To Pablo Neruda in Tamlaghtduff


Following the taste of ‘Fiddleheads’ that Heaney defined as ‘erotic’ in a piece to a Japanese friend he provides a further moment of uncontrolled pleasure –  something exquisite that came from something markedly unlovely.

Heaney had received a gift from a local acquaintance: crab-apple jelly from a tree he can locate at Duff’s Corner and, for all he knows, still grows there. The produce was little short of miraculous (I never once saw crab apples on the tree).

Heaney provides the crab-apple tree with an unflattering ‘reference’ – perverse of nature (contrary), showing little sign of fertility (unflowery), standing out like an implement used to scare off flies (sky whisk) or a rough brush (bristle), a haphazard criss-cross profile (twig fret) unsuggestive of a heavy crop (fruit fort). All in all, a poor provenance – crabbed as crabbed could be.

Miracle of miracles! Heaney ‘s exclamation of delight is directed (not as thanks for a God-sent bounty) at a kindred spirit with his feet very much on the ground (O my Pablo of Earthlife!).

The jelly exploded in the mouth creating involuntary memory in the best Proustian tradition – mouth-watering liquidity (freshets) and savour of regal fruit (orbs). He was transported back, in a lyrical apotheosis (eyes … on stalks), to the old stamping-grounds, amidst high summer’s smoulder beneath a tree of iconic status (tree ascendant).  His pure hindsight paints the sovereign crab- hoard within a gilded aureole (corona of gold).

Heaney’s creative mind has spotted a link with the earthly lyricism of Neruda, who recounted events as he saw them (O my home-truth Neruda), a poet of his people and his time (round-faced as the crowd at the crossroads) and herald of Heaney’s current preoccupation (with your eyes I see it).

Neruda’s  message told him ‘forget tomorrow, savour a moment  sufficient to reduce you to tears’ (taste-bud and tear-duct melt down).

Needing no further encouragement Heaney regaled himself, spreading the jelly on thick as if there were no tomorrow, an extreme of self-indulgence perhaps but at his time of life a treat that might literally be his last!

  • Pablo Neruda was a Chilean poet and diplomat, a kindred spirit awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. His poems reflected the struggle for social justice and socio-economic development in Latin America whilst expressing his personal, emotional feelings, often in the most lyrical of ways. Neruda was caught up in turbulent politics and the fascist tyrant Pinochet who overthrew democratic socialist Allende  was said to have ordered Neruda’s assassination by lethal injection;
  • Tamlaghtduff is a small townland in County Derry, not far from Glenshane Pass mentioned in ‘Boarders’;
  • Fitz: a prefix common to Irish names denoting ‘son of’ (Fr. fils) as with scottish  MacDuff, English Johnson  etc;
  • crab: crab-apples are generally sour to the taste; the adjective ‘crabby’ is applied to people with sour natures; crabbed is a similar connotation
  • jelly: jam-like substance from boiled fruit;
  • contrary: vexatious, perverse;
  • unflowery: with little blossom;
  • whisk: implement with slender blades used to beat cream;
  • bristle: short, prickly hair on the chin;
  • fret:  fine, ornamental latticework;
  • fort: connotation of strong (Fr) as well as fortified place;
  • freshet: flood of juice, increase in flow (‘stream flowing into the sea’ -1590s ‘fresh‘ – stream in flood);
  • orb: both fruit-shaped ‘globe’ and symbol of sovereignty, royalty;
  • on stalks: like eyes showing huge amount of eagerness;
  • rounds: regular outside visits;
  • breast: move forward through;
  • high summer: idiom defining the most favourable part of the season;
  • smoulder: fire as yet; unseen
  • ascendant: on the way up, astrological rising above the horizon;
  • hoard: stock of valued objects; Heaney uses it for his treasure-house of words
  • hindsight: understanding now of something gone by;
  • corona: shining light around the sun or a representation of highly spiritual figure;
  • home-truth: unpalatable fact pointed out by someone else;
  • taste-bud: nerve ending in mouth or throat that provides sense of taste;
  • tear-duct: passage from lachrymal glands of tears to eye and nose;
  • melt-down: catastrophic collapse and explosion e.g. nuclear reactor or , here, the emotions;


  • 2 seven lined stanzas and 24 lines in a single section; lines of variable length between 2 and 8 syllables;
  • no formal rhyme scheme but some pairs and loose echoes: Corner repeated: saw/ more/ fort; be/ tree;
  • the piece is an excellent example of  sonic composition:
  • Stanza (1) picks up assonant suggestions from the tile; [æ] Pablo Neruda/ Tamlaghtduff; crab-apple/ crabs repeated [e] Neruda/ jelly/ never; alliterative effects are produced by paired [dʒ] jar/ jelly followed by a weave of alveolar [k] Tamlaghtduff/ repeated crab and its voiced partner alveolar [d, all the Duffs] [g] grew/ grows; fricative [f] Tamlaghtduff/ Fitzduff/ off/ Duff’s; the stanzas enjambed lines and use of dashes illustrates the pause require for memory to intercede in the middle;  
  • in (2 ) unusual [i] sound of Contrary, unflowery precedes a cluster of [ɪ] whisk/ bristle/ twig; reprise of {k} contrary/ sky-whisk/ crabbed/ could; two pairs rhyme;
  • the [e] of remembered is picked up after line 15: then/ when/ freshets; breasting/  smelling/ nettles; a peal of assonant variants on vowel (o) brings together[əʊ] O/ Pablo/ old/ road/ smoulder/ own with[ɔː] orbs/ stalks; [au] rounds/ cow; foxgloves/ of;
  • the same section up to line 30 offers a cluster of alveolar [s] [t] tasted/ stuff/ freshets/ orbs/ eyes/ stalks overtaken by alveolar [r] freshets/ rutted cart road/ rounds/ district/ breasting itself overtaken by sibilants culminating in summer’s smoulder/ ascendant; less stressed (o) sound  [ʌ] of summer’s/ under/ -duff is replaced by the stronger [əʊ]: corona of gold and  [ai] hindsight; cluster of participles –ing;
  • the final sentence replays [əʊ]:home/ crossroads/ no tomorrow introducing [au] now/ round/ crowd/ now/ down alongside  [ʌ] in tandem with alveolar [t] [d] taste-bud/ tear-duct and [e] melt/ spread/ jelly/ there;         


  • 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 lines are especially rich in alveolar plosives [t] [d] alongside  nasals [m] [n] and front-of-mouth sounds: labio-dental fricatives [f] [v], bi-labial plosives [b] [p], breathy [w] and [y];
  • a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;


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