AS Literature WJEC Watch

RebeccaHoran
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I need help on a poem by Seamus Heaney called 'From the Republic of Conscience' I don't understand it?!!! My AS literature exam is soon :confused:
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jamesg2
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(Original post by RebeccaHoran)
I need help on a poem by Seamus Heaney called 'From the Republic of Conscience' I don't understand it?!!! My AS literature exam is soon :confused:
Though I do not know when the commission occurred, Seamus Heaney was given a commission by Amnesty International the result of which was this poem. He had remembered Richard Wilbur’s poem “Shame.” In this poem Wilber takes an allegory of shame and turns it into a small cramped country.

At the time Heaney was teaching in Harvard and asked his students to write a poem based on the Wilber poem. He is on record saying that having asked his students to write such a poem, maybe he should also write one: to create an imaginary country to represent a state of mind. He comments that once he saw it in those terms he was no longer confined by the reports of abuses that Amnesty had sent him. As he says “by indirection” he found “direction out.” It is a really good quote of the poet's creative process. The "indirection" being the allegory and the "direction" the creative idea and process.

Therefore the poem is all about an imaginary country, in this case a “Republic” called “Conscience.” A Republic is a state in which power rests with the people or their representatives and power is exercised on behalf of the community and the common good. And the collective conscience is the basis for the rule for this country. It is interesting that above the runway is a curlew. They are famed for their shrill cry: hence it is an image of sentry examining entrants into the country, and a conscience at variance with the community.

Note the images in verse 2 + 3. Note that in verse 4 you carry your own burden: the conscience is a burden. But as it grows your privileges in the republic disappear. The implied question is how does the republic know about your increased burden to thereby decrease your privileges. I assume what Heaney is suggesting is that the increase in your conscience suggests criticism of the collective conscience and hence the reduction of privilages.

You can appreciate why in verse 5 “Fog is a dreaded omen.” It prevents sight and view, in this case into the conscience.

Note verses 8 and 9 how the leaders are sworn in and what oaths they swear to uphold.

The pervasive nature of the republic is in section 3. On his return to his homeland he is asked to be a spokesman for the republic. It is pointed out to him that the republic has embassies everywhere and each operated independently in the country allocated. I.e. the embassy promoted the collective conscience. And the final words that no Republic ambassador had every been recalled. Therefore there is the suggestion that all ambassadors and embassies are successfully promoting the ideas of the republic’s collective conscience. I.e. they are successful in the republics propaganda.

And so why all the embassies and ambassadors? They are the PR reps who argue against such documents of abuse that groups like Amnesty create. They are the spoke persons on behalf of the Republic.

This has not been a indepth account and I suggest you do look at the sectional breakdown of the poem. There is clear meaning and intent in that.

Hope that helps and good luck.
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RebeccaHoran
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Thank you
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jamesg2
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I believe I may have misunderstood the poem. Although I now believe my first interpretation is wrong, it may still have validity. That interpretation sees the Republic as a sinister entity: whose purpose is to justify abuse. I was led astray by the point Heaney made to find some way through mass of horror statistics Amnesty had provided. I do not believe I that interpretation is right, but it is an interesting interpretation.

I feel a more legitimate interpretation is seeing the Republic as the ideal conscience. When the man returns back home – section 3 – he has a dual conscience: his own tongue and that of the republic. The embassies are, I believe, a metaphor for the individual. That is why they operate independently.

The individual, in this case the man in the poem, has the ideal conscience of the Republic and his own. And because this ideal conscience is a part of his being even if he ignores it he is still an ambassador to the republic.

So what I think may be being said here is that we often display true conscience and artificial conscience. For a variety of reasons as human beings we do not always act in an ideal way: we ignore the conscience of the Republic.

In part 2 is a description – especially verses 8 & 9 – of the values an ambassador has. But this ideal to “speak on their behalf in my own tongue” verse 12 to utilize the conscience of the Republic we do not always do.

And this is where I feel it links with the Amnesty material. Because someone from the Republic of Conscience would speak out on these issues and subjects. They would insist their voice is heard. But as the republic acknowledges not everyone does. And when that happens, a person’s ambassadorship is not relieved: they are still ambassadors to the Republic of Conscience. I think the difference that Heaney is pointing out is the difference between convenient conscience and true conscience.

I believe Heaney is suggesting that we are all citizens of the Republic of Conscience. However, I think he is also suggesting when it is inconvenient to us we do not always uphold the values of the Republic.

I think that is a better interpretation.
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RebeccaHoran
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Oh okay, well thanks again! second interpretation makes more sense
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