Study Guide

Storm on the Island

By Seamus Heaney

Storm on the Island Introduction

When you think of an island, tiki torches and sherbert-colored sunsets might come to mind. Well, for this poem you'll need to remove the umbrella from your fruit punch, because the island we're on here is Ireland. 

Our poet, Seamus Heaney, is an Irishman, so this poem isn't too far from home, so to speak. An island that far north in the mighty Atlantic gets some seriously gnarly weather, so Heaney's surely witnessed his share of violent storms before, even if he didn't live right on the water. That's likely where the idea for "Storm on the Island" came about.

This poem was included in Heaney's first "welcome to the big leagues" collection, Death of a Naturalist, from 1966. This book is chock-full of natural imagery; check out "Blackberry Picking" or "Digging" from the same collection. Heaney pays very close attention to what is happening in nature, and in this particular collection he also draws from his own childhood growing up in Northern Ireland. "Storm on the Island," with its whipping wind and water, makes us want to give young Heaney an umbrella—and maybe a one-way ticket to Tahiti for a little vitamin D therapy.

What is Storm on the Island About and Why Should I Care?

Blazing wildfires in the western United States, tsunamis in the Pacific, earthquakes, hurricanes, devastating tornadoes—it might seem like the world is coming to an end every time you turn on the news. But what is it that really fascinates us about apocalyptic weather? Sure, the threat of having your home picked up and carried away is something to worry about. But maybe there's more to all of this than fancy graphics and dramatic music.

Seamus Heaney sure seems to think so. The people in his poem are doing all they can to survive on an island prone to storms and harsh natural conditions. And they're doing it all on their own. There aren't even any trees to keep them company in the furious violence of the storm. And maybe that realization—that we're all alone in the vast, powerful, and often terrible natural world—is what's got these people on edge.

We'd like to think that we have Mother Nature under control, what with our natural parks, zoos, and protected areas. But is it really that simple? Can we ever truly be in charge of the natural world? We know one group of folks, holed up in a storm, who might have something to say about that question.

Storm on the Island Resources

Websites

His Biz: Life and Works
This website offers a thorough (but not too long or dry) bio of Seamus Heaney, and gives brief insight into his major works.

The Latest from the Greatest
Read a review of Heaney's latest book, Human Chain from the all-star British website, The Guardian.

Wife's Life
Learn a bit about Seamus Heaney's better half, Marie. Read her work (yes, she's a literary all-star, too), and learn about her influence on Seamus' life and poetry.

Who Doesn't Like a Top 5?
Check out the top five storms in Ireland's history with the hilariously named "Night of the Big Wind" topping the charts.

Video

A Go-To How-To
If you're expecting a righteous storm, or any natural disaster, you might want to check this out.

Happy Birthday
Heaney gives a b-day speech (no singing though) at a celebration for him, and reflects on his life so far.

Get Out Your Kleenex
Heaney's son reads at his father's funeral.

Audio

The Sound of the "Storm"
Here's audio and visual of "Storm on the Island" read by a fellow Irishman. The accent can really help you get into it.

Voice of the Past
Try not to miss him too much. This looks back on past interviews with Heaney.

On Point, Year After Year
Eyes still dry? Have a look back with On Point with Tom Ashbrook.

Images

Heaney and Company
Here's Heaney with his wife, Marie, and friends.

Cool Mask!
Here's Heaney admiring what would be a really cool Halloween costume.

Listen Up
No, he's not fixing his hair. Poetry's about sound, so our guess is that here Heaney is signaling toward his ear.

Articles and Interviews

The Last Word
This is Heaney's final interview before his death.

Class is in Session
Here's Heaney on the joys and pitfalls of teaching poetry (surprise, you're not all angels).

Books

Seamus Heaney in Conversation with Karl Miller
Heaney discusses his childhood, its influence on his work (unfortunately none of us, not even Heaney, can escape our childhoods, much as we'd like to), and his life as a poet.

Our Last "Link" to Heaney's poetry
Human Chain is Heaney's final collection of poems. Get hooked.