In yet another so-called ‘marriage poem’ the poet seeks to rebalance his relationship with a wife who has felt neglected.

Analogizing the best of Dutch engineering in the light of his and Marie’s spits and spats on relationship issues Heaney portrays her as a stretch of reclaimed waterland (polder) ever susceptible to water, weather or, in poetic allegory, domestic moodiness (sudden outburstsqualls).

His reclamation was the physical act of embracing her (hooped) mindful (remembered) of linguistic correspondences (what could be contained) between the wife in his tight supportive clench (caliper embrace) and words of Dutch provenance –physical closeness (bosom) and perfect fit (fathom) both its Old Norse meaning of ‘embrace’ and its measure and length (what the extended arms took in).

In getting her back (reclaimed my polder) he has rediscovered her intimate bodily moistures (salty grass) and smooth skin texture (mud-slick banks).

Newly invigorated (under fathoms of air) Heaney’s ageing frame (old willow) feels the sap rising (I stir a little) from its very foundations (my creel of roots).

  • polder: land reclaimed from water (cf the Netherlands and use of dykes that create polders reclaimed by the sea;
  • squall: sudden, localised storm of wind or storm;
  • hoop: (usually a noun) encircle;
  • caliper: metal support designed to enclose and protect the leg;
  • bosom: breasts – ancient derivation of European variants including Anglo-Saxon sand Middle Dutch)
  • fathom: Old English ‘length of the outstretched arm) and Dutch ‘measure of six feet’
  • mud-slick: smooth film or layer of mud;
  • creel: basket, pannier; receptacle for holding fish or, in Ireland potatoes;


  • NC (99) pinpoints the series of zoomorphizing analogies which are perhaps partly indebted to Robert Lowell, whose work is full of animal and piscine life … The poet is himself self-deprecating too: he is ‘like an old willow’ in the lovely ‘Polder’;
  • MP (pp 65+) In the poems immediately succeeding ‘Glanmore Sonnets’, Heaney again dwells on the critical role played by his wife in his personal and artistic maturation … her vigour and glamour awe and enthral him … she becomes a reclaimed waterland in ‘Polder’


  • Five couplets in two sentences (S) (including semi-colons);
  • S1 defines Heaney’s emotional task cloaked in an extended metaphor of land reclamation (for land reclamation read wife reclamation); references to potential continual inundation apply both to land and protagonists; thinly veiled personal pronouns; Heaney acts as the civil engineer assessing and registering his claim; his actions strongly expressed albeit swamping; the language scholar in Heaney ingeniously retains the Dutch link;
  • S2 declares mission accomplished; mildly erotic expressions linking from land to woman; an area once under fathoms of water now characterized by the oxygen of life; comparison man>tree metaphorizing return of male vigour yet hinting at self-control;
  • the relative balance between sentence length, punctuation marks and enjambed lines determines the flow and rhythm within the oral delivery potential; beyond a mid-line comma and semi-colon S1 is fully enjambed;
  • line length between 7-11 syllables; Heaney suggested his Field Work rhythms were iambically tight;
  • unrhymed beyond tenuous assonant or alliterative effects in final sounds;


  • 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 four lines provide a balance of alveolar plosives [t] [d], nasals [m] [n], sibilant [s] alveolar [l] and front-of-mouth labio dentals [f] [v], breathy [w]; a handful of velar [k] completes the package;

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