Afterthoughts

Heaney the extraordinary man in ordinary clothes Heaney the cordon-bleu cook Heaney the agent of change Heaney the orchestrator Heaney the word painter Heaney the meticulous craftsman including phonetic information Summary versions of the contents Stylistic devices an extraordinary man in ordinary clothes Poets are a breed apart!  Unlike ordinary mortals, such as you and I, their consciousness is constantly tuned into things that give off a poetic charge and their vocation compels them to pounce on such sudden, often involuntary moments before they fade away. Poets are constantly on the qui-vive; they have a way of recording these unpredictable, involuntary instances – poets are never far away from composition mode which transforms  electrical impulse into verse poets are alchemists; Heaney […]

The Crossing

  (Inferno, Canto 111, lines 82-129) Seamus Heaney tops and tails Seeing Things with his own versions of passages from classical masterpieces, starting with ‘The Golden Bough’ borrowed from the pre-Christian classical mythology of Virgil and ending with a Dante passage from the Christian era. In both cases the narrative is not Heaney’s as such but he employs all his compositional skills to produce a polished translation. In conversation with DOD (p319) Heaney explained how the collection’s texts linked up:  the relation­ship between individual poems in the different sections has some­ thing of the splish-splash, one-after-anotherness of stones skittering and frittering across water. Thus the collection’s themes, motifs, moods and key words pop up at intervals just as a flat […]

Squarings xlviii

    (DODp.325) Heaney reported on a period of feverish activity as the Seeing Things collection was taking shape: I was pouncing for twelve lines on all kinds of occasions, chance sentences from my reading, chance sightings of dictionary entries, such as ( ) ‘offing’.  The final Squaring should be read as a complement to the previous piece in which ‘offing’ occurs for the first time. In Squarings xlvii Heaney signifies that his poetic radar is in constant scanning mode. When he assesses it he finds that the way his mind operates is odd (strange how …) The eye-scan data entering his consciousness (sensed) from distant reaches are  déjà-vu (things foreknown) … amorphous early recollections that crystallized, random events (what’s come […]

Squarings xlvii

  Heaney offers his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the Squarings sequence: You could think of every poem in ‘Squarings’ as the peg at the end of a tent-rope reaching up into the airy structure, but still with purchase on something earth­ier and more obscure (DOD 320); Heaney reported on a period of feverish activity as the Seeing Things collection was taking shape: I was pouncing for twelve lines on all kinds of occasions, chance sentences from my reading, chance sightings of dictionary entries, such as the words ‘lightening’ and ‘offing’ (xlvii xlviii), chance visits to places that unlocked the word hoard (DODp.325).  When you are a poet eager to pounce on something with a poetic charge, […]

Squarings xlvi

  Heaney offers his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the Squarings sequence: You could think of every poem in ‘Squarings’ as the peg at the end of a tent-rope reaching up into the airy structure, but still with purchase on something earth­ier and more obscure (DOD 320); The poet recalls what he might term the perfect moment. An end-of-summer event, alive and brimful: at the poet’s back the feel and sight of empty upland (Mountain air from the mountain); in front of him Irish landmarks (stone-walled fields … a slated house); in the air an unmistakable Irish music (the fiddle going) its unbroken momentum as persistent as the skittering ricochets across water of a flat stone skimmed […]

Squarings xlv

  Heaney offered his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the poems: You could think of every poem in ‘Squarings’ as the peg at the end of a tent-rope reaching up into the airy structure, but still with purchase on something earth­ier and more obscure (DOD 320); The poet discerns a chasm separating a ‘them’ and an ‘us’, certain ones and our ones identified in Squarings xlii as the Irish nearly blessed … gaunt ones. The other side of death will  be kinder to certain ones  … what was written may come true; their souls will be relocated , separate from the ‘us’ (in the distance), in an arcadian land of milk and honey (the mouths of rivers). No […]

Squarings xliv

  Heaney revealed to DOD (p.325) ‘Shortly after I came home. I was pouncing for twelve lines on all kinds of occasions, chance sentences from my reading, chance sightings of dictionary entries ( ) chance visits to places that unlocked the word hoard’. Heaney also offered his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the poems: You could think of every poem in ‘Squarings’ as the peg at the end of a tent-rope reaching up into the airy structure, but still with purchase on something earth­ier and more obscure (DOD 320); Heaney revisits an old ‘certainty’ and, using a fishing parallel, sets out how his convictions have changed. He pounces on a snippet from a Henry Vaughan poem he […]

Squarings xliii

  In conversation with DOD (p.325) Heaney revealed the period of intense creative activity that accompanied the genesis of Seeing Things:  I was pouncing on twelve liners on all kinds of occasions … chance sentences from my reading. They just turned up and he went with it. This poem pits the skills of the experienced tracker against a creature’s survival instinct; its ability to disappear was not unlike what became of an erstwhile drinking buddy. As a result of his reading, perhaps, Heaney offers a lesson to an imagined beginner in tracking hare via  prints in the snow. Initial progress is easy enough until a problem arises: the prints stop without warning (just like that). So, literally and metaphorically this is the end […]

Squarings xlii

  Heaney offers his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the poems: You could think of every poem in ‘Squarings’ as the peg at the end of a tent-rope reaching up into the airy structure, but still with purchase on something earth­ier and more obscure (DOD 320); Heaney blends events, emotions and thoughts that have graced his existential presence: Ulster landscapes and dialect; traditional turf cutting; Ulster mind-sets; old Ireland overtaken by modernism; environmental concerns. This poem highlights  the ghosts of Irish stock in an image of rare beauty. The lyrical scenes (Heather and kesh and turf stacks reappear) of Heaney’s Ulster spring still to his mind Summer by summer still, sight and sound alike (grasshoppers and all). […]

Squarings xli

  (DOD 325) Shortly after I came home. I was pouncing for twelve lines on all kinds of occasions, chance sentences from my reading, chance sightings of dictionary entries ( ) chance visits to places that unlocked the word hoard. Heaney also offers his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the Squarings sequence: You could think of every poem in ‘Squarings’ as the peg at the end of a tent-rope reaching up into the airy structure, but still with purchase on something earth­ier and more obscure (DOD 320); the poem will replace Heaney’s ‘tent-rope’ with trailing willow branches that cpmplete an electric circuit. HV (p.146), with reference to Squarings xli:  In Seeing Things almost every hieroglyph inscribes within itself […]

Squarings xl

  Heaney offers his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the Squarings sequence: You could think of every poem in ‘Squarings’ as the peg at the end of a tent-rope reaching up into the airy structure, but still with purchase on something earth­ier and more obscure (DOD 320); To DOD (p.325) Heaney revealed the period of intense creative activity that accompanied the genesis of Seeing Things:  I was pouncing on twelve liners on all kinds of occasions, chance sentences from my reading, chance sightings of dictionary entries ( ) chance visits to places that unlocked the word hoard. The Irish dwelling that Heaney recalls from 1943 (I was four) was Irish a thousand times over (I turned four […]

Squarings xxxix

  Heaney offers his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the Squarings poems: You could think of every poem in ‘Squarings’ as the peg at the end of a tent-rope reaching up into the airy structure, but still with purchase on something earth­ier and more obscure (DOD 320). Visiting a site on Ulster’s north Antrim coast, iconic both for its folkloric connections (Giant) and its extraordinary geology (Causeway), Heaney focuses on his wife’s reactions and ponders its impact on her. Whether from visual memory or snapshot, wife Marie is seated in the ‘Wishing Chair’, distant and preoccupied (far-eyed), exposed to the chill volcanic rock (cold) yet regal (throne), sitting sensibly (the small of your back erect)  and wisely […]

Squarings xxxviii

  In light-hearted, self-deprecating mood Heaney recounts a  moment spent amidst the fullness of classical Roman culture in the company of intimate friends. In the history-steeped setting (we knew it) of the Capitol by moonlight Heaney and his friends derive immense pleasure (transports) from what enticed them to take the climb (temptation on the height). They appreciate being there (privileged) albeit late in the day even, perhaps, in middle-age (belated). Heaney is suddenly taken by the desire (moved me) to express a personal view (prophesy against) aimed at the superior aloofness given out by the stone dear to the Romans (beloved stand-offishness of marble) and the self-congratulatory propaganda chiselled into it (all emulation of stone-cut verses). As if declaiming to Romans in […]

Squarings xxxvii

  Heaney revealed his sudden ‘feeding-frenzy’ to DOD (p,325) : Shortly after I came home (from a trip to Rome in 1989), I was pouncing for twelve lines on all kinds of occasions, chance sentences from my reading, chance sightings of dictionary entries, chance visits to places that unlocked the word hoard. I wanted, if possible, something nonchalant yet definite. ‘Unfussy  and believable’, as I say in the section about Han-Shan’s Cold Mountain poems .  Heaney offers his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the poems: You could think of every poem in ‘Squarings’ as the peg at the end of a tent-rope reaching up into the airy structure, but still with purchase on something earth­ier and more […]

Crossings xxxvi

  From cover to cover Seeing Things features a series of interfaces: journeys in and out of real world situations; between real and mythical; between secular and spiritual; between existence and annihilation; between objective and subjective; from the present into the future; between first order experience and seeing it again enhanced. Such crossings  require a range of boundaries: doors, windows, gates, casements, the road separating peace marchers from their getaway cars and running the gauntlet of murderous groups lurking in the shadows . MP (115) provides an insight and perhaps the basis for the story: on one occasion following Bloody Sunday, Catholic Heaney attended a protest march with Protestant fellow poet Michael Longley: the latter asked him how they should […]

Crossings xxxv

  From cover to cover Seeing Things features a series of interfaces: journeys in and out of real world situations; between real and mythical; between secular and spiritual; between objective and subjective; from the present into the future; between first order experience and seeing things through new eyes, between existence and annihilation. Such boundaries require a range of crossing points: doors, windows, gates, casements, perceived prison bars. The Foyle valley in Derry separates hormonal weekend boarders within single-sex St Columb’s College from the freedoms and pleasures being enjoyed by the rest of their visible world. Imprisoned adolescents with the first signs of facial hair (Shaving cuts) and unhealthy proclivities (pallor of bad habits) are so bored that time seemed to […]

Crossings xxxiv

  From cover to cover Seeing Things features a series of interfaces: journeys in and out of real world situations; between real and mythical; between secular and spiritual; between objective and subjective; from the present into the future; between first order experience and seeing things through new eyes. Such boundaries require a range of crossings: doors, windows, gates, casements, ‘A crossing, for sure … the airport bus as death coach’ (DOD 324) between existence and annihilation. In Settings xxii Heaney set WB Yeats questions about the human ‘spirit’. A snippet Heaney met in a Yeats’ letter acts as the catalyst for a Californian experience that haunted him for a long time afterwards. Put simply Yeats suggests that those who have […]

Crossings xxxiii

  From cover to cover Seeing Things features a series of interfaces: journeys in and out of real world situations; between real and mythical; between secular and spiritual; between existence and annihilation; between objective and subjective; from the present into the future; between first order experience and seeing things again. Such crossings require a range of access points: doors, windows, gates, casements, a moment of final unroofing. Heaney indicated to DOD (p.25) that the poem was set specifically at The Wood farm inherited from great-uncle Hughie into which the family moved from Mossbawn following the death of the poet’s brother Christopher in 1953; it was partly rebuilt: one of the twelve-liners recollects my father’s vision of what the new house […]

Crossings xxxii

  From cover to cover Seeing Things presents a series of interfaces: journeys in and out of real world situations; between real and mythical; between secular and spiritual; between existence and annihilation; between objective and subjective; from the present into the future; between first order experience and seeing things through new eyes. Such crossings involve a range of access points: doors, windows, gates, casements, a bridge across a ditch that unites him both with the life of his childhood (still present in the landscape and language) and a ghostly revenant, the recently deceased father whose death left the poet ‘unroofed’. Heaney pays tribute to the never distant, ever-satisfying element of his rural Ulster upbringing (Running water never disappointed). It provided […]

Crossings xxxi

  From cover to cover Seeing Things presents a series of interfaces: journeys in and out of real world situations; between real and mythical; between secular and spiritual; between existence and annihilation; between objective and subjective; from the present into the future; between first order experience and seeing things through new eyes. Such crossings involve a range of access points: doors, windows, gates, casements, an area of Ulster fen. Heaney’s poem generates increasing momentum: his camera eye moves from measurable distance (quarter of a mile) to nano close-up (millionth of a flicker); his eye-brain coordination shifts from ‘easily recognizable objects’ to unrecognizable objects because too fast to register; the poet himself morphs from the man behind the steering wheel of […]

Crossings xxx

  From cover to cover Seeing Things features a series of interfaces: journeys in and out of real world situations; between real and mythical; between secular and spiritual; between existence and annihilation; between objective and subjective; from the present into the future; between first order experience and seeing things through new eyes. Such crossings involve a range of access points: doors, windows, gates, casements, a circle of plaited straw. Of tradition in Ireland St Brigid’s Day witnessed the piety and superstition of rural communities. This hybrid Christian/ Celtic feast of renewals (the new life could be entered) provides a poetic charge as Heaney reviews ‘old certainties’ (MP221, below). The girdle is a crossing point (going through); from upbringing he recall […]

Crossings xxix

  From cover to cover Seeing Things features a series of interfaces: journeys in and out of real world situations; between real and mythical worlds; between secular and spiritual; between existence and annihilation; between objective and subjective; from the present into the future; between first order experience and seeing things anew. Movement from one side to the other requires a range of crossing points: windows, gates, casements, a familiar Ulster door with a latch. ‘All these things entered you/ As if they were both the door and what came through it’ said Markings III, presenting a crossing point with no view – between  the‘within’ and the ‘without’, between the present and the what-next, between the known and the longed-for. Heaney […]

Crossings xxviii

  From cover to cover Seeing Things features a series of interfaces: journeys in and out of real world situations; between real and mythical; between secular and spiritual; between existence and annihilation; between objective and subjective; from the present into the future; between a first order experience that seemed ordinary long ago now recognized as a ‘marvel’ worth crediting. Schoolchildren taking advantage of winter weather engage in a daring activity producing something extraordinary and ‘furthering’ themselves in the process. Imagine what a child sees squinting through the mouth of a glass bottle – its circularity, its illusion of distance, its shiny, reflective light effects. Now apply those properties to a strip if ice on a frozen pond somewhere around Mossbawn  on […]

Crossings xxvii

  From cover to cover Seeing Things features a series of interfaces: journeys in and out of real world situations; between real and mythical worlds; between secular and spiritual; between existence and annihilation; between objective and subjective; from the present into the future; of first order experience seen through new eyes. The poem is triggered by recollection of Heaney’s late father’s advice to a close family member. He fondly remembers  his father’s dry, reticent personality and his occasional shafts of wit, fitting for the world in which Patrick Heaney lived and for whatever lay on the other side. Nothing is for ever (Everything flows). Patrick Heaney stood for solide feet-on-the-groundness,  personal and professional strength (solid man … pillar to himself […]

Crossings xxvi

  From cover to cover Seeing Things features a series of interfaces: journeys in and out of real world situations; between real and mythical worlds; between secular and spiritual; between existence and annihilation; between objective and subjective; from the present into the future; between first order experience and seeing things anew; between political affiliations. Movement from one side to the other requires a range of crossing points: doors, windows, gates, casements …  the windscreen of a car. In this piece Heaney comes up against a presence that experience has taught him to be wary of. The poem focuses pointedly on the Ulster’s Troubles and evidence of British forces and military vehicles sent to the province. Sighing with exasperation (Only), Heaney […]