Crossings xxv

  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 anew. Movement from one side to the other requires a range of access points: doors, windows, gates, casements, a car’s windscreen, the human eye. Heaney sets the scene for a dramatic, unexpected encounter: a time of day (driving south at dawn); a state of emergency (going full out); poor visibility on narrow Irish roads (high-up stone-wall country); the early chill (rocks still cold); potential skid conditions (Rainwater gleaming). Then suddenly around […]

Settings xxiv

  The ‘Settings’ sequence presents a chain of backdrops against which personal events and dramas were played out. Within the dynamic period preceding Seeing Things when Heaney deliberately swooped on anything that stimulated memory or association (DOD 320),  he allowed himself to be transported back by the poems that ‘came on’ to the sites, moments and emotions of previous experience, from where he weighed up what ‘In time … was extra, unforeseen and free’ (Markings I). HV: ‘Squaring’ xxiv, Heaney’s hymn to natural sufficiency, records the ever-present potential of the senses for a fuller happiness (p147). The poet composes an anthem to ‘perfected form’. His elated consciousness is undisturbed either by man’s clamour or signs of nature’s turbulence (Deserted harbour […]

Settings xxiii

  The ‘Settings’ sequence presents a chain of backdrops against which personal happenings and dramas were played out. Within the dynamic period preceding Seeing Things when Heaney deliberately swooped on anything that stimulated memory or association (DOD 320),  he allowed himself to be transported back by the poems that ‘came on’ to the sites, moments and emotions of previous experience, from where he weighed up what ‘in time … was extra, unforeseen and free’ (Markings I). Recalling a symposium (Heaney does not tell us when or where) of specialists and literary figures  Heaney recounts an excursion – the poet identifies Danish poet Ivan Malinowski on the same tour whose death in 1989 introduces an short Heaney-style tribute to a kindred […]

Settings xxii

  By and large the ‘Settings’ sequence presents a chain of backdrops against which personal events and dramas were played out. Within the dynamic period preceding Seeing Things when Heaney deliberately swooped on anything that stimulated memory or association (DOD 320),  he allowed himself to be transported back by the poems that ‘came on’ to the sites, subjects and emotions of early experience, whence he weighs up what ‘in time … was extra, unforeseen and free’ (Markings I). This poem breaks the mould. Heaney focuses on the ‘spirit’. Following his current ‘method’ of seeing things through fresh eyes, Heaney soul-searches, setting the current piece on a higher abstract and metaphysical plane. He refers seven unanswered questions to a highly respected […]

Settings xxi

  The ‘Settings’ sequence presents a chain of backdrops against which personal events and dramas were played out. Within the dynamic period preceding Seeing Things when Heaney deliberately swooped on anything that stimulated memory or association (DOD 320),  he allowed himself to be transported back by the poems that ‘came on’ to the sites, moments and emotions of previous experience, from where he weighed up what ‘in time … was extra, unforeseen and free’ (Markings I). The poem expresses a move away from the Catholic lessons to which Heaney was exposed as a boy (he might have said ‘overexposed’); his sole experience of firing an air-rifle (Once and only once) brought about a re-appraisal of soul, death and eternity. The […]

Settings xx

  The ‘Settings’ sequence presents a chain of backdrops against which personal events and dramas were played out. Within the dynamic period preceding Seeing Things when Heaney deliberately swooped on anything that stimulated memory or association (DOD 320),  he allowed himself to be transported back by the poems that ‘came on’ to the sites, moments and emotions of previous experience, from where he weighed up what ‘in time … was extra, unforeseen and free’ (Markings I). Behind every picture lurks a story. On tour the poet stands at a picture post-card site in Central Moscow (Red Square) and sifts what he sees against what he ‘knows’ about the Kremlin building: its brick wall ostensibly nothing out of the ordinary (unthreatening […]

Settings xix

  The ‘Settings’ sequence presents a chain of backdrops against which personal events and dramas were played out. Within the dynamic period preceding Seeing Things when Heaney deliberately swooped on anything that stimulated memory or association (DOD 320),  he allowed himself to be transported back by the poems that ‘came on’ to the sites, moments, models and emotions of primary experience, from where he weighed up what ‘in time … was extra, unforeseen and free’ (Markings I). Settings xix sets out a diorama of memory à la Heaney that features things that might play/ have played a role in its genesis. The reader peeks in as if from behind glass or through a peep-hole. Heaney paints a stage-set: something built […]

Settings xviii

  The ‘Settings’ sequence presents a chain of backdrops against which personal events and dramas were played out. Within the dynamic period preceding Seeing Things when Heaney deliberately swooped on anything that stimulated memory or association (DOD 320),  he allowed himself to be transported back by the poems that ‘came on’ to the sites, caricatures and emotions of primary experience, whence he weighs up what ‘in time … was extra, unforeseen and free’ (Markings I). A precocious youngster comments on a fall from power; his over-fifty-self credits that early discrimination. Attending a rural Ulster get-together of countrymen (fair-hill), young Heaney takes a dislike to a rope salesman. He watches the smutty routine of an individual who thinks highly of himself […]

Settings xvii

  The ‘Settings’ sequence presents a chain of backdrops against which personal events and dramas were played out. Within the dynamic period preceding Seeing Things when Heaney deliberately swooped on anything that stimulated memory or association (DOD 320),  he allowed himself to be transported back by the poems that ‘came on’ to the sites, subjects and emotions of primary experience, whence he weighs up what ‘in time … was extra, unforeseen and free’ (Markings I). All about ‘the myths surrounding eels’ (DOD93)! The poem sets an old wives’ tale  alongside the non-scientific theory of an early classical scholar later discarded as poppycock. Heaney is taken by the eel’s alleged curative power useful to him at moments when his creative ‘blood […]

Settings xvi

  The ‘Settings’ sequence presents a chain of backdrops against which personal events and dramas were played out. Within the dynamic of Seeing Things Heaney deliberately swooped on anything that stimulated memory or association (DOD 320),  allowing himself to be transported back by the poems that ‘came on’ to the sites, substances and emotions of primary experience, whence he weighs up what ‘in time  was extra, unforeseen and free’(Markings I). Heaney recalls a childhood rodent killer of massive proportions. Witnessed within the Heaney farmstead the deadly power of shop-bought Rat poison awakens myriad  associations both contemporary and classical. Heaney’s young attention was particularly taken by the mystical change in the substance’s colouring, from dull, reddy-brown blood pudding to light-catching phosphorescent; its thick […]

Settings xv

  The ‘Settings’ sequence presents a chain of backdrops against which personal events and dramas were played out. Within the dynamic of Seeing Things Heaney deliberately swooped on anything that stimulated memory or association (DOD 320),  allowed himself to be transported back by the poems that ‘came on’ to the sites, moments and emotions of primary experience; his aim is to credit  ‘marvels’ that he failed to recognize first time round. Heaney conceded in conversation with DOD (322) that the death of his father, Patrick, contributed to his sinking sense of being ‘unroofed’ at this stage in his life and may have influenced the re-evaluations that Seeing Things undertakes. Heaney relives a moment of revelation. His sensitivity to the compositional […]

Settings xiv

  The ‘Settings’ sequence presents a chain of backdrops against which personal events and dramas were played out. Within the dynamic of Seeing Things Heaney  deliberately swooped on anything that stimulated memory or association (DOD 320),  willingly transported back by the poems that ‘came on’ to the sites and moments of primary experience; his aim is to credit the ‘marvels’ he failed to recognize first time round. The railway cutting close to Heaney’s childhood home in Mossbawn becomes the melting-pot in which his future was being formed. An ‘ordinary’ afternoon from the 1940s awakens within Heaney a sense of the extraordinary and is treated with classical splendour – a boy standing on his local railway trackfigured as an innocent abroad (seraph) […]

Settings xiii

  The ‘Settings’ sequence presents a chain of backdrops against which personal events and dramas were played out. Within the dynamic of Seeing Things Heaney  deliberately swooped on anything that stimulated memory or association (DOD 320),  willingly transported back by the poems that ‘came on’ to the sites, sensations and moments of primary experience, whence he sets out to give the  marvels that emerged the credit-rating they failed to achieve first time round. The rich tapestry of Heaney’s upbringing and his subsequent career and relationships are particularly suggestive of the decorative mountings into which priceless gemstones and rich memories are set both as invaluable personal items and poems of beauty.  Settings xiii unfolds within a setting of sun-drenched languor: hints […]

Lightenings xii

  The title of the first section, ‘Lightenings’, arrived by accident, when I found a dictionary entry that gives it to mean ‘a flaring of the spirit at the moment before death’. And there were also the attendant meanings of being unburdened and being illuminated, all of which fitted what was going on as the first poems got written (DOD321). The message that emerges is that Heaney accepted the ‘attendant meanings’ readily enough but had greater difficulty coming to terms with a definition linking imminent death with a soaring of the spirit; he finds an example that encapsulated his dilemma but does not solve it. He is weighing the Catholic teachings to which he was exposed against the doubts generated […]

LIghtenings xi

  The title of the first section, ‘Lightenings’, arrived by accident, when I found a dictionary entry that gives it to mean ‘a flaring of the spirit at the moment before death’. And there were also the attendant meanings of being unburdened and being illuminated, all of which fitted what was going on as the first poems got written (DOD321) 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);  So long for air to brighten, said Fosterling, Time to be dazzled […]

Lightenings x

  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). So long for air to brighten, said Fosterling. Time to be dazzled and the heart to lighten. Heaney’s observer sits astride a crag top at a quarry’s edge, close to a sheer drop (Overhang of grass) where Nature clings precariously but persistently to life (seedling birch). Heaney identifies himself as the lofty speaker (Rock-hob where you watched), a man in his fifties studying the cargoed brightness carried along by the laws of meteorology: ineffable (travelling/ […]

Lightenings ix

  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); Three triplets revisit a childhood moment when child-Heaney felt totally happy, comfortable and secure; the final triplet reveals the sadness of a poet in his fifties for whom the loss of those who nursed him on that day undermines the old certainties. The insecurity generated by the scary boat movement at Inishbofin (Seeing Things I) is replaced: the craft in which they stand on  Lough Neagh within a few miles […]

Lightenings viii

  Heaney offered 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);  Early Christian and Celtic legend was prone to present mysterious, miraculous illusions to create a sense of awe in humble minds. Heaney’s version of the legend of Clonmacnoise (The annals say) unfolds in a space between the earth-bound world of a 6th century chapel and an airy, transcendent reality above; the staging provides a kind of ‘skylight’ through which a person may pass from one to the other. The monks, […]

Lightenings vii

  The title of the first section, ‘Lightenings’, arrived by accident, when I found a dictionary entry that gives it to mean ‘a flaring of the spirit at the moment before death’. And there were also the attendant meanings of being unburdened and being illuminated, all of which fitted what was going on as the first poems got written (DOD321) 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); Lightenings vi and vii form a double-sided coin: vi portrays Hardy as […]

Lightenings vi

  The title of the first section, ‘Lightenings’, arrived by accident, when I found a dictionary entry that gives it to mean ‘a flaring of the spirit at the moment before death’. And there were also the attendant meanings of being unburdened and being illuminated, all of which fitted what was going on as the first poems got written (for example) the one about Thomas Hardy as a child on his back among a flock of sheep, gazing up at the heavens (DOD321). 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, […]

Lightenings v

  Heaney offered 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); all three aspects are clearly visible in this piece.  So long for air to brighten, said Fosterling, Time to be dazzled and the heart to lighten. The material marble pitch of Lightenings iii is still to be seen forty years on thumbed in the concrete road while the concrete was still wet, whereas the school-friend who played with him at the time is half the world away (vanished Into Australia). The hieroglyph with […]

Lightenings iv

  Heaney offered 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). So long for air to brighten, said Fosterling, Time to be dazzled and the heart to lighten. Heaney composes a study in the production, transmission, reception and effects of sound as it impacts on a pleasure moment. The transcendental sounds of a dramatic performance ascend through the roofless structure of an earth-bound arena into infinite space. He is watching an open-air performance in a Roman theatre. As the spectacle develops he becomes […]

Lightenings iii

  Heaney offered his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the ‘Squarings’ poems: You could think of every poem ( ) 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).  So long for air to brighten, said Fosterling, Time to be dazzled and the heart to lighten. Heaney offers a master-class in describing, in the closest detail imaginable, what it takes to be a successful marble-shooter. Viewed through the lens of time a first order experience takes on new significance. Heaney runs through the infinite modulations of a childhood game played in the road outside Mossbawn farm, weighing up (squarings) […]

Lightenings ii

Heaney talked about the therapeutic role Glanmore played in his life : the formal purchase we’d arranged with Ann Saddlemyer restored us to the ‘beloved vale’ in Wicklow. Glanmore Cottage was available from then on as a completely silent place of writing, close to Dublin, no phone, no interruptions whatsoever. In fact, the second poem of the ‘Squarings’ sequence is an immediate act of thanksgiving for the cottage as a ‘bastion of sensation’. ‘Batten down’, it says. ‘Dig in. / Drink out of tin. Know the scullery cold’ -this was before we’d got the central heating.   All that natu­rally sent a powerful surge through the system, as did the writing of ‘Fosterling’, which ended by stating that it was ‘Time to […]

Lightenings i

  Heaney offered 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). This first Lightening‘s airiness resides in the dazzling sky above, its earthiness in the roofless ‘Irish’ farmstead in which a vagrant figure waits ; its obscurity, more personal and complicated, derives from the poet’s own whirl of feelings involving the loss of both parents (‘the final unroofing of the world’ – DOD322) and his exposure to what Helen Vendler refers to as ‘unignorable annihilation’ (138). HV offers her own key to […]