Arion Lyre

67. Squarings by Seamus Heaney, with drawings by Sol LeWitt

Squarings, a sequence of forty-eight poems by Seamus Heaney, with forty-eight new drawings by Sol LeWitt and with an introduction by Helen Vendler, 2003.

Seamus Heaney is one of the most widely appreciated poets writing today. A Nobel Laureate, Heaney has written poetry that is read wherever English is spoken, and that has been translated all over the world. The critic Helen Vendler, who introduces this edition, described Heaney's 1975 volume North as "one of the crucial poetic interventions of the twentieth century", ranking it with T. S. Eliot's Prufrock for "its key role in the history of modern poetry". Vendler considers "Squarings" the most important of Heaney's later series of poems.

In describing the virtues of Heaney's work, Professor Vendler has written: "It is a poetry in which readers can recognize profound family affections, eloquent landscapes, and vigorous social concern. It tells an expressive autobiographical story, reaching from boyhood to Heaney's present age. Heaney's language is unusually rich. A highly developed sense of internal structure gives his poems a satisfying musical rightness as they unfold. Each of his volumes ambitiously sets itself a different task from its predecessors; each takes up a new form of writing, and just when one thinks one knows all of Heaney's possibilities of style, he unfurls a new one."


The sequence entitled "Squarings" first appeared in the volume Seeing Things, published in 1991. On the page the poems are squarish in shape, made up of twelve lines, in four three-line stanzas. Heaney's four tercets, Vendler writes, can buttress, quarrel, qualify, or build upon each other. They can be abstract, concrete, plain-spoken, rich in metaphor, static, full of movement, narrative, or meditative. The poems are organized into subdivisions of four dozens, named "Lightenings", "Settings", "Crossings", and "Squarings". Heaney takes the measure of things material for extrapolations into the immaterial realm. Vendler remarks: "Imagined grids and lines are the latitude and longitude lines by which mentality orders the world".

She concludes, noting that the death of Heaney's parents preceded the writing of "Squarings", that in these poems "we behold the effect ­ enlarging both death and life ­ of the disappearance of an elemental reality present to the son since his birth. When the parental roof vanishes and the fire in the hearth goes out, the son has no choice, as he stands, a shivering beggar, but to construct in this unroofed scope an unprecedented way of seeing things. The pains and joys of that difficult construction pervade these four groups of twelve twelve-line poems. The geometrical symmetry of their form and the mathematical neatness of their grouping suggest the equilibrium of mind and heart, however altered, that the stricken poet seeks to find and inhabit by balancing time and stillness, mourning and joy."


The artist Sol LeWitt responded to the poetry by making forty-eight drawings in the summer of 2003, each six inches square. The underlying patterns are grids of straight and not-straight (wavy) lines, either horizontal or vertical, in four schemes conforming to the four sections: an all-over pattern; above-below; left-right; and a square within a square (inside/outside). On top of the patterns the artist drew "scribbles", as he describes the drawings in captions.

The poet, too, is a "scribbler". One "reads" the drawings differently from the poems, which are on facing pages.Seamus Heaney wrote enthusiastically to the publisher upon seeing preliminary page proofs for the book: "Sol LeWitt! And those first drawings, yes, are all atremble with promise. Forty-eight of them ­ beyond expectation. They have the right combination of complete confident pounce and momentary delicate shimmer. When they combine with the Deepdene pages, we'll have settings and lightenings and crossings and squarings as we've never had before."


Seamus Heaney was born in 1939 in Northern Ireland at the family farm. At twelve Heaney won a scholarship to a Catholic boarding school, St. Columb's College. From 1957 to 1961 he studied at Queen's University in Belfast, where he later taught for several years. In 1965 he married Marie Devlin. The following year his first book, Death of a Naturalist, was published by Faber. During the academic year 1970-71, Heaney was a visiting lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley. The Heaneys moved to Dublin where he taught at Carysfort College from 1975 until 1982, when he began to teach at Harvard University one semester a year. There he was appointed Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory and later Emerson Poet in Residence. In 1988 he was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford University for a five-year term. In 1995 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. His translation of the Old English poem Beowulf, published in 2000, was a best-seller. The volume of poetry, Electric Light, published in 2001, contains his translation of Pushkin's poem "Arion", which was issued separately by Arion Press in an earlier version as a keepsake for subscribers in 2002.


Sol LeWitt was born in 1928 in Hartford, Connecticut. After moving to New York City in 1953 he worked in graphic design for magazines and in the architectural office of I. M. Pei. In 1960 he took a job at the Museum of Modern Art in the bookstore, then as a night receptionist. He met other young artists working there (Dan Flavin, Robert Mangold, Robert Ryman, and Scott Burden), who were moving away from the predominant Abstract Expressionism in their own work. LeWitt soon became a key figure in the Minimal and Conceptual art movements. In 1978, LeWitt was accorded an exhibition by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, his former employer. In 2000 a major retrospective was mounted by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art that traveled on to the Whitney Museum of American Art. From the austerity of pieces made in the 1960s and 1970s, his work evolved in the 1980s toward permutating geometric shapes and sensual color. In the last decade, wall drawings and sculpture on large scale contrast with small drawings and the prints he has made for Squarings.


Helen Vendler is a University Professor at Harvard in the Department of English and American Literature and Language. Her introductory essay discusses the range of reference and construction of the poetry, with particular attention to events in Heaney's life that bear on the poems. Vendler has contributed to several Arion Press books, making selections of the poetry of Wallace Stevens, W. B. Yeats, and Herman Melville, and writing introductions for these and works by other poets, including John Ashbery, Allen Ginsberg, Czeslaw Milosz, John Milton, and William Shakespeare.


The book was designed by Andrew Hoyem and produced by Arion Press with type cast for this edition by Mackenzie & Harris. The format is squarish, 10-7/8 by 10 inches, 126 pages. The poetry was handset in 24-point Deepdene type, produced in 1927-28 by Frederic W. Goudy, one of the most beautiful faces of America's greatest type designer. The poems occupy a square area, the same size as the six-inch square drawings opposite. The introduction, captions, and other subsidiary matter are set in smaller sizes of the same type. The drawings were scanned to make negatives for photopolymer plates, proofed for approval of the artist, then printed along with the text by letterpress on a two-color cylinder press, both operating with black ink, using one unit for the plates, the other unit for the type, to control the inking. The paper is Pescia, a mould-made sheet from the Magnani mill in Italy. The binding has been done by hand in the Arion bindery. The signatures have been sewn with linen thread over linen tapes. The cover is full gray cloth over boards, bearing a design that is an enlarged reference to the straight and curved lines underlying the LeWitt drawings. The book is enclosed in a darker gray cloth slipcase.

The prospectus is printed on sheets of the paper used in the book, cut to the page size. The last poem and facing drawing are printed from the type and plate used in the book. The folder housing the prospectus has the cover design imprinted on the front.


This is the sixty-seventh publication of the Arion Press. The edition is limited to 400 numbered copies for sale and 26 lettered copies for complimentary distribution to participants in the project. All copies are signed by the poet and the artist. The price of the book is $950. Out of print.

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Edition: The format is squarish, 10-7/8 by 10 inches, 126 pages, signed by poet and artist. Binding: hand-sewn over tapes, full gray cloth over boards, in slipcase. The book is limited to an edition of 400 numbered copies for sale. Price: $950. Out of print.