Valediction

Following the first walk described in Twice Shy the relationship between Heaney and Marie Devlin has moved on; they are living together.

Heaney chooses a title of classical derivation (saying ‘farewell’, ‘adieu’) betraying his fears that her temporary absence might be more than just au revoir and signal final separation. The need Marie has kindled within him has a touch of medieval ‘courtly love’ about it, that of the knight in thrall to his Lady. The poet composes a ‘lay’ (short lyrical song) akin to those a troubadour might sing.

The poet retains the image of his departing Lady’s good taste and her appeal: frilled blouse/ And simple tartan skirt. Her absence has left a gap in both his heart and mind: emptiness has hurt/ All thought.

Sea imagery is used to compare the stability her cheerful presence brought him (like a vessel that rode easy, anchored/ On a smile) with her destabilizing absence (Rocked love’s balance) that has cast him adrift (unmoored). The interim choppy-sea days pitch and toss (buck and bound) without the sheltered haven she provided him (quiet sound/ Of your flower-tender/ Voice).

Maritime metaphor pleads for her return: ‘the void in my life is a wave crashing onto the shore (Need breaks on my strand) telling you what a mess I am in (all at sea); I beseech you to return quickly and renew your authority (resume command). Until then my whole being is in a state of open rebellion’: Self is in mutiny.

  • valediction: act of saying farewell (Latin ‘vale’, farewell;
  • frilled: of plated material;
  • tartan: woven material with coloured checks and intersecting lines; of Scottish origin; fashionable in the late 1950s;
  • hurt: cause pain, wound;
  • ride easy: float calmly;
  • anchor: moo, attach securely;
  • rock: move gently to and fro;
  • unmoor: release the anchor;
  • buck: make a sudden jerky movement;
  • bound: take leaping strides;
  • pitched from: tossed away;
  • flower-tender: gentle and attractive;
  • need: want, yearning;
  • break: as a wave does onto the beach (strand);
  • mutiny: open rebellion;
  • 16 hexameters in a single stanza; rhyme scheme abab etc;
  • the poem is addressed to his lady and Heaney uses a classical vocative of address: ( Oh) Lady;
  • sonic chains are less frequent in a poem that has an extended metaphor at its base: buck and bound; rocked/ love’s/ unmoored
  • his early controlled expressions of love in limbo are couched in enjambed lines; increasing emotion brings stormy, broken phrases with voiced and voiceless bi-labial plosive [b] and [p]: balance/ buck … bound … pitched;
  • thought of his lady uses gentle sibilants: simple/ skirt/ easy/ sound;
  • use of simile via a compound adjective: flower-tender voice;
  • the instress of their love communicates itself through sea images and by reference to art and landscape (MP72);
  • the poet uses the different moods of the sea to describe happy togetherness (rode easy/ anchored) then to express the initial unease of separation (rocked/ unmoored) then its pain (buck/ bound/ pitched) that defines the depth of his attachment and his fear of loss. He cannot do without her!
  • the same metaphor extends to his mind-set: as if shipwrecked by feelings of separation the narrator uses male/female symbolic distinction: he is male (on my strand) and yet (metaphorically-speaking) all at sea (female symbol);

 

  • Heaney is a meticulous craftsman using combinations of vowel and consonant to form a poem that is something to be listened to;
  • the music of the poem: eleven assonant strands are woven into the text; Heaney places them grouped within specific areas to create internal rhymes , or reprises them at intervals or threads them through the text.

 

  • alliterative effects allow pulses or beats or soothings or hissings or frictions of consonant sound to modify the assonant melodies;
  • the first lines, for example, weave together labio-dental fricatives [f] [v], a cluster of plosives (bilabial [p] [b], alveolar [t][d]) alongside alveolar [l] and nasals [n] [m];
  • it is well worth teasing out the sound clusters for yourself to admire the poet’s sonic engineering:
  • Consonants (with their phonetic symbols) can be classed according to where in the mouth they occur
  • Front-of-mouth sounds voiceless bi-labial plosive [p] voiced bi-labial plosive [b]; voiceless labio-dental fricative [f] voiced labio-dental fricative [v]; bi-labial nasal [m]; interlabial continuant [w]
  • Behind-the-teeth sounds voiceless alveolar plosive [t] voiced alveolar plosive [d]; voiceless alveolar fricative as in church match [tʃ]; voiced alveolar fricative as in judge age [dʒ];  voiceless dental fricative  [θ]  as in thin path; voiced dental fricative as  in this other [ð]; voiceless alveolar fricative [s] voiced alveolar fricative [z]; continuant [h] alveolar nasal [n] alveolar approximant [l]; alveolar trill [r]; dental ‘y’ [j] as in  yet
  • Rear-of-mouth sounds voiceless velar plosive [k] voiced velar plosive [g]; voiceless post-alveolar fricative [ʃ] as in ship sure, voiced post- alveolar fricative [ʒ]   as in pleasure; palatal nasal [ŋ]  as in ring/ ang