Crime and punishment: a different genre, a classical time; the ‘he’ and the ‘her’ from classical mythology feed myth and allegory.

Actaeon’s attempts to possess Artemis (He courted her) are less physical than Ralegh’s towards the maid of Ireland but the arch flattery of his intentions, his decadent sweet art is judged equally unworthy. The peeping-Tom is given away by the wind’s vowel/ Blowing through the hazels that whispers his question for him: ‘Are you Diana . . . ?’

But was he Actaeon or is he a figure of allegory? Heaney warns all abusers, whether they rape the aisling’s maid of nationality or lust after a classical goddess of Beauty, that whatever their remorse, a painful fate will be theirs. Actaeon’s regret was high lament, his punishment irrevocable: The stag’s exhausted belling.

  • 2 quatrains: a stage-set followed by 2 questions;

  • first verse enjambed; no rhyme scheme;

  • sound effects: a string of [ei] Aisling / hazels; [ai] high/ Diana/ Actaeon/ high; the alveolar plosives [t] [d] of the first couplet contrast with the vowel sounds [ɑː] [au:] [uː] [ei] of the second lengthened to reflect the suspenseful excitement of the observer and mimic the sound of the wind’s vowel; assonant [e] of the final couplet: lament/ exhausting/ belling;

  • aisling: a ‘vision’ poem; an Irish-language poetic genre developed in late 17th century; elegiac in tone; in such poems Ireland was generally portrayed as a woman, young or old, lamenting Ireland’s fate and hoping for better things;

  • in one version of a Greek story Actaeon was punished for seeing the goddess Artemis naked and later speaking out about it; he was turned into a stag and torn apart by his own hounds;

  • the story of Ralegh would deliver its own twist (and the maid of Ireland avenged. In allegorical terms at least). Ralegh’s fate was similar to Actaeon’s: disliked by King James I he was accused of plotting against him and imprisoned for 12 years in the Tower of London. Released, he was sent on an expedition in search of the fictitious El Dorado but disobeyed the king yet again, was sentenced to death and executed in 1618;

  • belling describes the throaty cry of the lustful stag in the rutting season;