Once upon a time the ghost of an iconic WW1 poet came home (the poem is set after the end of WW2) along a road familiar to the poet where the ghosts of other ‘locals’ are also recalled. Heaney has returned to the spot.
The opening is dramatic: in flash-back the poet hears a ‘presence’, a ‘ghost’ as yet unseen: a step/ On the grass-crowned road, the whip of daisy-heads/ On the toes of boots.
The watcher is not alone: a man and woman are also present in their own little hide-away, engaged in passionate but amateur sexual foreplay: Fully clothed, strong-arming each other. They are minded to leave.
The scene returns from flash-back to the Heaney’s poetic present: And now the road is empty. No ‘revenant’ this time, Nothing but air and light between their love-nest/ And the bracken hillside.
His memory is of a blessed moment: Utter evening, as it was in the beginning (‘is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen’, parodying the religious Blessing), assembling the remembered come-and-go of lovers and providing the poetic charge that brings on Edward Thomas remembered, his long-legged self in uniform and resembling similar young fighting-men two generations later: Demobbed (officially released from military duty) and ‘not much changed’. This phrase was one of relief for their nearest and dearest: survivors of WW2 were often broken, shell-shocked men, even if physically uninjured. These demobbed soldiers were sandy-moustached and freckled/ From being, they said, with Monty in the desert.
- Denis O’Driscoll’s interviews with Heaney in Stepping Stones, Faber 2009 are accompanied by hand-drawn maps that set out the Heaney neighbourhood ; the Lagans Road is very much part of it;
- Field Marshall Montgomery was a WW2 ‘hero’, leading his so-called Desert Rats to victory over Rommel in North Africa; there was some kudos attached to having been a Desert Rat;
- the state of secondary roads in rural Ulster described: the grass-crowned road, the whip of daisy-heads/ On the toes of boots;
- some 20 lines composed of sections linked by half lines; lines based on 10 syllables; no rhyme scheme;
- the poet’s use of the present tense lends actuality to his memory
- a single line that sets out the huge spiritual pleasure of the moment stands apart;
- the use of punctuation including dashes and enjambed lines invites the rhythms and emphases of oral delivery;
- early assonant effect of [e] is carried through the piece step/ heads/ hedge/ Theresa Brennan later senses/ empty/ nest/ remembered/ long-legged self/ Edward/ Evans/ freckled/ said/ desert; also paired [ei] daisy/ Eamon/
- Initial [əʊ] road/ toes/ clothed/ go is interwoven with a cluster of [ɒ] strong/ gone/ on and [ai] quiet/ I/ rise/ light/ hillside where I lie; [ʌ] utter/ Until;
- some alliteration: lovers/ long-legged self/ Lagans/ Leitrim/ freckled
- sandy desert sand and gingerish complexion;