Tate’s Avenue

Shared rugs are emblematic of a long partnership that after forty years has lost none of its physical chemistry!

Discussing the erotic in District and Circle with DOD (p 406) Heaney indicated (with tongue in cheek, no doubt) that it was present in this piece ‘in an abstinent kind of way’- there was something in the air but nothing came of it.

 The poem take us to Tate’s Avenue, an address in Belfast via two stanzas devoted to rugs from other occasions and not the particular one he wishes to concentrate on.

The first was a brown and fawn car rug, spread out by the sea but very much earth-bound (breathing land-breaths) and dating from the chaste period (vestal folds) in their early relationship. A  safe, no risk rug (comfort zone) plain but with a touch of decoration (fringe of sepia-coloured wool tails).

 The second witnessed a later, more hedonistic moment in Spain under a hot sun, prior to a bull-fight -strewn with picnic remnants scraggy with crusts and eggshells and exotic ‘local’ produce, spread out on the banks of the river Guadalquivir and laced with stimulants (where we got drunk before the corrida)

 Finally, the rug: on the face of it an un-dramatic scene unfolding in Belfast, nowhere else to go when civic amenities shut down on locked-park Sunday. On the face of it a totally mundane location, private perhaps (walled back yard), but surrounded by the rammel of domestic life (dust-bins high and silent).

 A woman is engrossed in her reading (a page is turned); the man has something else on his mind, his senses heightened when a finger twirls warm hair; she remains oblivious to his inner thoughts so … nothing gives on the rug or the ground.

The man is aroused, feeling lumpy earth (no explanation as to where the lump came from!) and, unfulfilled, keen-sensed to the point of discomfort.

His self-discipline prevails (never shifted) – he knows that his opportunity will come and that it will be mutually fulfilling: when we moved I had your measure and you had mine. They are perfectly suited.

  • fawn: light brown;
  • land-breaths: wafts of air blowing towards the sea;
  • vestal: chaste, abstinent;
  • fold: double over;
  • fringe: border of threads left loose;
  • tail: tassel;
  • scraggy: untidy;
  • rind: tough outer skin;
  • Guadalquivir: major river of southern Spain;
  • corrida: bullfight
  • locked-park: recreational areas were locked on Sundays;
  • twirl: spin lightly;
  • at my length: stretched out;
  • lumpy: uneven;
  • keen: alert, sharp, on the qui-vive;
  • shift: move, change position;
  • plaid: square patterned like tartan;
  • have someone’s measure: understand the reason for;


  • “Tate’s Avenue,” a love poem of deliciously understated discretion. Michael Schneider in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of October 08, 2006


  • Four quatrains, the first 3 a complete sentence, the second totally enjambed; no rhyme scheme;
  • Stanza (1) assembles the following sound ingredients:[i:] sea/ breathing/ sepia; [ɒ] Not/ one/ on/ comfort/ coloured; [e] spread/ breaths/ vestal/ edged; [əʊ] folds unfolded/ zone; [dʒ] Edged/ fringe; the main alliterative effect is sibilant [s]: first/ spread/ sand/ sea/ breaths/ vestal/ sepia/ tails;
  • [ɒ] is carried into (2):not/ one/ olive/ torrents/ got/ corrida as is [əʊ] stones; renewed sibilants sounds scraggy/ crusts/ eggshells/ stones/ cheese/ salami/ rinds/ torrents are replaced by velar plosive [k]: crusts/ Guadalquivir/ drunk/ corrida
  •  [ʌ] crusts/ drunk and [ai] rinds from(2) link into stanza (3): Sunday/ dust/ turned/ nothing/ rug; and high/ silent; [ɑː] is introduced: park/ Belfast/ yard; alliterative sibilants Sunday/ Belfast/ dustbins and so on  mingle with alveolar [t] instead/ locked/ dust etc and velar [k] [g]:  locked/ back; finger/ nothing gives/ rug;
  • The final stanza offers assonant [e] length/ felt/ sensed/ ever/ never/ measure and pairs of [uː] through/ moved  and [æ] plaid/ had; alliterative effects of alveolar [l] lay/ length/felt/ lumpy/ plaid and bi-labial [m] moved/ measure/ mine;


  • 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: fourteen 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 rich in alveolar plosives [t] [d]  nasals [m] [n] alongside sibilant variants [s] [sh]  and front-of-mouth sounds: labio-dental fricatives [f] [v] and bilabial plosives [p][b] 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;

One thought on “Tate’s Avenue

  1. The sectarian nature of The Avenue you don’t mention? Apparently the Lisburn side is ok for Catholics and the other side def not? I don’t want to ruin a simple love poem but..

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