The Aerodrome

Before moving away from his WW2 theme, the poet retells the story of a particular wartime visit to his local airfield. The visit becomes a parable about insecurity, temptation and resistance.

The airfield is long since out of commission, first disused then re-developed : First … back to grass, then after that/ To warehouses and brickfields/ … Its wartime grey control-tower rebuilt and glazed/ Into a hard-edged CEO-style villa. Post-war changes in attitude and style were accompanied by a new vocabulary; here the ‘hard edge’ is associated with uncompromising money-making opportunities.

Toome aerodrome is a part of history; the poet transports his memory and his senses to a smell of daisies and hot tar/ On a newly-surfaced cart-road, Easter Monday/ 1944. The compelling reasons for a boy of his age to be elsewhere were sharpened by the circumstances: The annual bright booths of the fair at Toome/ All the brighter for having been denied/ … Wherever the world was, we were somewhere else. He is disappointed but does not anticipate ‘her’ fitting in with his wishes: Had been and would be.

The youngster is conscious of an unfolding drama. His female guardian has her own pretext for not being at the fair, is pursuing her own ‘romantic’  motives and she is in charge of him.

The suspense has something to do with aircraft: Sparrows might fall,/ B-26 Marauders not return, but the sky above/ That land usurped by a compulsory order/ Watched and waited – like me and her that day. A tension transmits itself to the youngster: A fear crossed over then like the fly-by-night/ And sun-repellent wing that flies by day; an anxiety born from some feeling that he may lose her. The suspense is tangible as both the heavens and thehumans watch and wait: sky above /me and her that day.

Legend (and post-war film drama) had it that American forces in Britain in the 1940’s provided an irresistible appeal for many young British women. Hence the question in the young boy’s mind: would she rise and go/ With the pilot calling from his Thunderbolt. The pilot assumes godlike status in a dual reference to the name of an American airplane and the ultimate weapon with which the Jupiter imposed his will.

Faced with temptation the girl’s decision is just discernible to the young witness …only the slightest/ Back stiffening and standing of her ground. Her recognition of a ‘greater responsibility’ than infatuation with a god-like stranger is betrayed As her hand reached down and tightened around mine.

The final verse seeks to abstract some truth from the incident that may have a universal significance, both in space and time: Here and there and now and then.
Heaney’s thesis: If self is a location, a specific place, then so is love, the result of

Bearings taken, markings, cardinal points. Navigational references deliberately evoke the aviator and the temptation he represents.

The Options open to the girl at Toome resulted in obstinacies, dug-heels and distance.

Values and upbringing conspired to defeat infatuation. Such was her definitive stance!

  • Sparrows might fall: Whilst St Matthew’s gospel suggests a spiritual link, that no sparrow could fall without God’s awareness of it, there is also a sense of ‘cows might fly’ about the youngsters assessment of his chances of making the Fair;
  • CEO: Chief Executive Officer, the top job in a corporation, company, organization, or agency;
  • Nissen Huts:prefabricated steel structures made from a half-cylindrical skin of corrugated steel used extensively as bomb-shelters during WWII; named after their inventor
  • compulsory order: still used by Authorities to requisition land without regard for ownership;
  • references to day and night allude to WWII aircraft designed for operations at one time or the other; examples are B-26 Marauders Thunderbolt named to suggest aggressive intent;
  • fly-by-night: an idiom suggesting unreliable, short-lived relationships as opposed to the stronger bonds ultimately demonstrated;
  • eight 4-line stanzas without a rhyme scheme; ample use of enjambed lines ensures variety of rhythm and flow in oral delivery; up to a dozen sentence units including colons;
  • top chefs stand out thanks to their ability to combine advanced cooking skills with the talent of adding herbs and spices with different tastes so as to produce individual and memorable flavours.
  • this poem shows the poet in a similar light as he sets up chains and weaves of sound and echo within the narrative:
  • three initial quatrains that move via assonant [æ] and [ɑː] in chiasmus shape: back to grass and after that/ wartime ; then [ɪit/ designated/ brickfield/ designated/ industrial/ rebuilt; into/ villa; Nissen; [ei] grey/ glazed;ʊcontrol/ CEO/ Aerodrome/ local; [uːToome/ to; To/ afternoon/ Toome; [ʌ] runway/ huts;[ai] wartime/ wire/ miles/ brighter;[ɒ] bomb/ forgotten/ gone/ not/ hot/ On;
  • alliterative effects are discernible, for example[g] and [k] from the same part of the mouth: back/ brickfields/ control; aspirates: history/ hangars/ huts;
  • into v. 4 and beyond: alliterative effect of bi-labial plosive [b] bright booths/ brighter/ been/ bonnets/ beribbonned and continuant [w] Wherever the world was we were somewhere combined with vowel sounds [ɔː] All/ stalls/ Awnings/ gauds; fall/ Marauders/ compulsory order;
  • the blend continues:[ɪ] and [ai] perimeter/ like the fly-by-night/ flies/ rise; pilot/ slightest/ mine alongside [w] watched/ waited/ watching/ waiting/ wing/ would; [əʊgo/ Thunderbolt/ only; cluster of [st] sounds: slightest/ stiffening/ standing; rhymes: ground/ around; stance/ distance and alliterative pairs: location/ love/ Options/ obstinacies; dug/ distance;


  • Characteristically, Heaney balances violence with healing…  The next poem considers the post-war erasure from the landscape of an aerodrome, while the following poem returns to destruction with a version of Horace echoing the attack on the World Trade             


       Center: “Anything can happen, /the tallest towers / Be overturned.” An example of Heaney’s care in shaping a book, this strategy replaces surprise with deliberation.         Stephen Knight in the Independent Sunday, 9 April 2006