The Clip

Memory of another childhood routine in a rural Irish community: the hair-cut. In a touching sonnet that reveals much about the poet’s own sensitive, observant and imaginative nature, Heaney describes his first barber shop.

It is in the home of a villager: Harry Boyle’s one-room, one-chimney house/ With its settle bed where everything takes place including the hair-dressing. The hair-cut is known in the village by its colloquial title of clip.

Heaney’s memories of the process are rich in touch, sound and sight data: Cold smooth creeping steel and snicky scissors/ The strong-armed chair.

The protective cloth placed around his neck acted as a catalyst for the boy’s fertile imagination: …the plain mysteriousness/ Of your sheeted self inside that {cleric’s) neck-tied cope, (or altar-/ choir-boy’s) Half-sleeved surplice, or (1950’s southern-state American white supremacist) half hoodless Ku Klux cape.

Heaney repeats the initial phrase then mounts the path leading to the open door of the old bog-road house (close to home but not the same as home, unfamiliar) that reveals more about Harry himself : he is not a family man; he neglects his garden; ironically unkempt himself, he smartens up his customers! He stands uncomfortably near: close breathing in your ear.

The speaker can still follow in his mind’s eye the cropped hair, as abundant as fallen fruit in windfalls blown across the floor towards and around Harry’s dog Under the collie’s nose . The animal creates the abiding emotional memory: The collie’s stare.

  • Sonnet, break after line 7; lines based on 10 syllables; no rhyme scheme;
  • the first sentence contains one repeat and one other echo [au] house/ our;
  • sound effects then multiply: assonant sounds [ɪclip/ snicking scissors/ inside, [i:] creeping, steel, mysteriousness / sheeted/ sleeveless/ near and [e] chair/ self/ neck-/ hoodless are peppered with voiceless velar plosive [k] between clip/ cold and Ku Klux cape;
  • the break is followed by a repetition; then [ʌ] unfamiliar/ enough/ up, accompanied by a strong assonant chain: [əʊ] road/ home/ shoulder/ open/ close/ blown/ nose amidst a flock of sound variants of the same vowel [o]
  • sense data: sight: the whole setting; sound: snicking scissors/ breathing; touch: Cold/ creeping steel; strong-armed; (air movement) breathing/ windfalls blown; smell (by association) bog-road;


  • heart-strings pulled: first/ near enough to home/ The collie’s stare;