The title introduces an all-female family group that has moved communities for reasons of necessity.
Their new accommodation, close to where the speaker lives, is down-at-heel: leaking roof ../ cracked dormer windows.
The identities of those involved are clarified. Standing out in his memory is the adolescent Brigid and the life-style imposed upon her: the sharing of a crowded bed; the scary sounds from outside: branch-whipped slates; the onset of puberty, her starts of womanhood.
The move has left traumatic marks: a dream troubled her head. Memories of a sea-crossing are both visual (a lounge/where empty bottles rolled/ at every slow plunge and lift) and emotional: from persistently weeping child to strange/ flowing black taxi and, as if from a wartime scene, a bombed station.
Brigid’s experiences might explain her sleep-pattern: roused by the smell/ of baby clothes, feeling the security of numbers (children/ who snuggled tight) she would awaken at the crack of dawn alongside the small/ dormer with no curtain/ beginning to go pale.
The speaker lyricises the effect the new arrivals had on his poetic spirit: he dwelt where clandestine winds stirred in ourlyric wood where restive, quick and silent/ the deer of poetry (so easily startled) stood/ in pools of lucent sound (the deer motif will recur on the cave walls of the final poem).
Their paths crossed morning and afternoon: as if in a nursery rhyme the girls came jangling along, down/ the steep hill for water/ and laboured up again.
Familiars, yes; certainly not figments of his imagination, their presence is betrayed by a trail of spillings in the dust,/ unsteady white enamel buckets looming. Their Ghosts call out to him still like their names in the unfamiliar dialect, the spill of syllables, they spoke.
He has come to know their itinerary from Glasgow to Dublin and their limited possessions: cases and boxes,/ pram and cassette machine. (The latter would seem to place the migration after the mid 1960’s).
He learnt of their panic when, nearing journey’s end, misfortune struck: they miss their bus/ their last Wicklow connection, of their understandable human responses (the young ones scared and cross …/ the mother at a loss)andhow, deep into the night, they set out on foot for the suburbs/ and into the small hours.
The journey they have begun (their homesick tour) brings both the relief of escape (moonlight-flit) and worry of the unknown (it sweetens and disturbs). They bear the unmistakeable hallmarks of homeless urchins (street arabs/ the mother and her daughters)as they walk the late-night streets passing impersonal, cold, lamp-lit, bolted premises on the outskirts. They detect the warmth of Nature in the kind mutter of streams.
As the city peters out, cold moonlight reveals their distant destination: Wicklow’s mountainy black skyline. Deflated by the challenge ahead they sit.
No distraction, no music possible: the cassette …/ battery’s gone./ They cannot raise a note. Finally to add to their woes the first drops of rain/ spit in the dark.
It is Brigid who spurs them on to journey’s end: Brigid/ gets up and says, ‘Come on.
- familiars: alongside the standard meaning of ‘intimate’, ‘very friendly’, the 15th century allusion to ‘spirits that answer one’s call’ fits very neatly with the dream aspect of the piece;
- the speaker is affected by the youngsters in the story hence, perhaps, the use of nursery-rhyme, with echoes of ‘Grand Old Duke of York’ and ‘Jack and Jill’;
- street arabs: an old-fashioned literary term applied to a homeless children, urchins who survived by begging and stealing; there is a suggestion of neglect;
- moonlight flit: a sudden unannounced departure (traditionally from rented accommodation with the express purpose of avoiding rent or debts);
- thirteen sextets composed in a 14 sentence construct; line length between 4 and 7 syllables; a pattern of loose rhymes now ll. 2 an 4. now 1 and 3 in later verses but no formal pattern;
- continuously enjambed lines accompany the evolution of epic events (S3/4); crowded punctuation coincides with moments of uncertainty;
- vocabulary is now descriptive of down-at-heel accommodation, now the bearer of disturbing events or experiences;
- at a moment of lyricism the motif of the ‘deer’ of poetry is introduced: the nervous embodiment of the creative spirit;
- paradox: people exclude; nature invites in; personification: nature has a soul, nature speaks;
- odd but effective juxtaposition: ‘neon garages’
- imagery of water applying both to sea and to language;
- final direct speech where the central character takes a heroic lead;
- note how the narrative increases the distance to be travelled, lowers the temperature, encourages human frailty and leaves only human spirit to prevail;
- the music of the poem: Heaney weaves assonant strands into the text placing them grouped within specific areas to create internal rhymes , or reprising them at intervals or threading them through the text:
- In S1- S5 the following accretions emerge [ai]: Migration/ mile; night after night; [ei] -gration/ place/ came; slates; strange/ station/ waken/ baby/ pale; [au] About/ our/ house; [ɪ] windows/ Brigid/ live/ sisters; whipped/ bewildered; [ʌ] mother/ months; under/ womanhood/ troubled; plunge/ pulled; snuggled; [ɔː] dormer/ for; small dormer; [i:] dream; weeping/ weeping; [əʊ]rolled/ slow; clothes/ no/ go [e] slept/ bed; empty/ every; [æ] black taxi;
- S6 – S9 look for the following assonant effects [ɪ] Windfalls/ clandestine winds/ lyric/ restive/ quick; Familiars/; spillings in; hill/ spill/ syllables/ Dublin; miss/ Wicklow/ lit; [ei]lay/ days; laboured up again/ trail; names; train/ station; [i:] feet/ deer [u] pools of lucent/ noon looming/ knew [e] clandestine/ restive/ ready; unsteady/enamel; then/ Ferry/ Belfast/ then; then/ connection; [ʌ] up/ dust/ unsteady; hurry/ hurry/ Dublin; [ɒ]connection/ cross/ loss[əʊ] Glasgow/ Wicklow/ so; [æ] pram and cassette machine;
- S10 – S13: [au] out/ how/ south; out/ mountain/ now; [ɪ] into/ it/ disturbs/ homesick/ flit; entries, bridges swelling; filling/ thin; spit in/ Brigid [ai] night lights/ blinds/ kind; sky/ widely/ moonlight/ skyline [ɜː] suburbs/ disturbs[e] entries/ swelling/ estates;[əʊ] haloed/ over;cold/ Wicklow/ note; [i:] sweetens/ street; neon; streams/ trees [i] widelymountainy [æ] arabs/ land; garages/ padlocked; batteries/ cannot; [ei] spaced/ change/ raise/ rain;
- alliterative effects allow pulses or beats or soothings or hissings or frictions of consonant sound to modify the assonant melodies.Listen for: S1 threads bi-labial nasal [m] between voiced bi-labial and alveolar plosives [b] [d]; S2 adds alveolar nasal [n], voiceless alveolar plosive [t] and sibilant fricative [s]; S3 persists with bilabial plosives [p] [b] adding [l] and continuant [w]; S4 is strong in [b] and [s]; S5 uses [s] variants like voiced alveolar fricative [z] alongside alveolar trill [r] then voiceless bi-labial plosive [p]; S6 is heavy with nasals [m] [n] and palatal nasal [ŋ]; the nasals are carried into S7 alongside [s] [z], the latter into S8 with a zest of voiceless velar plosive [k] in S9 voiceless velar plosive [k] persists with alveolar approximant [l] and fricatives [s] and [ʃ]; S10 blends nasal [m] with sibilant fricatives and voiceless alveolar plosive [t]; S11 combines sibilant [s] with bilabial plosives [p] [b] and alveolar [t]; listen for [k] and [s] in S12 and the blend of voiceless velar plosive [k], alveolar nasal [n] and bilabial plosives [p] [b] in S13;