Heaney’s concern about the silent and oppressed


Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) is a poet of humanity. Throughout his Poetic career, he shows his concern about the sufferings of humanity. Under the British empire, he witnessed the sorrows and sufferings of the Irish people from his childhood. He could not bear such kinds of terrible oppressions of the bloodthirsty British. So, he took a pen in his hand and started writing. Because of the differences in religious beliefs, people were being killed. As an Irish nationalist poet, Seamus Heaney reveals his profound concern for those people.   

In his poetry, Heaney expresses his concern about the voice of the silent and oppressed. His poems like Punishment, Mid-Term Break, Digging, and Funeral Rites show a clear picture of the oppressed and silent people. These people didn’t have the courage to vow against tyranny. So, Heaney’s poems reveal his social commitment.  

More Notes:  Seamus Heaney

Voice of the dumb and silent ancestors  

Seamus Heaney in his iconic poem “Digging” shows his happiness with the use of a pen instead of a spade. He sees his father digging potato drills with a spade. He portrays his grandfather digging peat. But Heaney sees that his pen is more powerful and mightier to dig into his past. Now with the power of the mighty pen, he can celebrate his past. He says,   

Between my finger and my thumb 

The squat pen rests 

Ill dig with it 

Here the internal struggle of the poet becomes traceable. His forefathers were engaged in the tradition of farming but he is a poet. But being a poet, he can continue his forefather’s tradition and can fight against the oppression for independence. So,” Digging potatoes” is not a poem but a celebration of the past. Throughout the poem, the poet speaks about the political situation of farming in Ireland. His pen and poetry are like weapons, against the British empire. Thus, he becomes the voice of these silent and oppressed ancestors.  

More Notes: Suggestions 

Voice of oppressed Irish people   

“The Tollund Man” is Irish poet Seamus Heaney’s reflection on human nature, religion, and the history of violence. Imagining a visit to the Tollund Man—an Iron Age human sacrifice preserved in a peat bog. The poem’s speaker observes that, more than 2,400 years later, people are still dying terrible deaths in the name of their religious beliefs. In particular, the Tollund Man’s fate makes the speaker think of the Troubles, a long and bloody 20th-century conflict between Irish Catholics and Protestants.   

One day the speaker would like to go to Denmark to visit the Tollund Man, a mummified Iron Age man who was sacrificed to ancient gods. The speaker imagines admiring the Tollund Man’s head, his gentle, seed-shaped eyelids, and his pointy leather cap. The Tollund Man, the speaker imagines, was a human sacrifice to a pagan goddess. Heaney sees the connection between the sacrifice of the Tollund man and the executions in Northern Ireland. The sacrifice of the oppressed people of Ireland and Heaney’s own catholic religious belief is a matter of sufferings by the modern man of violence. Here we find him saying,  

Something of his sad freedom 

As he rode the tumbril 

Should come to me, driving, 

Saying the names 

Tollund, Grauballe, Nebelgard, 

The poet by his poetic words protests against the violence of the Irish people.   


To conclude, Seamus Heaney’s concern to protest the silent and the oppressed is exposed throughout his poetic lines. Heaney has always been a voice of protest again oppression and tyranny. 

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

Hi, This is Rashedul. Researcher and lecturer of English literature and Linguistics.

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