Quitting Time

A sonnet-portrait of a humble but fulfilled man on the point of packing up after a tiring day’s work.

The farmer enjoys a moment to savour before he kills the light; we follow the scene through his eyes as he pauses, satisfied, to survey The hosed-down chamfered concrete, angled at the edges so that the water does not lie, his eye moving from here via the cleaned up yard, the tools of his particular trade, pails and farrowing crate to the cast-iron pump, as iconic now as relicts from a more distant past: immobile as a herm, standing firm like an ancient boundary post: Upstanding elsewhere, in another time and named after the classical messenger god, Hermes.

Taking last looks at the wet/ Shine of the place have come to symbolise job-satisfaction. He experiences a feeling of light-headedness on the one hand brought on by tiredness but equally My head is light because modest life-style and means keep him at home and cause him little stress: a home-based man at home/ In the end with little.

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

  • Given the mute resolve of the previous poem and a teasing title, we wonder if this is not an oblique reference to Heaney himself sensing that his work is done!
  • 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.
  • redd: early 15c., “to clear” (a space, etc.), from O.E. hreddan The exception to the limited use of redd is the meaning “to put in order, to make neat or trim” (1718), especially in redd up, which is in general use in England and the U.S.
  • 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 [əʊhosed/ 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;