A Hagging Match

In a love poem sequel to Tate’s Avenue Heaney demonstrates how to say ‘I’m stuck on you’ in twenty words. Let us imagine that the Heaneys are in Glanmore on an autumn afternoon – one of them is thinking ahead to winter and the comfort of an open fire; the other is at his work-desk, composing the poem that is taking shape in his head as he follows the sounds of physical labour.

There are two protagonists (ostensibly anonymous but we know darned well who they are!), an I and a you – a ‘match’ is possible in all its senses.

What the poet hears but cannot see conjures up associations in the poetic mind: the familiar sounds of axe thumps recall wave hits through/ a night ferry.

 The source of the sound is held back until the final line (splitting firewood). The seven words between celebrate closeness and endearment of man and wife using the vocabulary of chopping and its alternative usages. ‘she’ is a person whom I cleave to – the verb is appropriate both to chopping and bonding . Heaney has a second verb up his sleeve (hew to) – different word, appropriate to both contexts, same message, same bond. The message to the lumberjack-wife is doubly clear!

  • hag: OE chop, cut;
  • match: a marriage or relationship; a similarity; a fitting-together; a reflection; a mirror image; a contest;
  • cleave: split in two’; secondary meaning “to adhere,” O.E. clifian
  • hew: O.E. heawan  to chop, hack, gash, cut evenly with an axe or saw ;
  • hew to hold fast, stick to (developed from hew to the line “stick to a course”;
  • split firewood:  separate logs into smaller pieces for kindling;
  • assessing a relationship in an unusual way; a brief poem with a strong message hidden in metaphor; just six lines using archaic language and teasing syntax; a single sentence split by a colon;
  • 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: six 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, soothings or hissings or frictions of consonant sound to modify the assonant melodies; this is sonic engineering of the first order;
  • for example, the piece is rich in alveolar plosives [t] [d] alongside  nasals [m] [n] and front-of-mouth sounds: labio-dental fricatives [f] [v] and breathy[w] [h]
  • a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;

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