A Kite for Aibhín

Heaney’s poem of greeting to Aibhín echoes L’Aquilone, a lyric written by Italian poet Giovanni Pascoli. 

This final piece was added late to the collection in celebration of the birth of Heaney’s second grand-daughter, Aibhín [aye-veen] born to son Michael and Emer. The happiness of an event from the past is recalled in honour of the family’s new ‘high-flyer’.

Air, at once space, life-giving force and lyric song bears a memory from another life and time and place. On this auspicious day, air has a spiritual depth: Pale-blue andheavenly. Aloft, within it, is a sign of life: A white wing beating high against the breeze.

The emblem takes shape: yes, it is a kite. Heaney relives a moment when, father then, All of us trooped out into familiar surroundings Among the briar hedges and stripped thorn … opposite/ Anahorish hill. That fatherly role is replayed: I take my stand again, check the conditions, scan the blue, then launch our long-tailed comet.

The kite, as much a plaything of the wind as the grasses in A Herbal, is skittish: it hovers, tugs, veers, dives askew, baulks and wavers until, to general acclaim It rises to loud cheers from us below.

Heaney creates an allegory of parenthood: the skill of the kite-flyer (my hand is like a spindle/ Unspooling) encourages the kite a thin stemmed flower to soar, Climbing and carrying, carrying farther, higher. Its ascent is accompanied by deep emotion as well as hopes and aspirations: The longing in the breast and planted feet/ And gazing face and heart of the kite-flyer.

In the same way that the laws of physics dictate that ultimately, under strain, the kite’s string breaks and the kite is freed so the process of childbirth directs that once a babe is born the umbilical cord between mother and child is cut. Therefore let us rejoice: separate – elate. The adored grandchild’s life-journey is launched: The kite takes off, itself alone, a windfall

  • Heaney celebrates what is nearest and dearest in his human chain (v also Route 110, XII);
  • The evocation of succeeding generations and our mortal place in the chain, the juxtaposition of kite tugging against control and influence and unborn child waiting for release fuse into a memorable hymn of welcome;
  • Pascoli’s poem runs: Is there anything new under the sun,/ nay old I live elsewhere, and I feel/ which are born around the violets.
  • The Italian poem’s content is different but the following factors seem shared: something special triggers a joyful and happy memory lying forgotten in the consciousness; memory offers at once pleasure and nostalgia;


  • 6 triplets and a single line; generally 10 syllable line; scheme of rhyme and loose rhyme: blue/ askew; feet/ elate; higher/ flier as opposed to noon/ thorn; opposite/ comet etc;
  • Stanza 1 is an assonant weave: life/ time, place/ Pale; air/ air; heavenly/ air; white/ high; beating/ breeze;
  • assonances noon/ trooped; stand/ Ananhorish; climbing/ higher/ flier;
  • celebration expressed as a double imperative: separate, elate; alliteration: spindle/ Unspooling;
  • Beating: white wing (stated); small new heart (unstated)
  • the sound production of the [wh] diphthong : white wing/ when one mimics air movement;
  • the 2 longer sentences use enjambement to build crescendos;
  • participle –ing is a tool for drawing out the delivery;
  • the use of punctuation in the fourth stanza separates the antics of the kite; internal phrasing builds on its erratic behaviour;.
  • The tale of the kite includes early pointers as to the poem’s ultimate intent: the comet with its icy tail, is seen in legend as a precurser of a special event; flower, a delicate thing of beauty.
  • Heaney avoids specific religious connotation in describing the birth as windfall, a gift of nature, rather than  a godsend;
  • The final stressed windfall is a fitting climax to a piece that begins Air.


  • The final poem ‘A Kite of Aibhín’ recalls ‘A Kite for Michael and Christopher’ from Heaney’s 1984 collection Station Island. In the latter, the kite’s ‘long-tailed pull of grief’ is described as Heaney’s young sons are told ‘you were born fit for it, stand here and take the strain’. However, in ‘A Kite of Aibhín’, a poem written for Heaney’s second grandchild, instead of plunging into the woods, tellingly, ‘the kite takes off, itself alone’. Adam O’Riordan , 29 Aug 2010 in The Telegraph