In a Loaning

The collection’s  penultimate poem returns to the ‘kesh’ and ‘loaning’ of Heaney’s Ulster landscape. A short poem of both celebration and relief published in the New York Times of December 31st, 2005.

Writing poetry is complex; ‘vers  donnés’, lines with poetic charge, are not automatic. If, as has been suggested Heaney was re-discovering his voice after a lean period of writer’s block it is interesting to recall that when his first collection of 1965 was under discussion with Faber he was urged to compose poems about what he knew. Heaney reverts to his cherished birth- place environment.

Paradoxically, autumn, traditionally  described as the ‘back-end’ of the annual cycle, represents rebirth (recovered speech), a sense of poetic composition coming naturally (having its way again) and generates involuntary delight in the poet: I gave a cry.

By painting as exactly as he can the subtlety of autumnal colour (not beechen green, but copper-fired), injecting the restrained but tangible emotions generated by a cherished natural treasure-house of leaf-fall (shin-deep coffers) and using a language at once dialectal and archaic (loaning beechen green beech boles grey), Heaney’s final couplet confirms that there is lyrical life left in the old dog yet.

  • loaning: Ulster dialect; outside path, way;
  • beechen: archaic adjectival form ‘of beech’;
  • bole: tree trunk (from 14th century);


  • a single quatrain of 10-syllable lines;
  • the [əʊ] of the title recurs: Spoken/ boles; [i:] speech/ beechen green/ these shin/deep/ these beech; [ei] way/ again/ gave; [ai] I/ cry/ fired; [ɒ] coffers/ copper;
  • 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: nine 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 triplet is especially rich in alveolar plosives [t] [d] alongside front-of-mouth sounds: labio-dental fricatives [f] [v], bi-labial plosives [b] [p], breathy [w] [h] and sibilant variants [s] [z];
  • 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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