Seamus Heaney Poetry Themes

Various Themes in the Poems of Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney being an Irish poet uses various themes in his poetry that are related to the hardships of his fellowmen. However, most of the themes that he illustrates are universal in nature. The list of themes that the poet uses in his literary work is not so large as he replicates his collection of themes almost in every poem. Resultantly, every poem has more or less the same thematic concept due to the repetition of ideas. One of the main reasons for doing so is to share a universal subject matter with the readers. Nonetheless, there are some poems that are different in respect of the illustration of themes.

Seamus Heaney Poetry Themes

Major Themes in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney had an Irish background. Poems by Seamus Heaney are also related to Irishmen and Irish society. However, there are many universal themes in his poetry. Following are some important themes that Seamus Heaney illustrates in his poetry.

Pastoral Life

Seamus Heaney is a lover of pastoral life. Thus, rustic images are there in his poetry. In one of his famous poems “A Constable Call,” he paints rural imagery in detail as evident from its critical analysis. It is an idealized way to portray pictures of Ireland through poetry. Seamus Heany has a good command of English langue; therefore, he skillfully uses it to show his native land to his readers. For the purpose of portraying rural life images, he uses his imaginative powers. Seamus Heaney highlights the beauty of the natural world and the simplicity of residents of Ireland through his poetry.

Historical Events

The most important element of Heaney’s poetry is the detailed description of historical events. He feels pleasure in representing them in detail. Many poems of Seamus Heaney revolve around the historical perspective of Irish society. He prefers to illustrate the history, which is related to Irishmen and their heroic tales. Their grieves and sorrows are known to him. He along with Irishmen has suffered a lot. Their sufferings and pains are still in his mind and he does not feel any embarrassment in describing them. Seamus Heaney does not usually discuss the problems of modern men but describes what was happening in the past. 

Being a lover of history, Heany’s main concern is with bog people and bog society. He loves to rewrite 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 compels the reader to rethink it.

Examples of Historical Themes From the Poetry of Seamus Heaney

“The Tollund Man” is an exemplary poem in this respect. The poem introduces the bog people to readers. 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 sacrifices his life for a ritual ceremony. Heaney does not find it worthful and calls it a waste. Nevertheless, the poem is about a historical event, which happened in the Iron Age and Seamus Heaney has rewritten it.

In the same way, the poem “Grauballe Man” is also a historical poem. Like “The Tollund Man”, it is also based on bog people. It also shares the same kind of theme and has been written on the basis of chronological perspective. “The Lindow Bodies” can also be added to the list, in which the theme of History has been described by Seamus Heaney.

Childhood and Innocence

Childhood innocence is the subject matter of many poems by Seamus Heaney. “Death of Naturalist” is worth mentioning in this context. 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 does not maintain the same perspective in adulthood. His thinking, views, observations and attitude towards life change. The development of child psychology has been discussed very minutely by the poet in this poem.

Likewise, another poem titled “Blackberry-Picking” has been written by Seamus Heaney from the perspective of a child’s psychology. These poems are evident that Seamus Heaney does not only know the psychology of children but also has the talent to present it in form of words. Hence, it is a theme which is commonly used by the poet in many of his poems.

Psychological Problems

In addition, he likes to write about the psychological conditions of people. He creates a pen picture of minds. “The Constable Calls” deals with the psychology of a child. It is notable that this poem is autobiographical and has been written on an incident that the poet experiences at the time of his innocence. How a child sees a constable and how fear develops in his mind is the subject matter of this poem. The child’s perception and his imagination with respect to the dread of the constable are expressed in this poem. Moreover, the fear because of the revolver hanging around the butt of the constable forces the child to imagine negativity. A simple visit of a constable creates dread in society as well as in the mind of any Irish child. 

Dread and Fear

The less common but most important theme which should also be mentioned is the theme of dread and fear. Heaney is an Irishman. 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 the port and he could not find peace until he writes on them.

“Blackberry-Picking” is a poem, in which dread and fear have been illustrated by the poet. In addition, Heaney’s poem “A Constable Calls” is based on memory and its talks of distrust and fear. Although these poems have been written from a child’s view yet their appeal and theme are universal. Child anxiety while seeing a cop and enemies has been very masterly sketched by the poet in these two poems. Hence, in addition to all other themes, the theme of dread and fear must also be kept in mind while reading the poems of Seamus Heaney.


Seamus Heaney is not better than many modern poets. He has been called good because he has an unusual collection of themes as compared to modern poets. Seamus Heaney has been regarded as “the greatest Irish poet since Yeats” by Robert Lowell 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 like 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. It is not wrong to say that his collection of themes makes him suitable for the noble prizes.