Requiem for the Croppies

Requiem for the Croppies, Heaney indicated, was written from the vantage point of a Northern Irish Catholic with a nationalist background. Once the poem took shape in his imagination he just went for it: I was conscious of a need to voice something that hadn’t got voiced (amongst contemporary Irish poets), to tune the medium in order to do that particular job.  If he foresaw the poem’s provocative political potential he relegated it below his writerly entitlement. Heaney plants a first flag in support of the Irish nationalist cause. His poem is set amidst the 1798 Rising, perhaps the first organised opposition to British rule in the south of Ireland at the time, emblematic also of a determination amongst Irish […]

Girls Bathing, Galway, 1965

Heaney was familiar with Salthill Promenade having unveiled a monument built there to celebrate this very poem. As was often the case he felt he had to write something to commemorate the event. He disguises it as a delightful holiday ‘snapshot’ celebrating Irishwomen swimming together and then, using a classical goddess and a Celtic legend, proceeds to his deeper intention – a love poem to his wife Marie. His beach-eye pans from breaking sea (swell foams) to its lady bathers, some inactive (float) others energetic (crawl), their swimming stroke’s explosiveness likened to a firework (catherine-wheel of arm and hand), the rise and fall of buoyancy (each head bobs) as predictably sudden (curtly) as an air-filled beach toy (football). Heaney hears […]

In Gallarus Oratory

Heaney pens the second ‘meditative interior’ of the collection (after ‘The Forge’). He visited the hilltop Gallarus site in south-west Ireland in August 1966 entering it through its ‘door into the dark’; this subsequent contemplation uses darkness as a positive metaphor reflecting on the miracle of faith felt by its monks as they emerged from their own interior darkness into the light. In the process also the poem adds new elements to  the content of the collection – elements of Irish geographical, architectural and spiritual history. A thousand years have failed to erase (still feel) the monkish presences once crammed into the oratory’s narrow space (community pack this place). Heaney has entered the chapel’s sombre millennium-old seat of monkish devotion […]

The Peninsula

Heaney pens the first of what MP describes as ‘meditative landscapes’. The poet is responding to the Irish landscape around him from behind the windscreen of his car, cut off in a sense from the object of his perception and locked into his own feelings. For NC (23) the poem tellingly recreates the exhilaration of meditative solitary driving. Heaney will reprise the figure on a score of occasions across his work (titles below). Heaney explained to DOD how he came to know the countryside around Belfast. Part of his job supervising trainee teachers at St Joseph’s College necessitated the use of a car. The Volkswagen Beetle he owned was also useful for himself, Marie and friends to go on outings: […]


Heaney pens a sister poem to The Diviner of Death of a Naturalist, delving into the Irish ‘underlay’ (things that make Ireland magically special and unique for him): both demonstrate the gifts of ordinary untutored Irishmen that, to onlookers, verge on the miraculous; at an allegorical level the poems allude to the skills that turn poetic charges into works of art. Located next to ‘The Forge’ the poem presents a second example of what Helen Vendler (p.19) refers to as ‘functional anonymity within longstanding rural practices’. The tradesman’s arrival is casual … meeting a spoken arrangement with no definite dates (bespoke for weeks) … without prior warning (turned up some morning unexpectedly) … without any fanfare (bicycle slung) … with […]

The Forge

The poem’s first line provides the collection’s title. Heaney himself is the first person narrator. The blacksmith he has in mind  is Barney Devlin who presided over the smithy on the Hillhead Road above Mossbawn farmstead. The poem will portray Barney anonymously both as an inadvertent contributor to young Heaney’s creative development and coincidentally as an iconic representative of a disappearing rural trade. Heaney pointed out in A Sofa in the Forties from Spirit Level, that in common with all children his development started from scratch. In his case his precocious intelligence and curiosity were ever eager to find out what lay on the other side of doors ‘into the dark’. The poet sums up that early stage (All I […]

The Salmon Fisher to the Salmon

The inquisitive observer of Death of a Naturalist described in detail the behaviour of trout and the swirling idiosyncrasies of flowing water in his local river Moyola.  Ringing a change Heaney pens a monologue in which a first person angler addresses the iconic fish he is seeking to net. Atlantic salmon was common in the Lower Bann and Moyola rivers of the poet’s mid-Ulster neighbourhood.  Coincidently Heaney has chosen a fish whose life-cycle covers huge distances as will be the case of the eel that populates A Lough Neagh Sequence.  The fisherman’s camera-eye dips beneath the river surface, picking out the salmon’s protruberant, plated mouth (ridged lip) facing the current (set upstream), engaged in its hectic, final journey (you flail […]

The Outlaw

Though the poem commands little attention from Heaney’s commentators it is a little gem – its grainy ‘period’ cine-camera sequence paints a humorous vignette of rural Irishness in the early 1950s, extending the Heaney family farm scenarios of Death of a Naturalist into the wider community one of myriad poems dealing with what it means to be Irish. The poem illustrates the sharp-wittedness of Irish farmers and provides a mating session that opens a boy’s eyes to a more complete understanding of ‘the birds and the bees’. It also introduces the ‘vantage point’ metaphor whereby Heaney learned about the world unfolding below him from elevated sites on fences or in trees. The ‘Agricultural Act Northern Ireland 1949’ stipulated that only […]

Door into the Dark – Foreword

Door into the Dark published by Faber and Faber in 1969 is Seamus Heaney’s second collection. Heaney was thirty. The totality of his collections over more than half a century confirmed Heaney’s place at the top of the premier league of poets writing in English. Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. He died suddenly in August 2013. The textual commentaries that follow seek to tease out what Heaney’s poems are intimating in Door into the Dark. Of course, the poet’s ‘message’ will have started life as an essentially personal one not intended primarily for his reader. There are moment, too, when some serious unravelling is required – thanks to the depth of Heaney’s knowledge, scholarship and […]


A poem is triggered by the ‘framed’ still-life of horse-tack on a farm wall. The poet reflects on the purposes it once served. The apparatus conjures up an equine absentee, perhaps the same horse as in Night Piece that described a child’s nightmare memory of the animal alive. Heaney’s elegiac piece reflects his compassionate nature only enhanced by distance in time and his sense of the irretrievable. Before Heaney’s gaze hangs the forensic corroboration of the horse’s existence: evidence of once living saliva (green froth that lathered) its liquid form still evoked (shining bit) alongside the remnants of what the animal once chomped (cobweb of grass-dust). Scanning and handling the items reveals the beast’s hard working life (sweaty twist of […]

Night Piece

Night Piece introduces the collection’s leitmotif that acts largely as a positive metaphor for discovering the treasure trove that lay within an inquisitive individual’s reach. Here however Heaney paints the picture of the youngster and the farm horse behind his bedroom wall coping sleeplessly with scary darkness. Poems that follow will pick up the theme: Dream sets out the dynamics of nightmare in an older Heaney whilst Vision and Bogland both suggest that his family’s finger-wagging warnings inadvertently exacerbated his subconscious fears. It interested DOD (p. 96) that the negative connotations of Heaney’s choice of collection title were immediately visible in the first poem. Heaney’s explained the sensitivity and unsureness he was born with that remained forever part of his […]

Door into the Dark – Contents

Foreword Night-Piece Gone Dream The Outlaw The Salmon Fisher to the Salmon   The Forge Thatcher   The Peninsula In Gallarus Oratory Girls Bathing, Galway, 1965   Requiem for the Croppies Rite of Spring Undine The Wife’s Tale Mother  Cana Revisited Elegy for a Still-born Child Victorian Guitar  Night Drive  At Ardboe Point Relic of Memory  A Lough Neagh Sequence- Forewords 1 Up the Shore  2 Beyond Sargasso  3 Bait                          4 Setting                     5 Lifting                      6 The Return             7 Vision                       The Given Note Whinlands  The Plantation   Shoreline Bann Clay Bogland   Afterthoughts