Yeats and Heaney As Examples: Without Contraries, No Progression
A student in my poetry writing class complained at the end of the term that I hadn’t really taught the students how to write poems. In an attempt to teach the unteachable, I resolved to come up with at least one good definition of a fully functioning poem. Through my reading of the two Irish poets W. B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney, I arrived at the notion that many (certainly not all), but many great poems, like stories, contain within them elements of friction and tension, a kind of noisy dialogue between various elements. Perhaps I could use this model in my creative writing classes to instruct students how to write a poem. In my paper I will discuss the nearly infinite variety of conflicts possible within a poem, from the simple idea of dialoguing (and disagreeing) characters in Yeats’s poems, to a slight chafing caused by the use of an epigraph at odds with the content of a poem (Yeats’ “Politics”) to the form of the sonnet in Heaney’s hands where the octave and sestet are involved in a cold war (“The Nod”), or the yoking together, or braiding together of two separate deliveries in Heaney’s sestina “Two Lorries.” Whether the friction is caused by temporal elements (past and present collide), geography (I’m in London but I want to be in Sligo), conflicting emotions (I love you, but I hate what you do to me), or the old yin and yang of life and death, the poems under study all lead to the overwhelming consensus that (maybe) (at least in these cases) poems thrive on conflict as much as fiction does, and the dialogic element is present in poetry as much as in the novel.
Keywords: Yeats, Heaney, Creative Writing, Poetry
Professor, English Department, Elon University