vocalisms #24: Seamus Heaney


vocalisms is a regular feature that presents selected tracks from voca, the Poetry Center's online audio video library of more than 800 recorded readings, spanning from 1963 to today.

photo of Seamus Heaney


“It is one of the functions of poetry […] to remind people how much they have in common,” Seamus Heaney says by way of introduction to this track from his 1982 reading. As both a reader and a writer, one of the things I value most about poetry is its ability to evoke empathy and to highlight connections between seemingly disparate things. As Heaney continues, he stresses an important aspect of empathy that can be easy to forget: “It is not one of [poetry’s] functions to evade certain realities, but it has to face them and consume them in some kind of way.” What a difficult and crucial task: to not only stress connection but to do so without glossing over tragedy, trial, and trauma. Heaney’s poem “The Other Side” describes Catholic and Protestant neighbors in Ireland, their relationship a complex mix of everyday cordiality and a history of animosity mixed with violence.