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Sweeney Astray: A Version from the Irish

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | Sweeney Astray: A Version from the Irish.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Seamus Heaney(Author)

    Book details

Sweeney Astray is Seamus Heaney's version of the medieval Irish work Buile Suibne. Its here, 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. Heaney's translation 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.

"...[B]ut what one remembers most about ''Sweeney Astray'' is the delicate, dramatic balance between pain and praise. The poem is a balanced statement about a tragically unbalanced mind." - The New York Times Book Review Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. His poems, plays, translations, and essays include Opened Ground, Electric Light, Beowulf, The Spirit Level, District and Circle, and Finders Keepers. Robert Lowell praised Heaney as the "most important Irish poet since Yeats."

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Book details

  • PDF | 96 pages
  • Seamus Heaney(Author)
  • Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Later Printing edition (April 1, 1985)
  • English
  • 7
  • Literature & Fiction

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Review Text

  • By Glenn J. Shea on November 20, 2014

    Here at last in a great English version is the Irish tale of Sweeney, the medieval Buile Suibhne. Sweeney is a local king who runs afoul of a cleric, Ronan Finn; he destroys Ronan’s psalter, kills one of his novices, and falls prey to Ronan’s curse, one of those utterances of “dark rending energy” of the legendary Irish temper. (Cleric, yes; mild-mannered, no.) Sweeney goes through a strange, avian transformation: “He was revolted by thought of known places / and dreamed of strange migrations…. / he levitated in a frantic and cumbersome motion / like a bird of the air.” From there Sweeney lives herded from place to place by his panics, hiding in trees and shrubs, living on watercress, “bird-brain among branches”—and gives utterance to poems, as Seamus Heaney says, “piercingly exposed to the beauties and severities of the natural world.” And as they accumulate the names of the actual Ireland Sweeney traverses—“From Galtee to Liffey / I was swept along and driven / through bitter twilight / to the slopes of Benn Bulben”—what happens is almost the opposite of the effect of Brendan’s voyages from a known Ireland to strange isles: Sweeney’s poems set a layer of strangeness and fantasy over the familiar map of Ireland. And while the Navigatio is a thorough Christian work, the Buile Suibhne is “in the grip of a tension between the newly dominant Christian ethos and the older, recalcitrant Celtic temperament.” However you want to read it—even, as Heaney says, as “a quarrel between free creative imagination and the constraints of religious, political and domestic obligation”—it’s a story that burrows down in and stays in your mind—roaring, pathetic and wind-chilled. Seamus Heaney’s great translation is called SWEENEY ASTRAY (Faber, 1984) and it ranks with the best work of this gifted and prolific poet.Glenn Shea, from Glenn's Book Notes, at

  • By don s on November 21, 2014

    the old Irish Bards show their strength at story telling; change the names and you would think the events took place today! Seamus Heaney is a master interpreter of the Bards of old!

  • By John W Hawes on February 12, 2017

    product as described and sent quickly

  • By Nate J on February 23, 2018

    An authoritative translation of the great text of Irish medieval literature. Seamus Heaney's voice and verse are clear, and his translation does the reader the service of getting out of the way and allowing one to meet Sweeney himself. The text is largely unabridged, and beautifully strange to our modern ears as a result. This is a different world, and Seamus has done us a service by opening the door again to the wilds where Sweeney roams. The unabridged text does it feel like it sags in one or two spots, but the drier parts of the text don't detract from the stunning verse, and are necessary to set context for Sweeney's poems.

  • By Ilana Teitelbaum on June 17, 2002

    "Sweeney Astray" is a masterpiece on many levels: for the complex weave of its themes to the lyrical quality of its prose--accentuated greatly, of course, by Seamus Heaney's virtuoso translation. We follow mad Sweeney in his crazed wanderings through the forest and hills, torn within himself by his love of the wild and his incurable loneliness. The tale is presented as chunks of narrative interspersed with segments of poetry, their quiet, melancholy beauty evoking the sounds of windsong and rain. There is an ethereal quality to this text that makes it difficult to describe. Although it would seem to have a storyline, in reality it is a song, and each "event" a new strain of music. Sweeney's longing for his lost life as a man and king, even as he is unable to stay away from his beloved wilds of Glen Bolcain, illustrate the conflict between the desire for peaceful conformity and for transcendence. This conflict is echoed in the struggle that was ensuing in Ireland even as this work was being written, the struggle between the Celtic religion and the new influx of Christianity. In this way does "Sweeney Astray" illuminate a historic revolution, while at the same time presenting themes that span eternity.

  • By Josiah Bancroft on December 1, 2007

    Heaney's translation of the ancient Irish poem 'Sweeney Astray' miraculously repaints the picture of the warrior king who loses all when he crosses the institutional church. The poem regains some of the magic of the older age and raises the questions of the relationship o church and state, war and spirituality, love and madness, existence and the wrath of God.Well written - hard to find. I NEVER lend my copy for fear of losing it because I read it every few monthsJosiah Bancroft

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