A Call

The first of two rueful poems in which Heaney recalls incidents from the time when his parents were still alive. In A Call he is in telephone contact with them. Heaney had left the family home (after seven years of boarding-school experience) to go to university, after which he worked, married, travelled and brought up children in locations distant from his roots, initially in Belfast then after 1953 in the Irish Republic.  Heaney’s mother has answered the phone and responded to his request to speak to his father (‘Hold on’ … ‘I’II just run out and get him). The elderly man still takes every opportunity (took the chance) to engage in the habits of a farming lifetime – fresh air […]

A Dog Was Crying Tonight in Wicklow Also

in memory of Donatus Nwoga Heaney pens an elegiac tribute to Nigerian scholar and critic Donatus Nwoga who was a fellow student at Queen’s University, Belfast, in the 1950s. He reworks an Igbo fable from the Nigerian folk lore of Donatus’s roots in which Humanity fails in its attempt to make earthly death anything other than an irreversible state. When men realized they were mortal (found out about death) they appealed to the highest Igbo authority via Man’s so-called best friend (sent the dog to Chukwu with a message). They urged the supreme deity to make death temporary and reversible (they wanted to be let back to the house of life). They were unhappy with the idea that their souls […]


The monogram represents iconic Russian poet and essayist Osip Mandelstam much admired by Heaney for resisting the repressive Eastern European political machines that sought to silence him. The poet allegorizes his conviction that men of Mandelstam’s stature will ensure that truth will always come out. Heaney’s publisher of messages, a magician/contradiction in terms (deaf phonetician), has developed a method of bringing his patient’s interior monologue to light despite the vocal silence imposed by outside forces. He smuggles out what cannot be heard using touch (his hand over the dome of a speaker’s skull) – his skill at unraveling speech formats (diphthong … vowel  by the bone vibrating to the sound) has made the unfeasible feasible and defeated censorship. Heaney’s speaker […]

An Architect

Evidence suggests that the unnamed Architect is Robin Walker who died in 1991. Heaney’s poem becomes an elegiac tribute to one of Ireland’s most eminent 20th century architects. He paints the portrait of a man in his professional and personal spaces. Observation of the architect’s demeanour and environment confirms an artistic kinship sensed by Heaney even acquaintance without implying close friendship. The architect’s success in life is predicated on his personal traits: healthy mind in healthy body (he fasted); special talent (gift); self-motivation (exacting more); a sense of self-preservation (minding) when for example indulging his taste for Japanese design (boulder and … raked zen gravel). A man equally full on (no slouch either) when consuming the ‘hard stuff’ (whenever it […]

The Sharping Stone

Five poems are triggered by the discovery of a gift in mint condition lying forgotten in a drawer. The fourth piece identifies Heaney’s late father-in-law Thomas ‘Tommy’ Devlin and clues suggest that he is the centrepiece. Heaney zooms slowly in on the whetstone: from the furniture in which it was discovered (an apothecary’s chest of drawers), a quality piece (sweet cedar) of modest provenance (purchased second hand) to its specific location in a drawer (one of its weighty deep-sliding recesses). Therein the object itself (sharping stone) and recall of its original intended recipient who for the moment will remain anonymous (our gift to him). In mint condition (still in its wrapping paper). Too late to deliver now (Tommy has passed […]

The Strand

A poem of love and loss – Heaney’s ageing father once left signature markings on a Dublin beach; inevitably washed away by the next incoming tide they will never be obliterated from the poet’s memory. As they took the air together once on Sandymount Strand the point of Patrick Heaney’s stick left a trail (the dotted line my father’s ashplant made). As long as Heaney lives nothing the all-powerful sea can do will succeed in effacing that visual memory:  something else the tide won’t wash away. dotted line: literally the line of marks imprinted by the stick on soft sand; metaphorically the space left on a form or letter upon which a person leaves his signature; Strand: a Dublin beach […]

The Walk

Twin sonnets of love – the first for parental devotion and guidance – the second, a ‘longshot’ contemplating his marriage to Marie that has lasted more than three decades. The first ‘photo’ is ‘fixed’ (his parents are no longer of this world), the second a black and white negative from which positive prints are plentiful and on-going. Fifty years on Heaney’s childhood Mossbawn walks with his mother and father still shed a magical light (glamoured) on time and place (the road, the day) and them (him and her), wherever they might take him (everywhere). The elements mixed and merged – solid mineral and liquid (cobbles were riverbed), what they breathed associated with spiritual day (Sunday air) beneath the dome of […]

At the Wellhead

Two moving sonnets take Heaney back to his Castledawson roots and celebrate the blind musician Rosie Keenan who brought a new creative art into his life. The poet addresses the veteran singer (school-friend of his mother and his Aunt Mary). His emotions run deep. He recalls the tunes (your songs, when you sing them) delivered in her singular way (your two eyes closed as you always do); airs as familiar to him and his playmates as ‘the back of their hands’ (local road we’ve known every turn of in the past); lyrical melodies that betoken the mid-Ulster cul-de-sac where she dwelt (midge-veiled, high-hedged side-road) along the Broagh Road out of Castledawson. That is where they might find her, sightlessly attentive […]

At Banagher

An unexpected alter-ego of a kind – Heaney recognises an alternative embodiment of his own vocation. From his travels around Co. Derry he picks out an itinerant tradesman emblematic of old Ireland and detects similarities between himself and this wandering seamster. Just as the tailor has a way with clothes so the poet has a way with words – they both spend their time making up, unpicking, altering and putting back together. Without any warning (then all of a sudden) poetic charge can enter the poetic consciousness (appears to me) – on this occasion a remnant of old Ireland, a sharer of Heaney’s ancestry who mirrors in figurative form many of the poet’s traits (journeyman tailor who was my antecedent). […]


Heaney penned this poem in September 1994 immediately following the IRA cease-fire of August 1994 that gave rise to cautious hope for Northern Ireland. Tollund Man first appeared in Wintering Out, Heaney’s third collection of 1972 and will feature again in District and Circle of 2006. Heaney explained how he and Marie ended up on Tollund Moss (DOD (p350): I was asked to write about the IRA announcement of ceasefire for the next weekend’s Sunday Tribune. That same weekend I was also bound for Denmark to do a reading in Copenhagen University, and inevitably I was remembering the visit I’d made to Jutland twenty-one years earlier to see the Tollund Man. What happened, at any rate, was an unexpected trip […]


Memory, distance and emotion translate into a moment of simple joyous exaltation and deep love for being alive and Irish. The poem echoes all things Heaney and is for many their favourite music. The poet begs all who would listen and consent to share (some time make the time) to follow in his leisurely footsteps (drive out west) and be prepared for an unexpected moment of heart stopping beauty in the remoteness of the Burren (County Clare) where the land meets the sea in a series of rocky limestone plates (along the Flaggy Shore). Autumn (September or October) provides optimum elemental collaboration (the wind and the light … working off each other) – to the right untamed open sea (ocean […]


Contents Heaney an extraordinary man in ordinary clothing Heaney the cordon-bleu cook Heaney the agent of change Heaney the orchestral composer Heaney the word painter Heaney the meticulous craftsman (including phonetic information) Subjects and Circumstances of individual poems Formats and Rhymes of individual poems Stylistic devices Heaney 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, 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 […]