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Redress of Poetry
The subject that Seamus Heaney has treated, the redress of poetry, is not a
new subject. The nature and purpose of poetry has been a subject of practical
importance to everyone who has an interest in poetry.

“yet there are times when a deeper need enters, when we want the poem to be
not only pleasurably right but compellingly wise, not only a surprising variation
played upon the world, but a re-tuning of the world itself.”

Seamus Heaney

Heaney’s main subject is the utility of poetry or what poetry means to life.
Like all other forms of art, poetry is also a creative work but it also passed through
some difficult phases when its utility was objected by many of the critics. He finds
support for his views about imaginative literature, which poetry is, in Plato’s theory
of ideas.

“Poetry was not only pleasant but also useful for man and society.”


Plato was the first who raised objection thus declaring poetry not only an imitative
art rather he went beyond it saying, “Poetry is an imitation of an imitation thus
twice removed from reality.” Plato had banished the poets from his Republic. But
ironically, his argument was that poetry took us away from the idea, while poetry is
in fact is the world of the ideal. He is among the haters of poets and poetry. But
then Aristotle, the great disciple of Plato, stepped forward as savior and by putting
argumentative defense, he infused a new life to poetry. He interpreted it a creative
process and while poet imitating reality transforms it into something new and much

Seamus Heaney is the modern savior of poetry as it was liberated by Aristotle

thousands years ago. Like Aristotle he also liberated poetry from the stains of
allegation. Heaney liked any other poet and intellectual was a Humanitarian and
was well aware of the functions of the poetry. He quotes that

“poetry gives us the picture of perfection like any other art from. Poetry takes us
away from the sufferings to the world of happiness.” A very famous critic is of the

“Life worries man, but poetry relieves man.”

We can also present like many other romantic poets, example of John Keats, who
when worried takes shelter in the imaginative world of poetry. Poetry not only
consoles us rather it also gives us hope. Poetry builds for us the world of aspiration.
We like in the world which is full of sufferings but through poetry we create an
alternative world, which offers us glimpse of the things which we miss in the real

He brought the emotions within the range of imitation.

• Similarities between Plato and Aristotle;

There are some similarities between Plato and Aristotle like;

…that poetry is an “imitative” art.

…that poetry rouses the emotions.

…that poetry gives pleasure, both as an imitation and as arousing the emotions
through imitative means.

…that the rousing of the emotions by poetry has an effect upon the whole
personality of the spectator or reader and on his emotional behavior in real life.

…both considered poetry from a practical and utilitarian point of view.

• Heaney‘s view;

The world of ideas removes the defects of the words of facts, since the ideal is the
perfect form of an imperfect existence. He goes on to say that the imagined
standards and poetic fiction provide the dream of alternative world to both the
government and the revolutionary. Both try to make the society as they imagine it
to be best.

Defender of poetry;

There were others also who kept defending poetry against all kind of objections. For

Sydney asserted (emphasized) that ‘’the poet takes us to the ideal.” She
straightforwardly wrote in ‘Apology For poetry’,

“A poet is a nightingale who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with
sweet songs; his auditors are axmen and trance by the melody of unseen musician
who feel that they are moved and softened, yet know not whence or why.”

Shelley supported poetry because “they reach the perfection.”

Oscar Wilde said that “life should imitate art because art presents the perfection.”

Mathew Arnold went to extend that “all that now goes in the name of religion or
philosophy will be replaced by poetry. Poetry will perform the role of religion. It will
show man the right path and it will bring consolation to man. Poetry has a power of
sustaining man in difficulties.”

This is the thesis of Heaney that in the present world only poetry can save man.
This he calls ‘redress of poetry’.

‘’poetry is a violence from within that protects us from a violence without.”

Wallace Stevens

Poetry gives us idealized version of reality. Poet suggest what is possible or

desirable or, indeed, imaginable. Aristotle could have called it Catharsis. One of the
very important functions of poetry is catharsis. It gives us inside. William
Wordsworth also says that “poetry is a spontaneous overflow of strong feelings. A
poet gets catharsis through his poetry.”

The heckler or the rhubarbian (one who makes disturbance or noise) protests
against the obscurity of art or its staying neutral in the fight between justice and the
unjust. Heaney has no sympathy with this view of the heckler which is ideological
and parochial.

“The poet doesn’t invent. He listens.”

Jean Cocteau

Like any poet, Heaney is a humanitarian. He would not divide humanity into
antagonistic factions. In a nationalistic war, for example, the poet is asked to
“contribute to the war effort preferably dehumanizing the face of the enemy”
saying that…,”you are angels and others are devils.” A poet will never accept that.
W. B. Yeats, another Irish poet, in “Easter 1916”, sings in praise those Irish who lost
their lives in the horrible civil war but he also pays homage to the English who too
were fighting for their ideals.

“If we know in what way society is unbalanced we must do what we can to add
weight to the lighter scale.”

Simon Will

The idea of justice in some people’s mind is the idea of balance. If u

condemned one side you should also condemn the other too. Our Muslim and Hindu
writers tried to keep this balance while writing about the communal rights at the
time of Partition. If they showed Hindu Murders, they also showed Muslims Murders.
This is too artificial a concept of balance. Heaney Also did not approve of supporting
the weaker side.

“To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.”

Robert Frost
Heaney rejects this “Obedience to the force of gravity.” This is also wrong.
Demand of justice must be met irrespective of who is strong and who is weak. He
quotes Voclave Havel that, “poetry is a state of mind not a state of the world…it is
an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of an art.” It creates a state of mind, not a
political situation. It means that the poet should think of redress where redress is
needed. It is not a counter weighting force, poetry offers a counter reality.

Havel proceeds to say,

“It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that
something makes sense regardless of how it turn outs.”

Heaney is speculating that;

…whether poetry has a role to play,

… whether poetry can console man,

… whether poetry can redress the injuries done to man.

Everyone believes that poetry has the power of sustaining man in difficulties.
Heaney concluded that in the present world only poetry can safe man. This he calls
redress of poetry.

“Poetry is alleviating function of reality.”

Heaney starts by quoting the poem The Pulley by George Herbert. This poem is a
parable, a moral story. In a pulley you pull down in order to rise up. There are forces
in life which are pulling you down but the same forces are raising you up. Sufferings
also alleviate you. They bring out the best in man as it is said; adversity brings out
the best in man.

“Poetry gives us the picture of perfection.”

Then Heaney quotes a statement of Pinsky, who says that life raises some questions
which poetry answers. For example, he quotes a poem by Robert Frost. The poem is
Directive. In his poem, Frost presents a toy house that children built. It is not a real
house. But then try to provide in it what a real house demands. It is the house of
their imagination which is the ideal of their perfect house. It is not a real house but
it is an ideal form of a real house. In this way, poetry helps us to answer the

“Poetry takes us to the paradise while we stay on the earth.”

The main function of poetry is to show us that perfection which we want to achieve.
It shows us the difference between what is and what ought to be. Actually poetry is
a link between the real and ideal.

“Life worries man, poetry relieves man.”

Poetry built for us our aspirations of world. We live in the world which is given to us.
We did not choose it but in our imagination we create our own world that is the
world of poetry. Poetry shows us the glimpse of those things which we miss in our
life. This is the glimpse of redress. It is a consolation.

“This world is a labyrinth where man is lost. Poetry shows us the right way.”

The Propagandist wants poetry to be practical. People demand that poetry should
become propaganda. But this is not the function of poetry. Poetry presents before
us an alternative word which gives us consolation. Poetry does not create the ideal
world but it shows the possibility of creating that world and this is very reassuring.
That gives us confidence that a better world can be created.

Heaney is of the opinion that poetry gives beautiful expressions to our

feelings. It gives us rhyme and diction. It gives pleasure to us and inspired hope in

“Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into

one's soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself, but with its
John Keats

W.H. Auden is an English poet. He says that poetry has three functions;
making, judging and knowing. Poets create in order to judge and that brings
awareness. Literature shows as the possibilities of man’s action. Shakespeare writes
Hamlet and O’Neill writes Mourning Becomes Electra, not so much to give a
judgment as to make. Poetry’s delight lies fundamentally in inventiveness. As
Sophocles writes Oedipus Rex and put him into the laboratory of drama and
concludes that his fall was his pride. Thomas Hardy goes to this extend and says, “If
Galileo had said in verse that the world moved, the Inquisition might have let him

• Revolutionary change;

Poetry as William wordsworth says, “it is a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, when
it flows, it brings revolution not only in an individual bit also in nation.” History is replete
with example\illustrious when the poet changed the course of History through their
revolutionary verses… Dante, Allama Iqbal, Khalil Gibran, umer Khayam etc brought about a
revolutionary changes in their society. They infused new spirit in the life of their nation.

Endow your will with such power

That every turn of fate is so be,

That God Himself ask his slave

What is it that please thee?”

Four basics functions which poetry performs;

1) Poetry takes us from the world of sufferings into the world of happiness.
2) Poetry consoles us and gives us hope.
3) Poetry is the world of possibilities. We know from our experience that dreams
are ultimately realized. Our forefathers thought that it was impossible to fly,
though poets created flying carpets. The fact is that we are flying.
4) Now we think that it is impossible that human sufferings will ever be removed
but one day they will be removed. What the mind conceives as poetry is a
possibility…that can be realized.


To sum up, we say that redress of poetry lies in providing an alternate world to
the world of actual living. The world in which we live, is full of confusions and
sufferings, poetry opens the doors of a world to us which is reassuring and
consoling. Secondly, poetry shows us what is possible and desirable. It gives us the
world of our aspirations, and human aspirations are not idle or futile. These can be
realized. It is poetry which is the real motive power in life.

Every branch of art is useful and reflects life and no any artist whether
Poet, Novelist or Dramatist is useless. …everyone is not a poet; the one who has
esthetic sense can do it. It also reflects the esthetic, sentiments of people. It reflects
life. If you deny the utility of poetry you are denying the fact. You are going to
refuse a very important branch of art.
William Blake says…“Nature is a balm “

Thomas Hardy… “Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.” Percy Shelly, A
defense of Poetry 1821

“Poetry is man rebellion against being what he is” James Branch Cabell

“Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of
but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know
what it means to want to escape from these things
- T. S. Eliot

“The poem is a little myth of man's capacity of making life meaningful. And in the end, the poem is not
a thing we see-it is, rather, a light by which we may see-and what we see is life.”
Robert Penn Warren

“The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth”.

Jean Cocteau