A Tribute to my Mentor’s Mentor: Sam Allen

Sam Allen at Romare Bearden Collection

Samuel Washington Allen lived for almost a century, from 1917 to 2015, and in his life he fought for justice, as a lawyer, a scholar, but most importantly, as a poet. Richard Wright first introduced Sam Allen to the literary world via the Parisian journal Présence Africaine; Allen later published under the pseudonym Paul Vesey (in order to keep his legal and literary lives separate), and we at Whirlwind had the honor of publishing him last in 2014.

Sam Allen’s poems in our second issue, “Nat Turner or Let Him Come an Invitational Appeal” and “Law and Order” showcase the late poet’s many rhetorical nuances while maintaining a straightforward, almost demanding exhortation that invokes freedom and equality in his signature song-like voice stemmed from, but also innovating upon his African heritage. In the 90’s Allen read his hymn-like Nat Turner poem in the Sorbonne, one of his many Alma Maters; his student, Lamont B. Steptoe, reproduces that moment through the poem entitled “Spirits Movin’ in the Sorbonne,” which we have the honor of sharing with you. Through the letters, poems, and photographs in the following pages, we wish to offer our readers some insight into how this exemplary American author, Samuel Allen, perceived and wrote about injustice under the Empire.

As our founder’s mentor, Sam Allen wrote Lamont B. Steptoe over 160 letters, only a few of which are featured here. In the letter entitled “Congratulations Lamont,” Allen displays joy at Steptoe’s “flourishing” career, and expresses gratitude for Larry Robin’s organizing of a series on African Francophone poets. In another letter, Allen commends Steptoe’s reading style as an integral facet of communicating his poetry.

Sam Allen’s graciousness to curators of poetry is apparent in his thank you letter to a now extinct arts program at the Walt Whitman Center for hosting him in a residence. During that same visit the mayor of Camden, NJ awarded Allen a key to the city. Allen praised Steptoe later on in the letter as a “highly valuable asset” in booking famous poets to visit and perform at the cultural center in Camden, such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Sonia Sanchez, Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka, and Dennis Brutus.

Sam Allen, Everett Hoagland, Sonia Sanchez, Dennis Brutus, and Larry Robin

Sam Allen, Everett Hoagland, Sonia Sanchez, Dennis Brutus, and Larry Robin

Steptoe wanted to do even more for fellow poets, and so he founded Whirlwind Press in order to publish the poetry of exiled anti-Apartheid activist Dennis Brutus. The subsequent book, Airs and Tributes, included an introduction by Samuel Allen, in which he proclaimed that the book stood as an “…eloquent testimony to the triumph of the creative spirit over the rigors of imprisonment and exile which have so vainly sought to silence [Brutus].”

And finally, we have the delight of witnessing the poetic processes of Sam Allen and Lamont B. Steptoe, as the former advises his mentee on editing Steptoe’s poems “Bleeding Diamonds” and “A Rose for Oliver Tambo.” Through these edits it’s apparent that Allen understood rhythm and the syntactical significance of words, even in the seemingly simplest of contexts, at a profound level, which proves to be highly edifying for his readers and students.

The genius of Samuel Allen remains evident throughout these letters, and it’s truly an honor and a pleasure to be able to share this literary giant’s writings. However, Allen has not yet received enough recognition for his talent and life’s work. At the time of this writing, one can find information online about Allen by prestigious institutions such as Oxford and Yale, but you have to google “Sam Allen poet” – because if you just google “Sam Allen” it comes up with some boring old businessman in a suit.

Not only that, but major outlets have not even reported on the poet’s death. So far the only media evidence of Sam Allen passing away comes from an obituary in The Columbus Dispatch. Let us hope that Samuel Allen receives the recognition he deserves as a literary great in his death, although his remarkable voice lives on through many of us regardless. The late Baraka once told Steptoe that he “must be one of the advanced.” Certainly this was due to the brilliance of Steptoe’s mentor Samuel Allen.

It is our responsibility as a community of poets and socially-aware humans to make sure that Allen’s legacy will endure. That legacy will arise in the same way as Samuel Allen wrote of Nat Turner, “In his name I say Come / For the thousands gone, Come / For the living the dead and the not yet born, I say Come…”

Indeed, the day will come. Otherwise we’re doomed to cynical nihilism. Thank you Sam Allen, for your words. Your spirit. The Empire collapses from within due to you.

An Introduction

The following is the foreword to Rocky Wilson’s upcoming book of poetry, which will be published by Whirlwind Press. It was a pleasure editing and collating Rocky’s poems for this collection. Mr. Wilson has been a friend, mentor, and inspiration. His collection should be released by the end of this year.

The bus ride to Camden from the JFK Airport felt longer than I’d expected. The passing scenery of post-industrial New Jersey was depressing in contrast to the rolling green pastures of western Ireland that I’d grown used to in the past week. I owed a fellow traveler a couple hundred Euros borrowed out of desperation. I was to immediately head to an ATM as soon as we arrived at the Rutgers campus in Camden, and pay him back with even more borrowed money from my parents. Human Resources decided that I didn’t work enough hours to earn vacation pay.

It was hot for early June. I was a sweaty mess. My mindset was in self-centered, pissed off at the world mode. As my friend and I got off the bus we encountered a bronze figure on a bicycle calling out in a high pitched voice to passer-bys while waving a monkey puppet. I smiled, but my creditor-companion had a look of mild concern on his face. I turned back and saw the figure approaching us while walking his bike. This man was darkly tanned with wavy gray hair, wearing a black tank top, shorts, and sandals. His bike basket was filled with fruit and miscellaneous items. He was dazing off at the Philadelphia skyline behind us.

“Rocky!”

“Sean! I thought you were in Ireland!”

We hugged each other.

“I just got back. You’re so tan.”

“I was in Atlantic City. Where’s my post card you promised?”

I apologized to Rocky for not being able to send it due to something called a “Bank Holiday.” I almost didn’t recognize him without one of his signature rainbow tie-dye shirts. We talked briefly about the Aran Islands and western Ireland, as he’d been there a few years earlier for a poetry festival. He said he stayed in the same house on Inishmore as John Synge. I asked him when the next Pizza and Poetry reading was taking place (the date changes every month, a reflection of Rocky’s mercurial personality). I told him that we’d have to meet up for a Blue Moon at The Victor beforehand, but that I had something I had to take care of at the moment with my friend. Rocky said hello and introduced himself, as well as Bongo, his monkey puppet, then they both took off toward the Delaware River.

My friend was baffled.

“Was that a hobo?”

“No. He’s a poet.”

“Oh…”

Serendipity allowed Rocky to welcome me back home, making me smile in the moment I needed it most. Rocky actually lives one block away from where we had stood, on Penn Street in Camden. His house is a beautiful three story brick row-home built over a century ago. This wasn’t the only time that I’d introduce Rocky to someone and they thought that he was an eccentric homeless person. This is because Rocky Wilson is the epitome of what it truly means to be anti-establishment. Although he grew up in comfortable Haddonfield, he’s far from a bourgeois poser. In the 70’s, Rocky felt the need to return to the decaying city of his birth, Camden, not to evangelize, but rather to spread enlightenment. And to Rocky that involves both poetry and puppetry.

“The puppet man” some people call him, he prefers to declare himself the Puppet Laureate of Camden. Why not? Rocky Wilson is one of the few who actually makes a difference in America’s most infamous city, along with priest and poet, Father Michael Doyle (famous for being one of the Camden 28). However, Rocky isn’t a grassroots activist. He’s much more than that. He is in the grass, one blade among many; he lives the pure life that the beatniks could’ve only wished to have led. Rocky brings joy to the hearts of strangers, especially children. As a substitute teacher in Camden, Rocky has built relationships with residents of the city that have endured for decades. It seems like every time I walk down Cooper Street with him someone calls out “Mr. Rocky! Where’s Bongo?” Rocky replies with heart-warming sincerity, a virtue which is present throughout his poetry as well.

At first glance Rocky Wilson’s poems could be dismissed as confessional or romantic. The former being over-killed by the beat poets of the last century, the latter even more so in the century before that and since. However, there’s something deeper here, a myriad collage based off of an awareness of all that has preceded it, but with a subtlety that does not explicitly acknowledge it like too many contemporary, “post-modern” poets do. The status quo has been stagnant for decades. In the age when Anne Carson is touted as the avant-garde of North American poetry, Rocky Wilson brings us back to our poetic roots. He does this in the spirit of Walt Whitman, which may seem trite to some, but it’s necessary in our fragmented and bewildered society.

Rocky Wilson proves that what’s needed isn’t art which reflects more confusion, but art which cures confusion. Rocky does this through recognizing subconscious pain stemming from a lost baby brother, bearing witness to natural beauty surviving in urban ruins, reflecting on the potentiality of love, observing camaraderie between whales, and in many more ways. These poems may seem more like stories at times, prosaic, narrative driven, and even conclusive. That’s because Rocky sees life as poetry, and vice versa. He does all of this and still manages to avoid cliché, which is one of the many remarkable yet simplistic traits that can be found in his poetry. This is what America needs.

-S. W. Lynch

Photo courtesy of Moonstone Arts Center.

Photo courtesy of Moonstone Arts Center.

Boland’s Correlation of Syntax and Existential Significance in “That the Science of Cartography is Limited”

Eavan Boland uses anastrophe throughout her non-traditional elegy “That the Science of Cartography is Limited” in order to grammatically display the paradigm of history versus past. Like in much of her other poems, Boland focuses on the domestic sphere of the past in contrast to what is recorded and deemed historically worthy. Boland begins by furtively including the title of the piece, in the tradition of early modernists such as William Carlos Williams, as the object of the first sentence. The first sentence’s subject is the speaker who would “wish to prove” (4) what the title states. This technique is indicative of the poem’s theme. The speaker means to say through inversion that the past is the subject of history, in that the anonymous people who built the famine roads have been relegated by the maps of recorded time. And instead of the two being a dichotomy, in “That the Science of Cartography is Limited” Boland elevates the causal, private past to a state of mythical proportions because, even though it is deemed more significant, history is ultimately dependent upon the past.

Boland relies upon hyperbaton whenever discussing the metaphor that is extended throughout the poem. The line “Look down you said: this was once a famine road” (8) is given more rhetorical gravity instead of having the speaker simply state you said look down. This is because the famine road that the speaker encounters is the vehicle, while the past is the tenor. Since these kinds of roads are unrecorded, the metaphor’s continuation would be the written lines on the implied map in the poem that are representative of recorded history. The speaker’s attention to the vivid abstractions in the forest where the famine road is located is such that the metaphor blossoms into a conceit. Not only does the speaker want to prove that science is limited, but she also desires to delineate what cannot be exactly recorded, specifically “the gloom of cypresses” (3). The trees would not hold such sad weight if it wasn’t for the realization that this was the spot where starving, toiling humans collapsed and died: “Where they died, there the road ended…” (16).

“That the Science of Cartography is Limited” is a complex poem in its many interweaving metaphorical aspects, which are made even more complicated by syntax inversion. Boland uses geometry in order to account for the phenomenon of not being able to comprehend something that was once tangible, let alone the contextually intangible. The speaker alludes to the fact that maps cannot represent the reality of the Earth as a spherical planet geographically. When the speaker pulls out a map she sarcastically states that “it is never so / I can say here is / the masterful, the apt rendering of / the spherical as flat” (18-21). The association is that not only humans are unable to fully understand the implications of what is recorded, whether it is a map or history, but that the entirety of the picture is even more incomprehensible. If the map represents history, then that means that the planet Earth is the past. Thus, each line on the map is the record of a famous person in history, and hence the famine roads are not represented because they are deemed insignificant.

The geometric aspect of the conceit can be extrapolated in order to fit in with the speaker’s sorrow at the forsaken deaths of her Irish ancestors. In using inverted syntax, the speaker also suggests that history is convex, or the outer, visible side of the sphere that is human experience. This would mean that the past is the concave portion that is not visible in retrospect. It is buried underneath the facts. However, the only fact that the speaker reveals in the entire poem is the one that her lover informs her of: “in / 1847, when the crop had failed twice, / Relief Committees gave / the starving Irish such roads to build” (12-15). The famine roads end abruptly because they were intended to be short. The poem implies that the British colonial overlords wanted the starving Irish to be wiped from existence, so why then would their roads be featured on any map? The Anglicization process of Ireland had been well under way by the mid-19th century. This was at a time when ideas of those such as Thomas Malthus were still prevalent in British society, and the Empire’s reaction to the catastrophe in its own backyard, the potato famine, signifies the developing Social Darwinist mindset of British authorities. The Irish culture and people in and of themselves were deemed insignificant and unworthy of history. Since the British were successful in allowing a large portion of the Irish population to starve to death or emigrate, much of Irish history itself was oppressed. The cliché that history is written by the victors is true in this case, consequently Boland develops a multi-faceted metaphor interlaced with inverted syntax in order to mythologize the lives of the average Irish famine victims.

The conceit is present in almost every line of the poem, tracing back in retrospect to the first where “the fact that this shading of / forest” (1-2) is not able to convey the scent of balsam is relative to how cartography cannot express the pain and emotion of human life and work. This is in spite of the fact that the result of the work, the famine road, is tangible, yet the futility that went into the construction must be inferred in its intangibility. The past has been covered by “ivy and scutch grass / rough-cast stone had / disappeared into” (9-11) in another syntactical twist. And yet the speaker never states anything illogically in the poem, rather, each time the road is mentioned a clause is interposed between the subject and object. Whether the break is parenthetical or hyperbaton, each of the five sentences in the poem carry the weight of the theme through Boland’s nuanced grammatical technique. In the end, those humans who died building the famine roads are nothing but a part of the earth in the forest, which is why to the speaker they would be “the line which says woodland and cries hunger / and gives out among sweet pine and cypress” (25-26). Boland’s point is that it is necessary to reverse the significance of history over the past in order to try to understand what really matters in existence. Although it is difficult to do so without the speaker’s imaginative creativity and syntactical nuance, since the line “will not be there” (28). Even still there is the potential for existential meaning in unwritten roads.

 

The Rise of Modernity (and Proto-Feminism) in the Italian Renaissance

Baldassare Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier exemplified Italian Renaissance humanist ideals by making use of the author’s own memory of conversations in court at Urbino. Although Castiglione tactfully did not include himself in the specific situation proposed in the book,  he wrote in a style that was in accordance with having an appearance of humility, which was one of his main rules for being a courtier. And yet, like Alberti’s writing on the values of a virtuous family, Castiglione cautioned for moderation in striving for any attribute, (such as humility) while pursuing perfection in the court, by adding that the courtier should want to abound with confidence as well. Through ensuing conversation between many different participants, (presided over by Elisabetta Gonzaga, her sister-in-law Emilia Pia, and including Count Ludovico Canossa, Federico Fregoso, and Giuliano de’ Medici) the author urged the aspiring courtier to be eclectic, although without being pompous, nor visibly trying too hard.

Castiglione began his book with an imagined situation in which Duchess Gonzaga decided that the court should play a game of rhetoric in order to find what attributes would make the perfect courtier. Emilia Pia jestingly chose the Count to begin, saying that he would know the least and so would not cause the affair to become tedious too quickly. Count Canossa humbly yet humorously agreed, and began by claiming that it would be best for a courtier to be of noble birth, “…because it is far less unseemly for one of ignoble birth to fail in worthy deeds, than for one of noble birth, who, if he strays from the path of his predecessors, stains his family name, and not only fails to achieve but loses what has been achieved already; for noble birth is like a bright lamp that manifests and makes visible good and evil deeds, and kindles and stimulates to virtue both by fear of shame and by hope of praise” (The Book of the Courtier, p 21). However, Caspar Pallavicino promptly contradicted the Count, (as per the rules of the game, according to “ancient rhetoric”) and responded that he believed more in the graces of Fortune than the responsibilities and expectations of noble birth. His frequent reference to the concept of “Fortune” was another similarity incorporated into the book that Castiglione shared with Alberti, in which both Italian authors agreed that chance could topple the achievements of any courtier or noblemen, no matter how calculating and prudent the man was. In arguing against the necessity of noble birth for courtier-ship, Pallavicino added that, “…the highest gifts of nature are found among the most obscure…” ( p 23) referring to examples of men starting from humble beginnings and gaining prestige through their own virtue.

Although at the end of this bout of words, Castiglione leaned the reader more towards the positive points of being noble in birth. However, Castiglione transitioned the argument through the Count’s response in favor of nobility by connecting that idea with the need for a courtier to be skilled in the art of arms, to the point where it would be his “…principle and true profession…” (p 30). From there on out, the Count took the reins of the debate by describing in detail what exercises the courtier should be adept at in order to be a competent warrior. And yet this was argued not necessarily for warfare in and of itself, as the Count repeatedly stressed that a man should be fit on foot and horseback more so in order to carry grace in all aspects of life. This is in implicit opposition to the previous understanding of the art of being a gentleman, as Castiglione was keenly aware of the prevailing medieval idea of what a courtier ought to be, primarily a knight. In acknowledging the need for a courtier to be a man of arms, and yet at the same time stressing that the man do so in order to also excel at other activities, Castiglione was alluding to the trend of Renaissance states to rely more on foot-soldiers than the mounted knights of old.

In The Book of the Courtier, Castiglione argued again and again through his non-fictional characters that universality in activities without excess in one too much was essential in learning to live as an ideal Renaissance courtier: “Our Courtier then will be esteemed excellent and will attain grace in everything, particularly in speaking, if he avoids affectation…” (p 37). Castiglione often used analogies through his characters, which livened up the debate and allowed the participants to transition to the many different topics that were necessary to touch on, as humanism required variation in study. The Count and Federico argued whether if there were boundaries between speaking and writing, where the Count argued against using ancient, obscure Tuscan words in writing, as he said that no one would reasonably incorporate those phrases into everyday speech. Federico begged to differ, saying that using difficult words gave the writer an authoritative voice, and would force the reader to slow down and pay attention, adding that “if the ignorance of him who reads is so great that he cannot overcome those difficulties, it is not the fault of the writer, nor on this account ought that style to be deemed unbeautiful.” (p 40). Pallavicino then interjected and claimed that speech-craft was more important for the courtier, and yet was drowned out by the others whom successfully counter-argued that writing was of utter importance, especially, (although Castiglione did not repeat it explicitly) since the courtier’s primary responsibility would be that of diplomacy.

Regardless of the competing importance of speech and writing, The Book of the Courtier was clear in its intent that the aspiring courtier should be an educated adviser, as opposed to the traditional court medieval knight.  The author set his treatise on courtliness in 1507, at the height of the Italian Renaissance, and his advice largely hinged on classical writings on being a gentleman, mainly that of Cicero.  Unlike in the Middle Ages, Italian court life in the Renaissance, (when not based in a republic, such as Venice or Genoa) depended on educated humanists who would advise the king on matters, and would also advocate culture and the arts. A groundbreaking theme in The Book of the Courtier was the status of women, as the Duchess called on Medici to defend womanhood against men such as Pallavicino, whom still held the belief that women were only good for childbirth. Medici argued that women were not only necessary as muses, but were capable of artistic endeavors themselves.

Like in art, the Italians were the vanguard in developing politics in ways that other Europeans would only start to learn from decades later; this meant that at the time of the book’s writing, the French were still following the medieval ways of being a gentleman through valor on the battlefield and knighthood. With The Book of the Courtier, Castiglione set a precedent that would be taught and followed for centuries to come by all Europeans, especially the French. The book’s main objective, and Castiglione’s main occupation in life, was diplomacy. Since knighthood was becoming continuously unimportant in Renaissance nobility, the court life increasingly became a game of words in which courtiers would be in residence at, or write letters to, foreign principalities in order to represent the interests of their lord or king. According to Castiglione, the perfect courtier should have had all of the attributes of a humanist, but most importantly writing. The epistolary craft, (through developing rhetoric and logic) was most helpful in learning the art of persuasion, which was what the quintessential courtier/diplomat needed. This is what made The Book of the Courtier a seminal work in Modernity.

In the book, Giuliano de Medici argued that women were capable of more than just domestic work, something unheard of at the time.

In the book, Giuliano de Medici argued that women were capable of more than just domestic work, something unheard of at the time.

The Question Raised in Heaney’s “Casualty”

Seamus Heaney’s “Casualty” is an elegy for a fisherman in loose iambic trimeter that reflects not only on the implications of tribal or societal obligations and subsequent political affiliations, but ultimately questions whether it is worth it to act on a moral imperative. The poem follows the uneventful life of an anonymous and unassuming “dole-kept breadwinner” (14) who, according to the speaker, frequents two very different kinds of “haunts.” The fisherman’s rightful place is on the water, and yet his other preferred habitation, the pub, is connected by the image of consumed liquid, although the latter will be his demise. However, nightly drinking will not kill the fisherman in a conventional way, but it will cause the fisherman to patronize a bar in a Unionist neighborhood because of the Bloody Sunday curfew, and consequently the Catholic fisherman’s moral ambiguity will contribute to his death. The speaker remembers how they would talk of the Provisionals, which as a literal definition is synonymous with the transition into the first section’s last stanza, where the most explicit connection between the two is displayed: “But my tentative art / His turned back watches too” (36-37). The speaker then correlates this arbitrary act with the turning point of his intellectual affiliation, and hence the (albeit early) turning point of the poem, when the fisherman “…was blown to bits / Out drinking in a curfew” (38-39).

Heaney divides “Casualty” into three parts, the first two having three stanzas, the last having only two, with the final being a truncated triplet. At first sight the poem’s development seems confusing, or at least non-linear, as the narrative is shifted back in time once the speaker mentions the death of the fisherman in a bombing at the end of the first section. The rhyme scheme remains relatively uneven albeit slipping into abab at certain points when Heaney wants to highlight the significance of the passage. The next two sections shift from the funerals for the Bloody Sunday victims and the fisherman’s solitary funeral, to the tranquil scene of the speaker going out to fish instead of being at his friend’s funeral. However, the speaker envisions the man coming back from the dead through the light on the “indolent” waves, and desires for the ghost to ask him again the extent of their duty to their “tribe.”

The title itself represents the anonymity of the subject of the poem, as the speaker describes the personal habits and shortfalls of a man who was not involved politically. And yet the fisherman is a victim of his own habitual need to have a pint in a pub, but only because of Bloody Sunday. The poem takes place in 1972, soon after British paratroopers opened fire on a group of protesters, killing thirteen. The speaker lets the reader assume the specifics of exactly how the fisherman is killed, except that the speaker can “see him as he turned / In that bombed offending place, / Remorse fused with terror / In his still knowable face” (64-67). The first section leads up to this moment by explaining how the man would coyly order drinks, and the relationship between him and the speaker. The first line along with the entire first stanza describes how the man “would drink by himself” (1) in a way that earned the respect of the speaker of the poem. The speaker goes so far as to say that he “loved his whole manner, / Sure-footed but too sly…” (16-17) because he could relate to that sort of attitude on a larger scale when it came to the speaker’s political leanings. 

Heaney does not chide the subject of the poem (whom Heaney revealed through an interview to be a distant relative named Louis O’Neill) because he can relate to the man’s ambivalence toward remaining steadfast in his allegiance to his tribe by only patronizing Catholic pubs. Instead, the fisherman is so accustomed to his habitual pub-going that on the night in question “He had gone miles away / For he drank like a fish / Nightly, naturally” (70-72). Heaney expands on the aforementioned cliché by posing the question of why should it matter that an innocent man was sitting in a bar frequented by Protestants. Through this Heaney implies that he objects to the extremism of the IRA Provisionals in randomly killing innocent Protestants in retaliation for Bloody Sunday. It just so happened that Louis O’Neill was a Catholic knowingly endangering himself by sitting in the wrong place at perhaps the wrong time. Heaney explicitly answers this dilemma with the question “How culpable was he / That last night when he broke / Our tribe’s complicity?” (78-80)

The figure of the dead fisherman transcends the actual person that Heaney knew when the subject directly asks the speaker if being associated with Protestants warrants death while sardonically saying he’s “…supposed to be / An educated man..” (81-82). This paradigm shift in time and space runs parallel to Heaney’s own detachment from the militant Republican cause. In 1972 Heaney left his academic position in Belfast and retreated south to a rural part of the Republic of Ireland in order to write the Glanmore sonnets and presumably get away from the heightening tensions that were brewing in Northern Ireland. Stepping away from the Troubles further alienates Heaney from his Irish predecessor, Yeats, in that the latter poet’s “Easter, 1916” romanticizes the struggle to oust England from Ireland, while Heaney’s “Casualty” takes a more complex and realistic approach. Heaney’s form in “Casualty” also serves to be antithetical to Yeats because it is in the same elegiac trimeter form as “Easter, 1916,” but with the infrequent rhyme scheme mentioned above, as opposed to Yeats’ conventional rhyming. Heaney utilizes the fisherman, a victim of the chaotic ramifications of political terror, in his poem in order to set an example of the arbitrary nature of death in the Troubles. 

The speaker in “Casualty” ultimately does not even attend his friend’s funeral, and yet imagines it while actually on the deceased’s boat. Heaney uses fishing diction in order to describe the imagined funeral procession as people “shoaling” like schools of fish by the hearse. This choice of words is an extension of the many different uses of fishing and water imagery throughout the poem, which is appropriate considering how Heaney ends the elegy by desiring the dead fisherman, the “Plodder through midnight rain, / Question me again” (112). Heaney’s transition from funeral to fishing boat in the penultimate stanza is fluid because the speaker cinematically shifts from the sound of the hearse’s engine “Purring” to that of the boat. While on the water the speaker states that he “tasted freedom with him” (102). Heaney no longer feels obliged to his kin to the point of not even attending the funeral, because the procession itself turns into a partisan statement. 

The speaker of the poem desires to get away from the political violence that’s tearing his countrymen apart. At his closing remarks, Heaney makes a sudden shift from speaking of the fisherman in the third person into the second person, so as to bring the subject nearer home and show the conjoining of their ambivalence. The speaker imagines the now “revenant” fisherman in his “proper haunt / Somewhere, well out, beyond” (108-109). Heaney questions the worth in pursuing a categorical imperative if the end result will so often become extremist. Thus, Heaney departs from Yeats’ romanticized battle against the English through the arbitrary death portrayed in “Casualty.”

13 unarmed protestors were murdered by British paratroopers on 30 January 1972. The British government would not admit Bloody Sunday as unlawful until 2010.

13 unarmed protestors were murdered by British paratroopers on 30 January 1972. The British government would not admit Bloody Sunday as unlawful until 2010.