The counselling voice Heaney Incertus sought in the title poem of ‘North’ is replaced by Heaney’s own voice pronouncing his eureka moment, a single word that corroborates the benefits and protections Wicklow offers fishermen in a storm and the Heaney family re-located in Glanmore Cottage.
A clipped BBC radio voice intones sea areas (most of them) adjacent to Ireland (Dogger, Rockall, Malin, Irish Sea). Heaney envisions the turbulence they share – the colour, swell and thunder of the ocean (green, swift upsurges, North Atlantic flux). Poetic charge has been triggered (conjured) by the BBC radio Shipping Forecast announcer (strong gale-warning voice), his intonation falling (collapse) into the hissing consonant sounds of the forecast’s final listing –‘Faeroes, Southeast Iceland ‘(sibilant penumbra) – followed by crackling silence over the BBC airwaves (midnight and closedown).
The poet’s inner ear has picked up Arctic permafrost voices (sirens of the tundra) – the assonant haunts of sea creatures and those who prey on them them (eel-road, seal-road, keel-road, whale-road) – air-borne wails of grief (their wind-compounded keen) from far beyond his work-table (behind the baize) prompting the absolute need for fishing craft (drive the trawlers) to seek shelter from the Irish landfall (lee of Wicklow).
Heaney went and witnessed (this morning) three French trawlers (L’Etoile, Le Guillemot, Le Belle Hélène … bright names) struggling to safeguard themselves (nursed) in the putty-coloured swell (toiled like mortar).
The awesome, real-life drama (marvellous and actual) triggered Heaney’s involuntary exclamation (I said out loud) of ‘eureka’ moment (‘haven’), the word embracing reassurance (deepening) and sweeping away a poet’s misgivings (clearing) just as signs of improving weather (like the sky) buoy sailors in peril on the sea (elsewhere on Minches, Cromarty, The Faroes).
- Dogger, Rockall, Malin, Irish Sea, Faroes, Cromarty: selection of over thirty sea areas surrounding the British Isles for which daily weather Shipping forecasts were provided as often as four times per day on the BBC radio network; The Minches – a sea area close to the Scottish Hebrides not actually included in the forecasts;
- upsurge: rise of sea swell;
- flux: process of flow;
- gale: very strong wind (for relative strength see Beaufort Scale); a warning with strength was routinely issued to shipping;
- sibilant: soft hissing sound of [s][z]
- penumbra: lighter coloured outer section of a shadow;
- closedown: radio networks did not operate over 24 hours in those days;
- Siren: in Greek mythology a woman whose alluring voice sought to draw unwary sailors onto he rocks;
- tundra: flat Arctic regions whose subsoil is permanently frozen;
- compound: Latin place together; join, come together, operate in tandem;
- keen(n): wail of grief; intensity, power;
- baize: probably the material covering Heaney’s work-table; interestingly etymology suggests French adjective ‘bai’ indicative of a brownish colour rather than the coarse green of this woollen material;
- lee-side: sheltered side;
- names of three French trawlers fishing off the Wicklow coast; bâteau is a masculine noun in French, hence the trawlers are ‘le’ including the one with a girl’s name;
- nurse: treat carefully and protectively;
- toil: work in difficult circumstances;
- mortar: bonding substance used in construction the colour of lime;
- haven: shelter, refuge
- deepen: take on the spiritual connotations of ‘sanctum’;
- MP (170) VII generates another childhood recollection … Just before ‘Midnight and closedown’, he would listen to the litany of names from the BBC weather forecast … and picture awesome, mysterious regions, inhabited solely by keening winds. In contrast to these exposed spaces, possessed for long periods by ‘Green, swift upsurges’ of natural violence, are ‘the lee’ and leas ‘of Wicklow’, which Heaney had made his ‘haven’.
- sonnet in five sentences (including s single direct speech around which the full intent of the poem pivots);
- unusually the sonnet seems to use two mini voltas each in mid-sentence (lines 5 and 11); the first part deals with correspondences triggered by the forecast and the overall image of the sea in motion; enumeration; images of sea turbulence; ingenious alliterative reference associates sound and sea areas; part ! closes down as did the radio!
- Part 2 widens the perspective still further (all to the north of where Heaney sits in composing mode) introduces classical image; line is a clever enumeration base on 3 assonant shapes; the notions of shelter and security and looking after best interests begins to build; French names italicised;
- Part 3 marks the eureka moment corroborating severance from Northern Ireland physically and emotionally leads cleverly into the enumeration with which the sonnet started;
- the relative balance between sentence length, punctuation marks and enjambed lines determines the flow and rhythm within the oral delivery potential;
- line length between 9-11 syllables; Heaney suggested the sonnets rhythms were iambically tight;
- beyond two pairs of tight rhymes the sonnet falls back on assonant or alliterative effects or remains blank;
- 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 opening lines provide an alliterative balance of nasal [n] [m], alveolar plosives [t] [d], velar plosives [k] [g], sibilant variants [s] [sh] [z] and front-of-mouth sounds bilabial plosives [p] [b], fricatives [f] [v] and breathy [w];