Quitting Time


The sonnet-portrait of a humble but fulfilled pig-farmer on the point of packing up after a fulfilling day’s work. A poem as uncomplicated as the figure it portrays.

The farmer takes a last look before he closes down for the night (kills the light) nodding his approval at the cleanliness of hosed-down chamfered concrete, angled at the edges so that the water does not lie. His eye moves methodically via the cleaned up yard and the tools of his particular trade (pails and farrowing crate) to the iconic cast-iron pump, solid as a a classical relict (immobile as a herm), proud as an ancient boundary post (upstanding elsewhere, in another time).

Last looks at the wet shine of the place have come to confirm job-satisfaction.

 His feeling of light-headedness can be explained at once by tiredness and his modest (In the end with little) home-bird existence (a home-based man at home).

 Despite his oft repeated routine, the same night after nightness, of the tidying process (redding up the work),  the sound of gate closing behind him is still music to his ears heralding the journey home, an uphill trek if only in the physical sense.

  • hose: flexible tube conveying water;
  • chamfer: sloping edge, sloped edging;
  • kill: turn out;
  • yard: outside work area;
  • pail: bucket;
  • farrowing-crate: container in which a sow gives birth to piglets;
  • pump: manual device that draws water;
  • herm: ancient Greek boundary post topped by the head of Hermes;
  • upstanding: both upright and honourable;
  • light: both dizzy, faint and cheery;
  • home-based: happy within a short radius of where he lives
  • at home: relaxed;
  • redd: tidy a place, make it ready to start again;
  • tubular steel: made of hollow metal tubes;


  • Heaney has a film-maker’s touch in light-dark situations; another example is Good Night in the ‘Wintering Out’ collection of 1972. He is excellent, too, at infusing situations with the feelings and emotions of the human presence, here a pig-farmer satisfied with a modest job well done;


  • sonnet based around lines of 10 syllables; volta break in line 11: from today  to every day;
  • there is a sonic rhyme scheme based on consonant sounds [m] [t] and [k] each produced from a stage further back in the mouth; 
  • the first sentence assembles assonants [əʊ] hosed/ farrowing/ immobile [i:] concrete/ pleases/ cleaned;  [ɪ] kills/ its immobile; [ai] while/ light/ time;  [ei] wait/ pails/  crate; touches of consonant [w] wait/ while/ farrowing/ elsewhere; alliterative [k]: concrete/ kills/ cleaned-up/ crate/ cast;
  • the [e] of elsewhere in sentence (1) is echoed in sentence (2): wet/ end; reprise o  [i:] means/ repeat/ reaches; assonant injections: [ai] time/ Shine/ light; [ei] place/ phrase; variant vowel (o) sounds: more; look; most; often/ off ; alliterative effects mainly front-of-mouth; bilabial [m] more/ more/ means most to him alveolar [l] last look/ place/ light and [t] last/ most/ repeat/ light/ often/ little;
  • the final sentence: ass/all night after nightness (the ‘routine’ phrase ‘night after night’ turned into a noun); sibilant [s]: -ness/ song/ steel/ starts; [ei] same/ gate;


  • 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:thirteen 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 four lines are especially rich in alveolar plosives [t] [d] alongside nasals [m] [n], sibilant variants [s] [z] and front-of-mouth sounds: labio-dental fricatives [f] [v], bi-labial plosive [b][p], breathy [w] and [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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