Glanmore Sonnets – 10

x With all the twists and turns of Heaney’s subconscious dream the Glanmore Sonnets reach a positive conclusion. The poet’s imagination fired e when he was asleep (I dreamt we slept). His anxiety as regards a major relocation of his own doing has placed him and Marie alongside each other in an Irish Republic peatbog (a moss in Donegal) facing a night under the sky (turf banks under blankets), open to the elements (our faces exposed all night), in unfavourable conditions (wetting drizzle) and deathly pale (pallid) amidst the pathetic fallacy of empathetic nature (dripping sapling birches). There are comforting precedents: a couple with Shakespearean credentials (Lorenzo and Jessica) made it together, far from the warmth of Venice (in a […]

Glanmore Sonnets – 9

                                                                                                        IX The peace and stability of domestic life in Glanmore is disrupted by a dark force (black rat), in clear view (sways on the briar) and threatening well-being (like infected fruit). Marie Heaney builds to a paroxysm of revulsion – the creature’s audacity (It looked me through) and wilfulness (stared me out) as clear as day (I’m not imagining things)! She dispatches her liegeman husband on a rodent extermination mission (Go you out to it). How much did the drama, Heaney wonders, cast a cloud over the whole decision to move to the Republic (the wilderness for this?) when all else is positive: healthy natural greenery (burnished bay tree at the gate) Irish as Irish(classical) its pagan association replaced […]

Glanmore Sonnets – 8

                                                                                                   VIII Heaney’s routine is suddenly unsettled (thunderlight): signs of everyday Glanmore productivity (split logs) are marred by a warm summer downfall (big raindrops at body heat) that, as it changes colour (spattering dark) onthe wood-cleaving tool (hatchet iron), introduces a darkening mood (lush with omen).  The early-day portent of a lurching scavenger (magpie with jerky steps) looking instinctively for personal advantage (horse asleep beside the wood) is consistent with the damper (dew) of Ireland’s battles and bloody victims (armour and carrion). Questions betray increasing anxiety as to where threats lie (what … meet?) –  a gory animal corpse run over by a vehicle (blood-boltered, on the road?) or an evil Shakespearean ‘familiar’ (toad) haunting the cottage garden (deep into […]

Glanmore Sonnets – 7

                                                                                                     VII The counselling voice Heaney Incertus sought in the title poem of ‘North’ is replaced by Heaney’s own voice pronouncing his eureka moment, a single word that corroborates the benefits and protections Wicklow offers fishermen in a storm and the Heaney family re-located in Glanmore Cottage. A clipped BBC radio voice intones sea areas (most of them) adjacent to Ireland (Dogger, Rockall, Malin, Irish Sea). Heaney envisions the turbulence they share – the colour, swell and thunder of the ocean (green, swift upsurges, North Atlantic flux). Poetic charge has been triggered (conjured) by the BBC radio Shipping Forecast announcer (strong gale-warning voice), his intonation falling (collapse) into the hissing consonant sounds of the forecast’s final listing –‘Faeroes, Southeast Iceland […]

Glanmore Sonnets – 6

                                                                                              VI Perhaps Heaney is recalling his ‘wood kerne’ (one of those Catholic rebels who, during the earlier course of Irish history, took to the woods when defeated, to prepare for further resistance) in ‘Exposure’, the final poem of ‘North’. Sitting in his workroom the poet conjures up a mid-Ulster folk hero said to have ridden his motorbike daringly through extreme winter conditions in 1947, a ‘wild goose’ figure (a second group of rebels who supported the defeated Catholic cause). With this in mind the whole sonnet may be read as an allegory of minority Catholic repression in Northern Ireland challenged. Heaney introduces an anonymous man (He) the mirror image of himself who has lived tongue-tied in an Irish sectarian […]

Glanmore Sonnets – 5

                                                                                                         v Heaney examines the distinctive textures of the two languages and traditions that shaped his upbringing (MP 169) From his new-found Glanmore location Heaney explores in his mind the properties of a familiar tree first known by its mid Ulster name (boortree). He can still feel its vertically furrowed trunk (soft corrugations), recall its eagerness to grow (green young shoots) and its youngest branches (rods) shining molten silver with dark flecking (freckled solder). Once upon a time the Heaney siblings used it as a hideaway (our bower as children), now in retrospect a tad less appreciated (greenish, dank and snapping memory).  Background and education taught him a different name (elderberry I have learned to call it). Heaney had a […]

Glanmore Sonnets – 4

                                                                                                  IV Heaney vaults neatly over the recent past in Belfast to land in his rural surroundings at Mossbawn farm skirted by the Castledawson railway line. Precociously curious, the child-poet-to-be was interested in the messages of sound … if one knew how, the railway track (lie with an ear to the line), he was told (they said), would broadcast in advance (a sound escaping ahead) the metallic song (iron tune) of an express steam locomotive (flange and piston) speeding headlong by (pitched along the ground). Nothing so romantic happened in his case (I never heard that) – just the echoes of freight traffic (struck couplings and shuntings) from Castledawson marshalling-yard (two miles away) carried through space (lifted over the woods). […]

Glanmore Sonnets – 3

                                                                                            III Evening with the Heaneys … the poet watches from the window as night begins to fall: two different species of bird (cuckoo and … corncrake) (and in the back of his mind perhaps himself and his wife) are regaling in a surfeit (so much), nay, a superabundance (too much) of togetherness (consorted). He is in poetry-mode as regards both the language of light effects (all crepuscular) and the ‘tum-tee-tum’ of composition (iambic). New life in his eyeshot (baby rabbit), learning its way (took his bearings); images of shy creatures (I knew the deer) … instinctive (connoisseurs), danger-alert (inquisitive of air … careful), ever poised to make an escape (under larch and May-green spruce). There is no going back […]

Glanmore Sonnets – 2

                                                                                                    II The relocated wordsmith checks that his word-hoard is operational: involuntary charges (sensings) arising from a store-house in the depths of his mind (mountings from the hiding places) in distinct meaningful shapes (words) that he can almost hold in his hand (entering almost the sense of touch), words with a creature instinct of their own (ferreting themselves) and a yearning to be released into the light (out of their dark hutch). Heaney’s is not to reason why he possesses this gift, as he recalls from an insightful comment (‘these things are not secrets but mysteries’) offered by a creative spirit engaged in a parallel process (Oisin Kelly), an Irish sculptor he met once (years ago In Belfast) –  Kelly, […]

Glanmore Sonnets – 1

                                                                                                   I                                                                                  Totally at home with the farming calendar from his Mossbawn days but now a freelance poet Heaney sets out to test his muse against his new Glanmore surroundings. His mood could not be more determined: now is the moment to sow new poem seeds (vowels ploughed into other), to make optimum use of the gap established between his family in Glanmore and the rawness of life in Northern Ireland (opened ground). The weather omens are excellent: conditions for early germination are ideal (mildest February for twenty years) the family’s new Eden appeals to the senses with its lyrical visual opportunities (mist bands over furrows) plus the total absence of city noise – deep no sound broken (vulnerable) only […]

Glanmore Sonnets – an Introduction

Glanmore was the fortuitous outcome (hence the dedication to Ann Saddlemyer  who first rented then sold the cottage to the Heaneys) of a couple’s shared agreement to change direction and move on and away from suburban Belfast steeped in pain and turbulence. Heaney was not of a mind to remain in Belfast out of provincial loyalty; his resentment of the way minority Catholics were treated added to the attraction of a move to the Irish Republic. The move however was fraught with complications at a domestic level, not least his children’s educational needs and family income – he had resigned his University post and the family was now dependent on his freelance work to pay incoming bills. Most importantly perhaps […]