Sweeney Astray, Paperback Book
3.5 out of 5 (1 rating)


Sweeney Astray is Seamus Heaney's version of the medieval Irish work Buile Suibhne - the first complete translation since 1913. Its hero, Mad Sweeney, undergoes a series of purgatorial adventures after he is cursed by a saint and turned into a bird at the Battle of Moira. The poetry spoken by the mad king, exiled to the trees and the slopes, is among the richest and most immediately appealing in the whole canon of Gaelic literature.Sweeney Astray not only restores to us a work of historical and literary importance but offers the genius of one of our greatest living poets to reinforce its claims on the reader of contemporary literature.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Poetry by individual poets
  • ISBN: 9780571210091

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I first encountered some of these poems and associated prose passages in <i>Opened Ground</i>, the mid-'90s selection of work from Heaney's career, and was at the time not terribly enamoured of them. In that volume the aesthetic best of the pieces were selected, and it made them more than a bit obtuse and impenetrable at times &amp;mdash; artistically pleasing, perhaps, but narratively adrift.Taken as a relatively complete whole &amp;mdash; a number of lines are omitted for stylistic reasons &amp;mdash; in my opinion those same passages don't inspire the same reaction. Though Heaney himself comments that the poem occasionally has some moments of less inspired verse, I found that I had a greater appreciation for the sublime sections when I was less confused over just who the characters speaking were, and what precisely they were talking of.While I understand why the selections appeared in <i>Opened Ground</i>, the improved ease of comprehension in the longer narrative of <i>Sweeney Astray</i> and the subsequent increased appreciation makes me glad that I didn't act according to my initial feelings after reading it, and instead picked up the full work.

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