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Friday, 6 April, 2001, 13:52 GMT 14:52 UK
Heaney still burning bright
Seamus Heaney
Heaney's poetry draws on a rich array of allusions
By BBC News Online's Alex Webb

Seamus Heaney's poetry has always been rooted in the farming landscapes of his youth.

His new collection, Electric Light, roots itself in the same ground but contains a rich array of allusions - to the classical world, to Irish nationalist history, to the English literary canon.

The very first image in the book, a description of water flowing over a weir in County Meath, gives a taste of the work's range and power.

Heaney was born in County Derry, Northern Ireland in 1939.

His first book, Death Of A Naturalist, appeared in 1966 and established his poetic voice, capable of luminous imagery and conveying a brooding sense of history.

He first tried writing after coming across a Ted Hughes poem about a pig, which brought back childhood memories of keeping pigs on the farm.

Seamus Heaney's new collection of poetry
Nature provides many of the most powerful images
One poem in this, his 11th collection - Of His Work In The English Tongue - is dedicated to Hughes.

Electric Light contains these currents as well as some surprising juxtapositions - a poem about the Balkans, a translation of Virgil's Eclogue IX, some short rhymed stanzas called "glosses".

One consistent theme is his ability to see with the mind of a child, as in some lines on the misery of piano lessons.

But it is nature that provides many of the most powerful images.

It is the final poem that supplies the title.

Electric Light is inspired by the memory of the first electric-lit house that Heaney saw, the light's clarity fixing the minute details of an old lady's knitting in his mind.

Electric Light is published by Faber and Faber on 9 April.

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25 Jan 00 | Northern Ireland
Heaney wins Whitbread book prize
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