The Biretta

  The hat worn by a priest in an  Irish Victorian painting provides Heaney with poetic charge; he compares the biretta he views in an art gallery with others he has seen or handled as an altar boy in his local church. Heaney presents the biretta‘s shape via the august opening lines of Caesar’s record of the Gallic war (Like Gaul … divided Into three parts). Its sombre confection (black serge) and its pillbox form bring river associations (triple-finned … shipshape). Heaney confesses hewas intimately familiar with every slope and edge of this emblem of the Catholic church itself, neatly presented (trimly articulated) and resolute (decided). Its plush crimped satin interior and serious weight (heavy too) seemed at odds with its embellishment […]