Places: Seeing Things

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1991

Type of work: Poetry

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Cumae

*Cumae Seeing Things (KYU-mee). Ancient town in Italy, believed to be the seat of an oracle whom the hero Aeneas is addressing in Heaney’s opening poem, “The Golden Bough,” translated loosely from a passage in Vergil’s Aeneid (c. 29-19 b.c.e.; English translation, 1553). The references to the Greek underworld–Avernus, Tartarus, the River Acheron–find their counterparts in Heaney’s closing poem in the volume. In this way, Heaney places Seeing Things–with its many elegies–within the realm of the spirits.


*Inishbofin. One of many small islands off the west coast of Ireland, the site of medieval monastic settlements. The speaker in the book’s title poem imaginatively likens the boat that travels to the island to that of Charon, the ferryman who carries souls across the mythical River Styx.


*Glanmore. Location in County Wicklow, south of Dublin. The sonnet sequence “Glanmore Revisited” updates the “Glanmore Sonnets” which appeared in Heaney’s 1976 collection Field Work. Heaney derives renewal from the quiet, natural setting, moving from feelings of being under siege in the first sonnet to the lifting of spirits in “Lustral Sonnet” and “The Skylight.”


*Dungannon. Town in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. In “A Retrospect,” a character points out nearby Glenshane Pass, quoting a seventeenth century British military dispatch comparing the local inhabitants to “Virgil’s ghosts.”


*Clonmacnoise (klahn-mak-NOYZ). Monastery established in the sixth century south of Athlone along the River Shannon in central Ireland. For centuries the monks here produced or preserved various illuminated manuscripts and also kept records of daily life, from which Heaney amplifies the anecdote related in “Squarings.”

*Lough Neagh

*Lough Neagh (lock nay). Largest lake in the British Isles, located in Northern Ireland, a place of fascination and reminiscence for Heaney.

*Giant’s Causeway

*Giant’s Causeway. Natural rock formation on the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland, where massive hexagonal pillars of stone appear to have been placed or fitted in conjunction with each other, as if by some “giant.”


*Coleraine (kole-RAYN). Township on the River Bann in Northern Ireland. Heaney uses the place as a landmark for personal and poetic revelation in “Squarings.”

BibliographyBaley, John. “Seeing Things.” Review of Seeing Things, by Seamus Heaney. New York Review of Books 39 (June 25, 1992): 14-16. An overview of the work and its context in Heaney’s oeuvre.Burris, Sidney. The Poetry of Resistance: Seamus Heaney and the Pastoral Tradition. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1990. The first full-length study of Heaney’s work. Notes and index.Hirsch, Edward. Review of Seeing Things, by Seamus Heaney. The New York Times Book Review 97 (May 17, 1992): 7. A short review hailing the latest book by the Nobel laureate.Morrison, Blake. Seamus Heaney. London: Methuen, 1982. A good first reference for Heaney’s life and works.Salamagundi 80 (Fall, 1988). The entire issue is devoted to Heaney. Studies, a bibliography, an interview, and more.
Categories: Places