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The Wife's Tale/Night Drive

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Keri Thomas

on 16 October 2014

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Transcript of The Wife's Tale/Night Drive

Some of the poems in this volume focus on events and occupations illustrating continuity in the Irish experience. There is an interweaving of past and present occurs in
The Wife’s Tale
, in which the persona (a farm woman) re-creates the routine of laying out a field lunch for laborers during threshing. The narrative is matter-of-fact and prosaic, detached and unemotional, and unspecific in time: It could be almost anytime. Her action binds the generations together, suggesting the sameness of human life regardless of time.
The Wife's Tale
The nature of Heaney’s interest for places can perhaps be found in the idea of dispossession and in the political desire to repossess.
Many scholars have insisted on the link between soil or landscape and the creative imagination of Ireland. They stress the fact that part of the distinctiveness of Anglo-Irish literature is a preoccupation with the physical entity of Ireland. The Irish landscape, as Heaney tells us, is composed of places steeped in associations with the older culture - whether the world of the ancient epics or the fairy universe of thorn trees or various symbols of the otherworld - or connected with more modern instances.
Seamus Heaney says that the sense of place and "the relationship between a literature and a locale with a common language" is not a "particularly Irish phenomenon" but, he asserts, "the peculiar fractures in our history, north and south, and... (the) possession of the land and possession of different languages" have rendered them more important and significant in Ireland.
A sense of place
LT1: Poetry | Door Into the Dark
The Wife's Tale/Night Drive
Seamus Heaney [1980]
Preoccupations, Selected Prose, 1968-1978
, Faber & Faber.

Helen Vendler [2000]
Seamus Heaney
, Harvard University Press
The poem is a very tactile work.

What things does the Wife touch throughout the poem?

What doesn't she touch?
Mananan Mac Lir, God of the Sea
Give me a summary of the poem.

How is the poem structured?

What perspective is the poem written from?

What poetic devices are employed?

What are the poem's major themes?

Where have we seen these themes/devices in Heaney's other work?
Does the Wife seem happy with her role?

The machines are described as powerful yet dangerous. How do they compare to the methods of farming found in other poems?

"Spread out, unbuttoned" - what is suggested here, and what is the significance?

How does the wife's perspective affect getting a balanced view of events? Does it matter?
Give me a summary of the poem.

How is the poem structured?

What perspective is the poem written from?

What poetic devices are employed?

What are the poem's major themes?

Where have we seen these themes/devices in Heaney's other work?
A number of the poems in this volume are simply musings on travels in Ireland and on the Continent. At first it is easy to pass over these pieces because the simple, undramatic language and quiet tone do not attract much attention. For Heaney, a person’s surroundings, particularly the environment of his or her growing-up years, become the context to which he or she instinctively refers new experiences for evaluation.
"Rain and hay and woods on the air": why is "and" repeated?

"A forest fire smouldered out." compare this to the object of the narrator's affections.

"One by one small cafes shut": list the contrasts between civilised life and the countryside.

"I thought of you continuously": who is the narrator referring to?

"Your ordinariness was renewed there": how is ordinariness renewed, and how has the narrator undergone a transformative experience?
We've talked a lot about the fact that Heaney's poetry often comes across as impersonal. In Helen Hennessy Vendler's work on Seamus Heaney, she has an explanation as to why this might be.
"In Heaney's early work 'symbolic figures'...stand for the poet's recognition of the immemorial nature of the work done on the family farm, which he is intent on perpetuating in language. Because such figures are anonymous, his poetic voice will also be anonymous; he will speak both about and for those whose names are lost to history....through his childhood recollections, Heaney attains an almost anonymous manner." [pp.13-14, 2000]
Perhaps he did so because he had so many identities: child and family member, an individual adult with a singular identity; a Catholic, a poet, an English speaker, a transmitter of Irish literary tradition.

Heaney himself asked the question in his book of essays,
: "How should a poet properly live and write? What is his relationship to his own voice, his own place, his literary heritage and the contemporary world?" [p.11]
Another way of acquiring anonymity "can be gained when the poet becomes wholly a perpetual observer - one with no history, no ethnicity, no religion, no family. This is the form of anonymity...[which] shows up early in
The Peninsula
." [Vendler, 2000]
Have a think about this as we now read through
Night Drive
Full transcript