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The Final Crossing

Death and Dying in Literature

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Edited By John J. Han and Clark C. Triplett

Since ancient times, writers and poets have grappled with death, dying, grief, and mourning in their works. The Final Crossing: Death and Dying in Literature compiles fifteen in-depth, scholarly, and original essays on death and dying in literature from around the globe and from different time periods. Written from a variety of critical perspectives, the essays target both scholars and serious students. Death and dying is an important area of study for a variety of disciplines, including psychology, psychiatry, sociology, gerontology, medical ethics, healthcare science, health law, and literary studies. The Final Crossing is a landmark compendium of academic essays on death and dying in literary texts, such as the Iliad, Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān, Hamlet, The Secret Garden, and The Grapes of Wrath. This collection of essays not only brings an international flavor, but also a unique angularity to the discourse on thanatology. The novelty of perspectives reflects the diverse cultural and intellectual backgrounds of the contributors. This diversity opens up a fresh conversation on a number of age-old questions related to «the final crossing.» In this volume, readers will find an intriguing array of topics for further reflection and research.
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Chapter Eight: Haunting and Melancholia: A Reading of the Revenant in Seamus Heaney’s “Casualty”

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CHAPTER EIGHT

Haunting AND Melancholia

A Reading of the Revenant in Seamus Heaney’s “Casualty”

CAROLYN OWNBEY



Written during the violent political turmoil of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, Seamus Heaney’s works of the 1970s often reflect upon and respond to the sectarian tensions and brutal killings of the conflict. In many ways, Heaney is what critic Daniel W. Ross calls a “[poet] of cultural trauma” (110), addressing the Troubles explicitly in his works and attempting to create a poetic language commensurate with the devastation and violence around him. While in many of his earlier poems, such as those in Wintering Out (1972) and North (1975), Heaney appears to rely on a traditional concept of mourning—on the importance of properly burying the dead, on the communal process of the funeral to accomplish this end, on achieving closure through the proper and complete work of mourning. In the poem “Casualty” of his 1979 collection Field Work, Heaney’s work shifts focus. “Casualty,” I will argue, marks a turning point for Heaney, a point at which the certainty of the corporeal and funereal mourning is upset, at which Heaney puts the noncorporeal figure of the ghost (a figure which will appear again and again both in Field Work and in Heaney’s later works) into play.

“Casualty” reflects on the death of an acquaintance of Heaney’s, Louis O’Neil, killed in sectarian violence despite (and indeed because of) his refusal to acknowledge...

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