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BOOKS: Extracts from The Government of the Tongue by Seamus Heaney published by Faber and Faber

What does poetry do?  Heaney quotes the Polish poet Anna Swir:

And thus the government of the tongue gains our votes, and Anna Swir's proclamation (which at first may have sounded a bit overstated) comes true in the sensation of reading even a poet as shy of bardic presumption as Elisabeth Bishop:

A poet becomes then an antenna capturing the voices of the world, a medium expressing his own subconscious and the collective subconscious.

...Here is the great paradox of poetry and of the imaginative arts in general.  Faced with the brutality of the historical onslaught, they are practically useless.  Yet they verify our singularity, they strike and stake out the ore of self which lies at the base of every individuated life.  In one sense the efficacy of poetry is nil - no lyric has ever stopped a tank.  In another sense, it is unlimited.  It is like the writing in the sand in the face of which accusers and accused are left speechless and renewed.

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