Over time Heaney will write of the rivers and streams close to his boyhood home in a variety of moods. In Trout he takes advantage of an opportunity to pause on arched bridges and acquaint himself with life-forms in the stream below. The poet offers a master-class on how to translate visual observations into words;
The first quatrain is formed around contrasting verbs: one of motionlessness, the other of movement: at one moment the fish Hangs (as if suspended in the water), its latent power like a fat gun-barrel waiting to be triggered; next it stirs (slips), sliding effortlessly like butter down the throat of the river.
The trout’s design enables it to operate from the river’s depths smooth-skinned as plums from where it adopts the ‘target-and-fire’ approach of a hunter-submarine: its search for food (grass-seed and moths) is loaded with sniper imagery (muzzle … bull’s eye … picks off … torpedoed).
Nearer to the surface where the river’s flow is more fragmented (water unravels/ over gravel-beds) the fish lets fly from the shallows, its body tracing a missile track across the surface: white belly reporting/ flat.
Equally speedily, the trout takes shelter (darts like a tracer-/ bullet back between the stones). With its pitiless (cold blood), cannon-like explosive power the fish is more than a match for the river: a volley … ramrodding the current.
- trout: freshwater fish of salmon family;
- hang: as if suspended, motionless;
- muzzle: open end of a gun barrel;
- bull’s eye: the dead centre of a target;
- moth: delicate flying insect with broad wings;
- torpedo: cigar-shaped underwater missile;
- unravel: separate, unwind;
- gravel-bed: small stones worn by water;
- fired: discharged, launched;
- shallows: where the water is not deep;
- reporting: verb created from noun indicative of gunshot;
- flat: straight, horizontal
- tracer: visible in flight
- burnt out: overtaxed, exhausted;
- volley: broadside, salvo;
- cold-blood: (dual use) the trout is a cold-blooded creature; ‘in cold blood’ is used to describe unemotional ruthless acts;
- ramrodding: driving, pushing, thrusting; Ramrods were used to drive explosive charges into the barrels of muzzle-loading firearms;
- current: directed water flow;
NC suggests both military and phallic metaphors (p.3);
- as with The Diviner the title elides into line 1: Trout/ Hangs
- 17 lines split into 4 quatrains of mainly 6 syllables lines plus a final line; no rhyme scheme;
- extended metaphor likening trout to firearm, reflected in the choice of gun references, even old-fashioned ones. Numerous examples refer to the trout’s ‘fire-power: gun-barrel/ muzzle/ bull’s eye (the centre of targets/ gun-sights)/ picks off (like a sniper)/ fired/ reporting (introduces the sound of firing)/ darts/ tracer-bullet; volley; ramrodding;
- juxtaposition of voiced and voiceless sound produced in the same part of the mouth: arched [tʃ] bridges [dʒ];
- assonant pairs: trout/ throat; bridges/ slips; unravels/ gravel; stones/ cold; triplets: gun/ under/ butter; plums/ muzzle/ bull’s eye;
- the antitheses of never burnt out and cold blood deftly juxtaposes the notions of physical stamina and the fish’s biology, physical and instinctual;
- verbs effectively convey the movements of the fish at rest and in motion;
- 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: ten 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 a cluster of plosives (bilabial [p] [b], alveolar [t][d]) alongside continuant [h] 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