Major themes in Seamus Heaney’s poems


Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) is considered as one of the greatest poets of the 20th and 21st centuries. He hails from Ireland and lived through many hard times. The poet has used various themes in his poetry, which are related to his society. His poems share universal subject matter. So, he does not specify any poem for a selected theme. A list of themes, used by Heaney in his poems is presented below,  

Theme of Childhood   

Childhood and innocence are the subject matter of many poems by Seamus Heaney. “Death of Naturalist” and “The Constables Calls” are poems, where Heaney reveals their glorious childhood. It illustrates the theme, which is related to the loss of a child’s innocence. The poem deals with the child’s views regarding the changing nature and atmosphere of society. A child, who was once innocent and found pleasure in nature now, does not maintain the same perspective; his thinking, views, observation, and attitude toward life have been changed. The development of child psychology has been discussed very minutely by the poet.  

More Notes:  Seamus Heaney

Love for History:   

 Seamus Heaney is a lover of history. His concern is mainly for the Irish people. He loves to write history in form of poetry. Although, there is nothing new in it because he discusses the same incident, which has already been observed by the people. Yet his writing style forces the reader to rethink it. “The Tollund Man” by Seamus Heaney is a poem, in which we meet the bog people. Symbolically, it is not only the history of bog people but also the history of Irishmen. The poem tells the story of a person, who has sacrificed his life in the context of a ritual ceremony.  

The theme of Love and marriage:  

Seamus Heaney in his poem “The Skunk” represents the theme of love and marriage. In this poem, the poet refers to his love relationship with his wife. The poet writes love letters even after eleven years of their marriage though his wife is not absent. Like the skunk, his wife is a mystery to him.   

The theme of Irish Nationalism   

Heaney’s poetry, there can be viewed as a nationalistic romanticism that presents an idealized vision of revolutionary Ireland, the nationalist rebellion, and Irish nationalism. This romantic vision is central to the Irish identity. In “Requiem for the Croppies” Heaney presents a brutal yet idealized view of the Irish rebels, the suggestion that ‘in august the barley grew up out of the grave’ hints at a mythologized rebellion that transcended death and defeat, sowing a myth and romantic beauty to nationalism and the wider Irish identity.  

Pains and sufferings  

Heaney is an Irishman and he is the one, who can better understand the pains and miseries of his fellowmen. Irish people have struggled a lot. Their sufferings remained fresh in the mind of Seamus Heaney and he could not find peace until writing about them. “The Constable Calls” and “Blackberry-Picking” are poems, in which dread and fear have been illustrated by the poet. Although these poems have been written from a child’s view yet their appeal and theme are universal.  


Seamus Heaney utilizes nature frequently in his poems as a wide theme. Heaney typically refers to the nature that surrounded him as a child, using the memory of his surroundings to explore events from a more adult perspective.  For example, in his poem ‘Digging’ Heaney recalls the memory of his father digging potatoes in his garden, the memory of this, and Heaney’s youthful admiration of his father is shattered by watching his father struggle to dig a flowerbed as he writes.   

More Notes: Suggestions


Seamus Heaney has been regarded as “the greatest Irish poet since Yeats” and it is because he has the ability to present minor incidents in a dramatic style. His themes make his work prominent. No Irish poet has such ability to write a poem on a small incident while mixing different themes in it. To conclude, it can be said that due to various themes of Seamus Heaney, he is still read over and discussed around the globe. 

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

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

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