1. An elegy for an acquaintance, Seamus Heaney’s poem begins by describing their unlikely friendship. Write a poem about the circumstances of one of your own friendships. Describe, like Heaney, the places you meet and the things you talk about. Try to include as many visceral, telling details as possible.
2. Heaney’s poem is shattered by the political violence of his place and time—Northern Ireland during the height of the Troubles. What political events concern you, or have had an impact on your friends or family? Try writing a poem that addresses the political context in which you live while remaining focused on your own daily life.
3. “Casualty” is also an ars poetica—a poem about writing poetry. Heaney compares it to fishing; elsewhere he has compared writing poetry to “Digging.” <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/177017> What is it like for you to write a poem? Write your own ars poetica that compares, as Heaney’s does, the activity to something else.
1. What comparisons does Heaney make between his own practice of writing poetry and his friend’s love of fishing? How do his feelings about the differences and similarities between himself and his friend change and shift throughout the poem?
2. Why does Heaney use sections to divide up his poem? What happens in each section of “Casualty”? How do they relate to each other?
3. Make a timeline of the main events in the poem: how does Heaney describe each one? What kinds of words does he use? When and where does he utilize end rhyme, and to what effect?
4. Trace the different “turns” the poem takes: look for examples of the word itself, as well as moments when the poem shifts topic, or location. How and why does Heaney move around so much in this poem?
5.What kinds of line breaks does Heaney use in “Casualty”? How do they contribute to the tone of the poem? What do—or don’t—they suggest about the speaker’s emotional state?
1. Have students read “Easter 1916” by William Butler Yeats. (Try reading Eric Selinger’s excellent introduction to teaching the poem in “Ten Poems I Love to Teach” for help with this.) Talk about any similarities they notice between Yeats’s poem and Heaney’s. Are they formally alike in any ways? Do they have a similar mood? Also discuss differences—is Yeats’s poem easier or more difficult to understand? Have students read Joshua Weiner’s poem guide, or introduce its main ideas to your class. Discuss the two poems in relation to one another again. How does Weiner suggest Heaney is responding to Yeats? Do they agree or disagree? Have students write their own responses to “Casualty.”
2. “Casualty” is a political poem that can’t quite decide how it feels about politics. Gather together other examples of poems that speak directly or indirectly to various political situations—you might start with Andrew Marvell’s “An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland” and end with Carolyn Forche’s “The Colonel” or John Beer’s “Total Information Awareness.” How do the poems treat their subjects? Is the poet or speaker’s position clear? What kinds of language do they employ or subvert? Are the poems narrative (like Heaney’s) or rhetorical (like Yeats’s)? Have students write their own political poems on a topic of the moment.