Evening with the Heaneys … the poet watches from the window as night begins to fall: two different species of bird (cuckoo and … corncrake) (and in the back of his mind perhaps himself and his wife) are regaling in a surfeit (so much), nay, a superabundance (too much) of togetherness (consorted). He is in poetry-mode as regards both the language of light effects (all crepuscular) and the ‘tum-tee-tum’ of composition (iambic).
New life in his eyeshot (baby rabbit), learning its way (took his bearings); images of shy creatures (I knew the deer) … instinctive (connoisseurs), danger-alert (inquisitive of air … careful), ever poised to make an escape (under larch and May-green spruce).
There is no going back – Heaney has told Marie the die is cast (‘I won’t relapse’) it is just a matter of coming to terms with their unprecedented circumstances (strange loneliness I’ve brought us to).
We are not the first, Heaney suggests, alluding to their visit to the Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage in Grasmere (Dorothy and William) … Marie halts him in his tracks (she interrupts) – let him dare to suggest a comparison!!
So Heaney drifts back to his words and rhythms– Nature’s incoming sounds and textures (rustling … twig-combing breeze) that rise and fall (refreshes and relents) – the very pulses a poet feeds on (cadences).
- corncrake: rare secretive bird inhabiting coarse grassland
- consort: live in mutual companionship, associate
- crepuscular: light effects relative to twilight between daylight and darkness;
- iambic: to do with metrical beat and rhythmic patterns
- take one’s bearings: determine one’s position relative to surroundings;
- connoisseur: expert, authority on an issue;
- inquisitive: curious, intrigued;
- larch, spruce: varieties of coniferous trees with green neddles;
- relapse: slip back, return to a former state;
- Dorothy and William: reference to English Romantic poet Wordsworth and his sister who lived together in Dove Cottage at Grasmere in the English Lake District; Heaney had first visited the cottage in 1974 as part of a BBC ‘Writers’ Homes’ series;
- rustle: the soft crackling sound of dry leaves;
- comb: row of narrow teeth used to untangle matted hairs;
- refresh: restore, reinvigorate
- relent: ease off, soften, abate;
- cadence: rhythm, beat;
- MP (168) comments very shrewdly on the musicality and the Wordsworth angle: Sonnet III records one such epiphany, a marriage of sound and sight. The sensual music, the lyric images are almost too intense, too exquisite. Crisp, plosive ‘k’s consort with each other …and climax in that delicious polysyllable, ‘crepuscular’ … Uneasy, guilty even, about where all this ‘melodious grace is leading him, Heaney places ‘checks’ in the poem, such as the phrase in parentheses and the deflating comment of his wife at the mention of ‘Dorothy and William.’ It is a shaft against hubris typical of Heaney. Having recognised and voiced his feeling of affinity with a poetic giant such as Wordsworth, he fears his own presumptuousness. To allude, for Heaney, is to pay tribute, to claim kin, but not equality. And so in the final couplet he retreats to tenable ground, to nature, to a spare ‘rustling and twig-combing breeze’, to modest ‘cadences’.
- sonnet in nine sentences (including dash, suspension points and interrogative); the multi-sentence format has its own effect on oral delivery;
- the first part (volta before final quatrain) paints a ‘live’ picture of the creative process exercised within precocious child-Heaney’s home ground and the effects of sound on other creatures; first person; railway parallel; locomotive replaced by its component parts that inject momentum;
- the relative balance between sentence length, punctuation marks and enjambed lines (longer sentences are enjambed) determines the flow and rhythm within the oral delivery potential; Heaney injects panic into horse behaviour and movement very effectively;
- contrasts of final quatrain: external to internal; noise to no noise; sound replaced by reverberation; home thoughts generate very personal emotional responses; successful attempt to describe the the movement from disturbed water to still surface appropriate also to the poetic processes;
- line length between 9-11 syllables; Heaney suggested the sonnets rhythms were iambically tight;
- rhyme scheme abab cdcd efef gg often tenuous assonant echoes or alliterative effects that link final syllables;
- 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;
- a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;
- the final lines are dominated by alveolar plosives [t] [d], nasals [m] [n] and sibilant variants [s] [z] [sh] with a handful of front-of-mouth sounds [w] [y] [l];