The sight of majestic lupins producing spectacular spikes ranging from strong chromatic colours to delicate, soothing pastel shades somehow recalls a loving relationship.

The lupins’ aesthetic properties and the aura they project suggest ‘think lupins, think of a woman I am close to’. The visual impact (they stood) is strikingly erect and upstanding, acting as a catalyst for memory (stood for something) simply by being there (just by standing), poised and dignified (in waiting), aloof (unavailable), unmissable (there for sure), solid and dependable (sure and unbending) with subtle colourings that last the whole day long (rose -fingered dawn’s and navy midnight’s flower).

Lupins sown from seed packets with uninspiring images (pink and azure), thirsty for furtherance (sifting lightness), taking encouraging steps (jittery promise), developing into plants projecting lofty, spiritual strength (lupin spires) and aphrodisiac promise (erotics of the future), reflective of colours all around and suggestive of the pleasurable moments of relationship – from titillating lip-brush of the blue into something wider and more profound earth’s deep purchase.

Heaney hails these pastel turrets, pods and tapering stalks for their resistance (stood their ground) to his and Marie’s passage (all our summer wending) and, even as their colour-season faded (blanched), for their defiance (would never balk).

The virtues of these plants and their sentimental significance were shared by the young couple (none of this surpassed our understanding) … their seductive subtleties certainly meaningful to Heaney himself.

  • stand for something: symbolize particular values or properties;
  • in waiting: expectant of something happening; also suggestion of royal attendant
  • unavailable: off duty
  • for sure: without question/ doubt:
  • sure: confident
  • rose-fingered: delicate pastel pink associated with daybreak sun-effects and strands of cloud;
  • navy: darkest shade of blue:
  • sift: sieve fine particles;
  • jittery: descriptive of unsteady, unrelaxed movement;
  • promise: positive potential;
  • spire … taper: a conical structure narrowing as it rises:
  • lip-brush: a delicate brush for applying lip-stick;
  • purchase: grip, root-hold;
  • turret: small tower;
  • pod: seed container;
  • stand one’s ground: stand firmly and resolutely
  • wend: make one’s gentle way about;
  • blanch: become white as colours are removed;
  • balk: show unwillingness, flinch, show weakness;
  • surpass: exceed;


  • 12 lines of poetry in no fewer than 10 sentences, seven of which occur in the first quartet as if declaimed as a roll of honour;
  • with one exception line length based around 10 syllables;
  • no formal rhyme scheme but end-of-line assonances and approximate rhymes create echoes;
  • key terms ‘stand’ and cognates: a whole range of associations crop up from sheer presence to resistance to damage, from rank and status to prestige and tallness;
  • vocabulary of size/ presence : ’spires…turrets’; the Heaneys as gardeners will have placed the tallest plants at the back of the bed, suggestive of hard to get to
  • vocative salute to a worthy plant: ‘O’
  • repetition of ‘sure’ with slightly different emphases;
  • vocabulary of colour from the unsubtle basics of commercial presentation to the lyrical pastel shades of the real plant (‘pink> rose-fingered…azure’ >‘navy midnight’s flower), from early hints (‘sifting… small jittery promise’) to the seductive, carnal textures of the real thing … plant or partner (‘erotics… lip-brush…deep purchase’);


  • 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: thirteen 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:
  • syllables without highlight are largely the unstressed sound as in common, little [ə]


  • 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 dominated by alveolar plosives [t] [d] and nasal [n] alongside sibilant [s] and front-of-mouth sounds bi- labial; plosives [p] [b],labio-dental fricatives [f] [v] and soundless continuant [w];
  • 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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