Nicholas Taylor-Collins
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‘[R]ights of memory’
W. B. Yeats, surface, and counter-memory
in Shakespeare, memory, and modern Irish literature
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One of Seamus Heaney’s abiding motifs is of the underground, whether potatoes, ploughing the land, or the bog bodies. He is thus an archaeological poet. Less well sketched is the way that Heaney, in turn, archives these objects and images in his own poetry, thus becoming an arkhe-poet, too. This process – from archaeology to archive – is elucidated by Heaney’s fascination with Hamlet’s ‘dithering, blathering’ in the grave (from North’s [1975] ‘Viking Dublin: Trial Pieces’). Hamlet’s willingness to muck in provides a blueprint for Heaney’s own archaeological interests. Furthermore, a consideration of Hamlet’s own subterranean interests and connections to the physical land – he was born on the day his father won the Norwegian lands that became his by inheritance – invites a consideration of the motif of disease in both Hamlet and across Heaney’s oeuvre. Doing so reveals another key link between the two. Heaney’s archiving of diseased and pierced nature in his poems – wounded bodies, fish with infected cuts, a spade dug into the ground – confirms that Heaney’s interest is also with territory and with the idea of de-seizing Irish land. This etymological pun is also at work in Hamlet. This archaeo-poet is also (and at the same time) an arkhe-poet through which he becomes a capital-H Historian (Steedman, 2001): he curates the past in his poetry which, itself, becomes ‘perfected in my memory’ (‘The Grauballe Man’).

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