Heaney adopts a serious tone setting out the need for sound construction in relationships; he does so in a very sincere but rather sermonizing way as if to suggest that he alone possesses the skills. In his attempt to reassure them both Heaney betrays a touch of insecurity in hims

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


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