Heaney describes an age-old process, its material and its product. A parallel is suggested: the composition of a poem is as complex and demanding of energy, skill and commitment as the practice being described.
In Ireland súgán is a kind of straw rope with a variety of uses from farmyard twine to furniture seating. Heaney’s poem follows the traditional twining method. The poet himself, working on the family farm is fully engaged in the process.
The jumble of soft raw material is set in a series of sibilants (the fluster of that soft supply) and the gentle dexterity required to unravel it velar plosives (coax () it from the ruck) and feed it into the twining machine. Heaney uses alliterative groupings to convey the mechanics (furl and swivel, turned and tightened), automated sound (rickety-rick) all part of the process of to producing Súgán (rope).
At the assembly end of the process Heaney has a much more physical role, moving to and fro (walking backwards), engaged in hectic manual activity (winding for all I was worth) overcoming short-term hitches (by snag and by sag) ensuring the length and and continuity of the joints (the long and the short of it to make ends mesh) – a two-handed task, with winder in one hand and the finished product, much stronger now ( fashioned wire) in the other.
The lyrical picture Heaney paints is of a time gone by: a healthy outdoor activity (breeze on my back, sun in my face) that developed fitness and endurance as well as demanding a deft touch and hard work: power to bind and loose eked out and into each last tug and lap – a metaphor for writing poetry if ever there was one.
- fluster: entangled jumble;
- supply: the material to hand;
- feed: materials fed into a machine;
- coax: persuade gently:
- ruck: untidy pile;
- rickety-rick: onomatopoeic sound of a dilapidated machinery in action;
- wind: twist around itself;
- for all someone is worth: as energetically and enthusiastically as one can;
- snag: unexpected obstruction;
- sag: loss of tautness, droop;
- long and short: both hay length and desacription of the overall situation;
- make ends mesh: reworking of make ends meet, muddling through and keeping continuity from one length of hay to the next;
- core: remove the central part (applies to fruit usually);
- elderberry: tree producing the selected wood;
- haft: handle;
- fashion: make into a particular shape;
- eke out: prolong, make to last longer;
- tug: sudden pull;
- lap: single twist of rope;
- sonnet containing broken lines; full lines based on 10 syllables; no rhyme scheme but ends of line show an assonant chain of [æ] hand/ haft/ back/ lap; the combination of punctuation and enjambed lines somehow echoes the bitty process of producing rope from hay;
- in (1) [ʌ] and sibilants [s] associate: fluster/ soft supply/ coaxed/ handfuls/ ruck/; then alveolar plosive [t] and [ɜː] combine: taken/ furl/ turned and tightened with assonant [ɪ] that mimics the sound of the process and comments on the dilapidation rickety and the provenance of the hay rick;
- the composition of (2) into (3) blends consonants [w] walking backwards winding and [s] sag/ snag/short/ ends mesh with assonant [æ] sag and snag and [e] ends mesh/ left/ elderberry;
- the final lines are rich with the monosyllables of bitty activities with [i:] breeze/ eked/ each;
- 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: twelve 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 lines are rich in alveolar plosives [t] [d] and nasals [m] [n] alongside sibilant variants [s] [z] and a clutch of front-of –mouth sounds – labio dental [f] [v], [w], [h]and bi-labial plosives [b] [p];
- a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;