at the Irish nationalist writing.
Derek Walcott:
 “The Schooner Flight”
Line 41-43:
“I had a sound colonial education,
I have Dutch, nigger, and English in me,
and either I’m nobody, or I’m a nation.”
 Walcott is able to illustrate how he is a hybrid.
 “Walcott asks time and again how the postcolonial
poet can both grieve the agonizing harm of British
colonialism and appreciate the empire’s literary gift.”
(p 495) The Norton Anthology of Modern
Contemporary Poetry
Where do I go from here?
I would research further Yeats and Walcott
poems, and possibly other postcolonialist
Look for evidence that the colonialism made
these writers who they were. Without their
upbringing, country, they wouldn’t have
written the literature they did.
Work Cited
Berson, Misha. "In his play "the Cure at Troy" poet Seamus Heaney explores the
wounds within." The Seattle Times. 6 Apr. 2008. 18 July 2009
Denard, Hugh. "Seamus Heaney, Colonialism, and the Cure." Project Muse (2000): 118.
Ellmann, Richard, and Robert O'Clair. "Derek Walcott." Ed. Jahan Ramazani. The
Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, Third Edition, Volume 1
Modern Poetry. 3rd ed. Vol. 2. Boston: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. 494-534.
Ellmann, Richard, and Robert O'Clair. "William Butler Yeats." The Norton Anthology
of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, Third Edition, Volume 1 Modern Poetry. By
Jahan Ranazani. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. Boston: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. 90-143.
McCarthy, Conor. "Edward Said and Irish Criticism." Project Muse: 310-35.
Ramazani, Jahan, Richard Ellmann, and Robert O'Clair. "Seamus Heaney." The Norton
Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, Third Edition, Volume 1 Modern
Poetry. 3rd ed. Vol. 2. Boston: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. 720-49.
Tyson, Lois. "Postcolonial criticism." Critical Theory Today A User-Friendly Guide,
Second Edition. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006. 417-27.

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