There is something of Heaney’s amiable tone in Foster’s phrasing. On the begrudgement that came with success, he writes: “If ‘Sweeney’ rhymed significantly with ‘Heaney’, ‘famous’ rhymed too readily with ‘Seamus’ ”. But Foster guards against an excess of benevolence being imposed on the man or his work, crediting Heaney with “a darkening vision which has perhaps not fully had its due”. This exploration of Heaney’s oeuvre, and the tumultuous times that inspired it, is an immensely enjoyable step towards giving Ireland’s great poet his due.
The book is divided into eight chapters, ranging from the initial “Certus” to the concluding “Clearances”. They trace Heaney’s life chronologically, talking the reader through the volumes that marked Heaney’s poetic oeuvre, attentive to the twists and turns of biography. Heaney’s encounter with “the brilliant Marie Devlin” (“not so much a quarry as a way of life”) relies on notes and testimony from friends. As with other vignettes, Foster paints a lively picture of the couple’s early married life in bohemian Belfast, evoking the animated happenings in the house they lived in on Ashley Avenue.