Seamus Heaney Poems

Culpability of the Fisherman in Seamus Heaney's "Casualty"

Seamus Heaney’s “Casualty” is written as an elegy for a friend who was killed in a bombing in Northern Ireland shortly after Bloody Sunday. His friend, who was a Catholic, failed to obey a curfew set in place by the Irish Republican Army. He was consequently killed in the bombing of the pub he often frequented. “Casualty” serves as an elegy for this friend in that Heaney uses it to remember and honor the deceased. The poem also allows Heaney to express his opinion on the relative guilt of his friend and of the I.R.A.

Central to “Casualty” is the question of the Fisherman’s responsibility in bringing about his own death. Heaney asks the reader, “How culpable was he/ That last night when he broke/ Our tribe’s complicity?” (78-80) He can imagine his friend replying, “Puzzle me/ The right answer to that one.” (83-84) The poem ends with an echo of this question as Heaney suggests, “Question me again.” (112) This repetition of the question of the guilt of the friend suggests to the reader that this poem was meant to convey a political message in addition to its function as an elegy that Heaney uses to pay respects to his friend. We are meant to analyze this poem to determine for ourselves whether the violation of this curfew, imposed...

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