Tate’s Avenue

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

The poem will eventually take us to Tate’s Avenue, an address in Belfast. Prior to that two stanzas are devoted to rugs from other occasions though Not the particular one he wishes to concentrate on.

The first was a brown and fawn car rug, spread out by the sea and unaccustomed to beach life: breathing land-breaths. It dates from the chaste period in their relationship with its vestal folds. This rug was a plain, no-risk comfort zone/ Edged with a fringe of sepia-coloured wool tails.

The second dates from a later, more hedonistic moment in Spain under a hot sun, prior to a bull-fight: a rug 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 a much less dramatic scene recalled from Tate’s Avenue in Belfast, where of tradition everything would shut down on a locked-park Sunday. On the face of it nothing exotic in the venue: A walled back yard, the dust-bins high and silent; the ground hard.

A woman is preoccupied with her reading (a page is turned); the man however has more carnal thoughts in mind, his senses heightened when a finger twirls warm hair; she is oblivious to his current thinking: nothing gives on the rug or the ground.

Things are happening to the man: he is aroused, feeling lumpy earth (no explanation as to where the lump came from) and Keen-sensed more than ever through discomfort.

He does not need to spoil the balance of the moment however; he knows that their opportunity will come and that it will be mutually fulfilling: When we moved I had your measure and you had mine.

  • 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;ʊ] 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 [uːthrough/ moved  and [æ] plaid/ had; alliterative effects of alveolar [l] lay/ length/felt/ lumpy/ plaid and bi-labial [m] moved/ measure/ mine;                        
  • Discussing the erotic with Dennis O’Driscoll in Stepping Stones (p 406) Heaney indicated it was ‘present (in this poem) in an abstinent kind of way’.
  • “Tate’s Avenue,” a love poem of deliciously understated discretion.Michael Schneider in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of October 08, 2006