Honeymoon Flight

Using an extended metaphor Heaney draws a parallel between the act of faith required to board an aeroplane and the concerns that newly-weds harbour. The ‘flight’ is both a literal plane journey and, figuratively, an intentional move into uncharted territory, less a reference to the post-marital event than metaphor for the journey required and undertaken to achieve durable togetherness.

Heaney has a bird’s-eye view (Below) of Ulster beneath the flight-path (patchwork earth, dark hems of hedge). Its landscape recalls the symbolic rituals of the recently celebrated wedding: roads resemble the long grey tapes placed symbolically by the priest across the hands of bride and groom to unite the couple (bind), mirroring the loose road-network linking the Irish countryside in casual marriage. 

The emotional security (Sure) of his familiar Irish (green world) country-scape (small lough and farmhouse) is unbalanced (goes topsy-turvy) by the changing wing angle as the plane veers (we bank). Their familiar landscape is further unsettled by changes in the sound of the plane’s engine ( even though he knows subliminally that they have elected to change direction, wavelength, landscape, lifestyle, world). Unfamiliar shifts generate questions and mutual support-signals provide confidence: engine noises change. You look at me.

As Ireland is left behind, the miraculous physics of air-flight feed the metaphor: the thrust of the jet engine and its force of fire act as a launch-pad for a young, optimistic couple; the jet’s aerodynamics rely on invisible air to hang … dependent; the plane acts as a vehicle of progress (bring us further) rather than simply marking time (remaining airborne); thanks literally to the physics a perceived danger (the water below) remains precisely where it is.

The view ahead of us, the metaphorical future, conceals some rough currents of air: married life’s flight-path storms (the sky’s a geyser now) will require navigation so, despite (yet) the still small voice of calmwe feel lost. Turbulence will bring moments of anxiety (air pockets jolt our fears) and dent morale (down we go)

But, committed to the journey, inexperienced air passengers-newly-weds must cross their fingers: Travellers at this point can only trust.

  • honeymoon: (dual intent) holiday for newly-weds and initial period of enthusiasm and goodwill;
  • patchwork: area composed of many different elements of all sizes;
  • hem: edge, border;
  • tape: narrow strip of material;
  • bind: tie, fasten together;
  • loose: unbind, release, detach;
  • casual: relaxed, happy together;
  • bank: of airplane, make a sideways turn;
  • lough: lake, loch;
  • topsy-turvy: upside down;
  • launch: send off, fire (e.g. of spacecraft);
  • off the earth: as if into orbit;
  • dependent: both ‘reliant on’ and (more archaic, unusual usage) ‘hanging from’;
  • geyser: (column thrown up by) natural hot spring;
  • air-pocket: sudden area of low pressure;
  • jolt: give sudden, surprise shock;
  • trust: have faith, keep fingers crossed; 
  • in his later Wintering Out collection, Heaney reveals the stresses and strains of his Irish Wedding Day and the relief he felt to be en route to the airport for the honeymoon flight to London described here;
  • all four elements are invoked to celebrate the unity and exhilaration of love and marriage (MP72); the newly-weds are undertaking experiences/ which involve risk and the overcoming of fear through trust (ibid 73);
  • 16 decasyllabic line in 4 quatrains; a very loose rhyme scheme abab ;
  • Heaney’s use of 1st person plural pronouns we and us indicates a new togetherness;
  • Natural landscape given man-made fabric textures (patchwork … hem);
  • Contrast of tight and detached relationships: bind/loose;
  • rich and varied assonant effects: [ɜː] -work/earth/ -turvy/ further; [e]  hems of hedge; [ei] grey tapes;-scape/ change; [ur] sure/ world/; [au] out/ our; [ɪ] slips/ wing-tip; [æ] hang, miraculous, above; [ʌ]us/ us/; [ai] sky/geyser;
  • alliteration: force of fire;
  • allophone sounds: pockets jolt/down we go
  • personal pronoun denoting shared experience: The groom seeks to bolster his wife’s morale however much his own might be stuttering;
  • geyser; a powerful natural phenomenon ejecting water into the air at unpredictable intervals;
  • the spread of punctuation and enjambed lines acts as a pointer to the rhythms and emphases recommended for oral delivery;


  • Heaney is a meticulous craftsman using combinations of vowel and consonant to form a poem that is something to be listened to;
  • the music of the poem: thirteen assonant strands are woven into the text; Heaney places them grouped within specific areas to create internal rhymes , or reprises them at intervals or threads them through the text.

  • alliterative effects allow pulses or beats or soothings or hissings or frictions of consonant sound to modify the assonant melodies;
  • the first lines, for example, are a complex weave of labio-dental fricatives [f] [v], a cluster of plosives (bilabial [p] [b],alveolar [t][d], velar [k] [g]) alongside continuant [h], nasals [m][n] and sibilant variants [s] [sh] and alveolar [dʒ] as in village and hedge;
  • it is well worth teasing out the sound clusters for yourself to admire the poet’s sonic engineering:
  • Consonants (with their phonetic symbols) can be classed according to where in the mouth they occur
  • Front-of-mouth sounds voiceless bi-labial plosive [p] voiced bi-labial plosive [b]; voiceless labio-dental fricative [f] voiced labio-dental fricative [v]; bi-labial nasal [m]; bilabial continuant [w]
  • Behind-the-teeth sounds voiceless alveolar plosive [t] voiced alveolar plosive [d]; voiceless alveolar fricative as in church match [tʃ]; voiced alveolar fricative as in judge age [dʒ];  voiceless dental fricative  [θ]  as in thin path; voiced dental fricative as  in this other [ð]; voiceless alveolar fricative [s] voiced alveolar fricative [z]; continuant [h] alveolar nasal [n] alveolar approximant [l]; alveolar trill [r]; dental ‘y’ [j] as in  yet
  • Rear-of-mouth sounds voiceless velar plosive [k] voiced velar plosive [g]; voiceless post-alveolar fricative [ʃ] as in ship sure, voiced post- alveolar fricative [ʒ]   as in pleasure; palatal nasal [ŋ]  as in ring/ ang

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