Glanmore Sonnets – 1


Totally at home with the farming calendar from his Mossbawn days but now a freelance poet Heaney sets out to test his muse against his new Glanmore surroundings.

His mood could not be more determined: now is the moment to sow new poem seeds (vowels ploughed into other), to make optimum use of the gap established between his family in Glanmore and the rawness of life in Northern Ireland (opened ground).

The weather omens are excellent: conditions for early germination are ideal (mildest February for twenty years) the family’s new Eden appeals to the senses with its lyrical visual opportunities (mist bands over furrows) plus the total absence of city noise – deep no sound broken (vulnerable) only by the familiar sound of farmers on the go (distant gargling tractors).

Warmth and dampness meet Heaney’s nodding approval (our road is steaming) as the plough injects new life into the earth (turned-up acres breathe).

New-found freedom and pleasure are for the taking (the good life could be to cross a field), a spur to creativity (art a paradigm), Wicklow soil (earth) re-texturable through allegory (new from the lathe of ploughs).

Glanmore holds the promise of optimal writing territory (my lea is deeply tilled), whets the appetite (old ploughsocks gorge), fine-tunes his linguistic consciousness (subsoil of each sense) and breathes new life (quickened redolence) into traditional fragrances (fundamental dark unblown rose) under new management.

Hold on a moment! The link is not quite complete (wait then) … and then it happens over a film-like horizon (breasting the mist) – wearing traditional costumes (in sowers’ aprons)  in come the ancestral figures (my ghosts) to take up their appointed positions (striding into their spring stations).

Such is the swirl of contributory positives (dream grain whirls) it stops a poet short (like freakish Easter snows).

  • vowel: sound in speech that forms the nucleus of a syllable; basically ‘a’ ‘e’ ‘i’ ‘o’ ‘u’
  • opened: opening numerous physical and emotional angles based on the notion of ‘no longer hidden’;
  • mild: warm, balmy when applied to weather;
  • band: streak, line, belt, swathe;
  • furrow: trench left by the plough;
  • vulnerable to: exposed to, threatened by, a target for
  • gargle: sound of liquid in the throat agitated by breathing through it;
  • acre: unit of land area by which rural folk measured the size of a field;
  • art: creativity of which poetry is one example;
  • paradigm: (something serving as a) pattern, model
  • lathe: machine for shaping wood using a rotating drive and cutting tools;
  • plough: farming implement that turns soil over creating a furrow in preparation for planting seed;
  • lea: open area of grassy, arable land;
  • till: prepare land for crops; break down size of clods;
  • ploughsock: steel leading edge of the plough;
  • gorge: eat greedily;
  • subsoil: rich earth immediately below the surface;
  • five senses: touch, taste sight, smell, hearing;
  • quicken: give life to, animate;
  • redolence: the strong characteristic smell of;
  • unblown: preparing to burst into flower;
  • breast: emerge gradually as over a rise or through a curtain
  • sow: broadcast seed manually onto prepared ground;
  • apron: protective garment worn over clothes and tied at the back;
  • station: assigned place in a group;
  • whirl: spin dizzily;
  • freakish: totally unusual and unexpected;


  • MP 167 provides his own very helpful slant: The field he is about to plough is ‘deeply tilled’, and places the poet in a pastoral tradition reaching back through Kavanagh to Horace and Virgil. The ‘opened ground’ he speaks of harks back to the furrows turned in ‘Follower’, rather than to the historical faults and wounds examined in ‘At a Potato Digging’ or ‘Act of Union’. Sloughing off the burdens of history, politics, and the grandness of myth, he reconnects himself to the ‘cropping land’.48 He listens as the acres ‘breathe’ into his spirit, and from the breath attempts ‘to raise/ A voice’. Inspired, fortified by the arrival of his own’ Midwinter Spring’, he senses again the scent, promise and possibilities of Art, ‘the fundamental dark unblown rose’. In comparing ‘the good life’ to a simple act like crossing a field, he alludes to the final line of Boris Pasternak’s ‘Hamlet’ – “Everything drowns in Pharisaism./ Living life is not crossing a field” so – but only to reject its note of despondency, the note he had himself sounded in ‘Exposure’. The first Glanmore sonnet, by way of contrast, ends with sacral images conveying fertility, energy and continuity, a succession of long vowels, and a buoyant iambic confidence.
  • NC (101) ‘Ground’ is the word which ends the first line of the first sonnet, in the phrase ‘opened ground’, which glances back at ‘Act of Union’ in North, where the ‘opened ground’ is the raw wound left on Ireland by England’s siring on her of the North. In the ‘Glanmore Sonnets’, the phrase is deliberately translated out (102) of that historical agony into the realm of aesthetics: the ‘ground’ is now that of poetry itself. The phrase ‘ vowels ploughed into other’ of that opening line is not easily interpreted but it may mean, self-reflexively, ‘vowel ploughed into other vowels’, and hence suggest the almost self-entranced (you keep on looking at it?) process of poetic composition, as the line forms itself when one vowel-sound suggests and prompts another; but it may also contain the idea of the vowels of lrish speech being worked into the otherness of the English iambic line, or even the words of the poem as they take into themselves the otherness of reality hence opening a further linguistic and rhythmic path for the poet. That process of interpenetration is figured vividly in II ‘Each verse returning like the plough turned round’, a simile suggested by the derivation of ‘verse’ from the Latin versus, which meant both a line of verse and the turn made by the ploughshare from one furrow into the next. This original linguistic juncture between agriculture and culture is at one with the identifications made in III in the sequence between nature and poetry: an evening ‘all crepuscular and iambic’, and a wind which ‘Is cadences’ … This delighted sensuous merging of facts of nature and facts of culture may derive its originating impulse from a poem of Osip Mandelstam’s, no. 62, Orioles in the woods: length of vowels alone /makes the metre of the classic lines. No more /than once a year, though, nature pours out /the full-drawn length, the verse of Homer. /This day yawns like a caesura: a luIl/beginning in the morning, difficult, going on and on: /the grazing oxen, the golden languor powerless to call out of the reed the riches of one whole note’.


  • sonnet in thirteen sentences;
  • the octave defines optimum preparation for farmer and poet; interweaving of vocabulary pertinent to both; personification tractors have throats; Pasternak reference; comparison ploughing and wood-turning
  • sestet describes Heaney’s increasingly positive mind-set; personification; final triplet a kind of otherworldly ‘Sound of Music’ film epiphany of stock rural characters;
  • the relative balance between sentence length, punctuation marks and enjambed lines determines the flow and rhythm within the oral delivery potential; longer sentences are enjambed;
  • line length between 8-11 syllables; Heaney suggested the sonnets rhythms were iambically tight;
  • rhyme scheme abab cdcd ee fggf often tenuous assonant echoes or alliterative effects that link final syllables;
  • MP 167 In the opening line … Heaney sets in the soil preparatory vowel sounds -‘ [au] [au] [ɪ] [u] [ʌ] [ə] [əʊ] [ə] [əʊ]  – graphic and aural circles in which he will plant fecund images.


  • 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;
  • 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;
  • a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;
  • the sonnet’s final sentence is rich in alveolar plosives [t] [d], sibilant variants [s] [z] [sh] and nasals [m] [n] peppered with front- of-mouth [w] [b] [p] [l]

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