Heaney adopts a serious tone setting out the need for sound construction in relationships; he does so in a very sincere if a touch over-solemn way as if to suggest that taking charge is somehow a male responsibility. In his attempt to reassure them both Heaney is possibly betraying a hint of insecurity in himself.

The building industry provides him with the perfect metaphor for successful marriage: masons insist on the basics from the outset. Maintenance is top priority: they test out the scaffolding to ensure safe passage (planks won’t slip at busy points), provide reliable access (secure all ladders) and stabilize weak spots (tighten bolted joints). Though temporary, the scaffolding is vital to achieve walls of sure and solid stone.

Should occasional (sometimes) flashes of previous, pre-marital existence threaten the solidity of their relationship-building (Old bridges breaking) Heaney offers a comforting response: my dear … never fear. Such moments will not disturb the foundations thanks to that now-redundant scaffolding (we have built our wall). 

  • in later poems (for example Album in Human Chain) Heaney is frank about his clumsiness in expressing male emotions; he is perhaps unintentionally assertive in this piece which a touch of teacher’s authority or even sermon about it;
  • the Biblical parable of the ‘house built on sand’ springs to mind;
  • scaffolding: temporary structure of metal poles and lengths of wood (planks)
  • masons: stone craftsmen;
  • test out: check reliability;
  • busy points: under building stress
  • secure: make safe;
  • ladders: frame with steps for climbing up and down;
  • tighten: give an extra turn;
  • bolt: metal pin that screws into a nut;
  • comes down: is removed, taken down;
  • job’s done: construction work is completed;
  • never fear: be reassured;
  • confident: secure in the belief;
  • 4 rhyming couplets with decasyllabic lines; rhyme scheme aa bb etc.;
  • Vocabulary of building regulation, test/ make sure/ secure/ tighten ensures safety: confident;
  • ends of line rhyme find internal echoes: seem/ be/  between/ me; assonance: sure/ secure
  • a chain of sibilant sounds from the title onwards culminates in sure and solid stone; alliteration: bridges/ breaking between; sometimes seem;
  • We/ our: the lesson is for them both; a successful marriage is worth boasting about: showing off
  • Heaney seems deliberately to spell out the lesson using monosyllables, particularly evident in the nota bene of line 5.
  • 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: eleven 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, weave together labio-dental fricative [f], a cluster of plosives (alveolar [t][d], velar [k] [g]) alongside sibilant variants [s] [sh] [z], alveolar [l] and nasals [m] [n];
  • 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]; interlabial 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


8 thoughts on “Scaffolding

  1. Another dry and intellectualised ‘analysis’ which seems to tell us more about the cynical perspective of its author and their need to show us how clever they are than about the poem or Seamus Heaney.
    Unfortunately the author of this analysis wasn’t clever enough to spot that they’d not completed the first paragra

    1. Hi Renzo, you’ve reached David Fawbert.

      I am genuinely sorry that you are unimpressed by the blog; it does ‘what it says on the tin’, I believe, designed to widen interest in Seamus Heaney globally for both non-specialists and devotees, for people from whatever background. Hence it adopted a standard approach and also aimed to help anyone whose English was not his/her first language … hence perhaps chats with Iranian post-grads and Chinese students amongst others.

      All I can assure you is that there is no cynicism involved, that I’m not ego-driven and feel no need to talk down to anyone. The blog is a labour of love from which the ‘author’ has earned not a penny; I didn’t quite understand your ‘Scaffolding’ reference by the way … I do try to cover the whole narrative.

      We all appreciate poetry in our own way and if you’re getting as much pleasure from Heaney as I do without my comments, so be it … I am only sorry you felt the need to be so scathing at a personal level.

      warmest, David

    2. Hi David Fawbert

      I am a fan as well as a researcher of Heaney in China. I found your blog very helpful. I always consult your analysis here to help me understand a poem whose explanation and especially whose scheme of rhythm might not be found elsewhere. I feel lucky to find your blog and I have learned a lot here. I believe most people will appreciate your kind and great effort as me!

      With my best regards!

      Congrong Dai

  2. I believe that Mr Fawbert does a great at analysing the work of Seamus Heaney. I found the blog on 2018 while I was working on a paper about Seamus Heaney’s bog poems and your blog gave me an assistance much needed and an analysis of The Tollund Man in Springtime that I couldn’t find anywhere else. The analyses might be short and laconic at times but they are very informative and well structured. There is no need to attack a person who does such a great job at making the world a little bit better and more informed and for FREE.
    Mr Fawbert continue what you’re doing. Your work is great and has really helped me- I have cited you in my paper. Thank you for sharing your knowledge!


  3. Amazing. I am new to Heaney’s work as I am studying it in secondary school. I like to learn about native poets such as WB Yeats and, of course, Heaney. I really like this poem and wanted a good analysis, and I have got exactly what I wanted on this site. I do not, however, appreciate the comment from “Renzo”. I appreciate any *CONSTRUCTIVE* criticism, not attacking the analysis of a man who clearly knows his stuff.
    Apart from that, I enjoyed this site immensely.
    Kind Regards, Tiarnán

    1. thanks Tiarnan, I appreciate the kind words. Seamus is a great inspiration and comfort to us all … a brilliant man in normal clothes. Where are you studying? In NI or the Republic … I like to keep up with those who say ‘Hi’
      Try Postscript in Spirit Level … it brings a tear to the eye.

  4. Hello all,

    I stumbled on this site yesterday whilst reading The Last Mummer. I found the reflections and comments in the Mr Fawbert’s analysis a very useful introduction and contextualisation of the poem. Thank you for your effort, insight and generosity in sharing your thoughts, Mr Fawbert. I am looking very much forward to reading the other analyses, as I make my way through Heaney’s Selected Poems (1965 -1975).

    Best wishes

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