Glanmore Sonnets – 9


The peace and stability of domestic life in Glanmore is disrupted by a dark force (black rat), in clear view (sways on the briar) and threatening well-being (like infected fruit). Marie Heaney builds to a paroxysm of revulsion – the creature’s audacity (It looked me through) and wilfulness (stared me out) as clear as day (I’m not imagining things)!

She dispatches her liegeman husband on a rodent extermination mission (Go you out to it).

How much did the drama, Heaney wonders, cast a cloud over the whole decision to move to the Republic (the wilderness for this?) when all else is positive: healthy natural greenery (burnished bay tree at the gate) Irish as Irish(classical) its pagan association replaced (hung) by the pungency of modern farming (reek of silagefarm next door), its bay leaves sharp-tasting in the cooking pot (tart-leafed ) in all conscience (as inwit). 

The dispatching of these nasty symbols of evil bears the trappings of Shakespearean tragedy: stabbing (pitchfork speared), gore (blood…blood) but staged in Glanmore (chaff and hay sweat and dust of threshing) and reported with minimum gruesome detail (what is my apology for poetry?)

The outcome repairs confidence: no more rat (empty briar), sounds of nature back to normal (swishing).

The sonnet becomes an expression of love – Heaney’s indelible memory of her distraught expression (your face haunts) and her relief (new moon glimpsed) viewed distortedly from outside in (through tangled glass).

  • rat: another Shakespearean ‘familiar’ associated with evil;
  • sway: move gently in opposite directions;
  • briar: prickly, scrambling shrubs
  • infected: attacked by disease;
  • wilderness: sparsely populated area of agricultural development;
  • burnished: polished, glossy, golden brown;
  • bay tree: evergreen shrub with deep green aromatic leaves used in cooking; also used to fashion triumphal crowns. Long before Christianity appeared, people in the Northern Hemisphere used evergreen plants such as bay to decorate their homes in celebration of the Winter Solstice, a pagan reminder that the god would glow again and summer would return; bay colour – golden brown;
  • reek: pungent smell;
  • silage: pungent green fodder stored in airtight conditions to be used as winter feed;
  • inwit: ‘Inward awareness of right or wrong’, suggest etymological sources, a word formed to translate Latin conscientia), early 13c., “conscience;” c. 1300, “reason, intellect”. Joyce’s use of it in “Ulysses” (1922) echoes the title of the 14c. work “Ayenbite of Inwyt” (“Remorse of Conscience,” a translation from French) and is perhaps the best-known example of the modern use;
  • pitchfork: long-handled double pronged farm tool used for lifting hay;
  • chaff: husks separate from seed at threshing time:
  • spear: pierce with a metal point;
  • threshing: process of separating grain from corn;
  • apology for poetry: Sir Philip Sidney published a ‘Defense of Poesy’ around 1580 an early work of literary criticism promoting the poetic art;
  • swish: produce a hissing, rushing sound;
  • haunt: capture and retain the imagination;
  • glimpse: capture a brief view of;
  • tangled glass: panes that distort;


  • … in IX, the invasion of the domestic by external threat is complete … in a poem that draws together the domestic, the wild, the classical, the agricultural, the medieval, the vicious and the terrified … The ars poetica … that will be sufficient to all sides of this reality – or that can exist within it …seems unattainable … yet he embarks on his Shakespearean sonnet­portrait of wife and husband, redefining – with a gusto that quickly vanishes in self-doubt – the genre of the love-poem (HV68 slightly edited);
  • MP (170) offers his own reading: IX sees the role reversed, and it is now the turn of the poet’s wife to feel distraught. She isn’t merely ‘Imagining things’. Having come to the ‘hedge-school’ of Glanmore to contemplate and compose, Heaney resents being forced into action and away from imagining, into abandoning the idealised ‘burnished bay tree’ of poetry … he cannot escape the pain that still ‘Haunts’ his wife’s face, and his own guilt at having failed her.


  • sonnet in six sentences (including colon, dash, direct speech and two interrogatives symptomatic of inner doubt);
  • the sonnet does not follow a classical pattern, falling broadly into three parts.
  • Part one identifies a physical and emotional threat to a distraught wife and delegates a solution; comparison rodent and infection of the surroundings; Marie Heaney’s words reveal her stress and manner of speech; final phrase has a touch of courtly love about it; Marie’s imperative is expressed in non-everyday English;
  • Part 2 opens once again in Heaney doubts as to the move; parallels drawn between the positives, the need to neutralize rodents for health reasons; question as to how to deal poetically and decently with extermination;
  • Part 3 via its distorting glass/ moon imagery that Heaney still has work to do to soothe Marie’s anxieties;
  • the relative balance between sentence length, punctuation marks and enjambed lines determines the flow and rhythm within the oral delivery potential; the sonnet is punctuation rich except for the final sentence
  • line length between 9-11 syllables; Heaney suggested the sonnets rhythms were iambically tight;
  • the sonnet follows pattern abab cddc efef gg; however rhyme is heavily dependent on assonant and alliterative effects;
  • present tense used to record the event as it happened;
  • a previous old Ireland alluded to in Old English vocabulary (inwit) and pagan decoration of trees;
  • conceit transferring across the senses: visual tree decorated by a smell! Taste included in the association

  • 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 first four lines are dominated by alveolar plosives [t] [d] alongside nasals [n] [m] and front-of-mouth sounds [w] [f], sibilants [s] [z] and velar [k] [g];

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