Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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“Into the earth, into the dark”: Memory and the Earth Motif in the Works of Paul Celan and Seamus Heaney

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posted on 2022-11-28, 13:53 authored by Malone, Theressa

This thesis examines the use of the “earth” as a recurring literary motif in the poetry of Paul Celan and Seamus Heaney. I read their poetry as inherently responding to catastrophe: for Celan, the Shoah, and for Heaney, the Troubles period in Ireland. In this research, I interrogate the similarities and differences in both poets’ approach to addressing catastrophe by using the earth motif in lyric poetry. This interrogation is based on my hypothesis that the "earth" functions as a unifying motif of remembrance in each of their works. I approach the project in two chapters. In the first chapter, I read Celan's poem “Es war Erde in ihnen” (1963) as a reimagining of his first published poem “Todesfuge” (1948). I propose that the later poem responds to the overdetermination of the former, thereby reinforcing his lifelong assignment to make the German language accountable for its history. In the second chapter, I read a selection of Heaney's works: “Digging” from Death of a Naturalist (1966), “Bog Queen” and “Strange Fruit” from North (1975), and “Polish Sleepers” from District and Circle (2006), in order to map the trajectory of his concept of the "redress" of poetry against crisis. I suggest that together, these poets’ works reveal the potential of the literary “earth” motif in encountering and probing history.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

130203 Literature

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



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Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre, Media and Communication, and Art History


McNeill, Dougal; Millington, Richard