Date of Award

Fall 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


English and Cultural Studies


Mary O'Connor


Jeffrey Donaldson



Committee Member

Grace Kehler


This thesis examines how Seamus Heaney’s North attempts to bear witness to the prolonged political conflict in Ireland known as the Troubles. Drawing upon the intersecting discourses of trauma and testimony as theorized by Cathy Caruth, Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub, it argues that North operates as an experimental enterprise evaluating diverging methods of poetically representing and working through the experience of trauma. Though these methodologies seek to convey the Irish Troubles, neither is wholly effective and both are ultimately eschewed by the poet.

My first chapter examines Part I and the invocation of representative models—which are at times historical, imaginative and mythical—in order to render legible the experience of trauma. I suggest that the poem’s invocation of human remains exhumed from Jutland bogs as one such model may not be ethical and then read this representation within a broader sense historiographical writing supplied by Michel de Certeau’s The Writing of History. My second chapter looks at Part II and the poet’s assertion of an autobiographical “I” in order to engage directly with the Troubles. I read this part of the collection primarily as a meditation on the limitations of community and poetry, which undercuts the poet’s attempt to deliver testimony. In my conclusion, I suggest Heaney’s testimonial enterprise may not fulfill its whole potential because of its publication in the midst of the Troubles, which forecloses the possibility of futurity, a criticism which may not hold true for the poet’s later collections.

McMaster University Library