A different angle on the ‘erotic’, not the ‘wood nymph’ presence in Moyulla or the more overt sexuality of Tate’s Avenue, rather a memory of sensual pleasure-on-a-plate. This short prose-poem is designed to bring a smile to the lips of a Japanese friend.

In a surprise choice, Heaney selects fiddlehead ferns, a culinary delicacy not to be found just anywhere, as a foodstuff that gave him a thrill.

He offers them in response to a Japanese friend’s expressed literary taste for the erotic and his suggestion that there was not enough of it in poetry.

In a neat tongue-in-cheek, Heaney serves up an erotic dish Toraiwa would not have had in mind – fiddlehead ferns, sexy in the way they grow (frilled, infolded), in the way their hearts are softened (tenderized) and for their very personal, almost intimate presentation (in a little steaming basket, just for you).

  • fiddleheads: edible ferns, eaten raw, steamed, simmered or sautéed as a luxury throughout the eastern states of the USA, though little known elsewhere; Heaney has clearly enjoyed these delicious things;
  • delicacy: choice food treat;
  • frill: folded edge;
  • infold: turn inwards
  • tenderized: slow cooked for easy chewing;
  • three sections: questions about the delicacy; the connection; the erotic!
  • sound effects: Heaney runs with the [ɪ] sound of the title Fiddleheads/ delicious things I think/ erotic/ frilled/ infolded/ little alongside it the variant (i) sound  [ai] Ireland/ surprised/ tenderized.       


  • 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, soothings or hissings or frictions of consonant sound to modify the assonant melodies; this is sonic engineering of the first order;
  • for example, the final three lines are rich in alveolar plosives [t] [d] alongside  nasals [m] [n] and front-of-mouth sounds: labio-dental fricatives [f] [v], bi-labial plosives [b] [p] 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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