The title is taken from the refrain of The Keeper, a traditional song, ostensibly about a gamekeeper searching for female deer but loaded with the insinuation of sexual encounter. Heaney’s speaker uses a fairy-story atmosphere to describe a pleasure sequence from his own life. The two experiences hint at the deliberate sensuality of the original song.
i With innuendo at the discretion of his reader, Heaney selects a fruit, large and full: The lush/ Sunset Blush/ On a big ripe/ Gooseberry. His aim is to gather it, to enjoy of its promise and its plenitude. This daring task has some peril attached: I scratched my hand/ Reaching in. We know from The Butts that ‘reach in’ is an expression of intimacy. Then comes a further clue: in contrast to the ‘forbidden fruits’ of adolescent sexuality in the repressive atmosphere of the 50’s, this large, ripe object is Unforbidden. Heaney has permission to pluck it In Annie Devlin’s/ Overgrown/ Back Garden.
- The name Annie Devlin awakens curiosity: Heaney married Marie Devlin in 1965, the daughter of a publican who spent her early life in the kind of rural surroundings that Heaney is describing. Marie had a sister called Annie;
- The first of two mildly erotic snatches of pleasure; ‘…sensuous delight in (Heaney) has often a tinge of the erotic’. Helen Vendler 2011
- ‘Forbidden fruit’ is any object of desire whose appeal is a direct result of the knowledge that it cannot or should not be obtained or something that someone may want but is forbidden to have; the metaphorical phrase forbidden fruit refers to the Book of Genesis, where it is the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil eaten by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that leads to their expulsion.
- 4 tercets; fewer than 30 words in total; maximum line length of 4 syllables;
- internal rhyme: lush … blush … bush;
- Overgrown: the profusion also hides a would-be gooseberry-snatcher from discovery;
- short words interspersed with 3 polysyllabics: gooseberry/ unforbidden/ overgrown.
ii The tale moves inside a house at once real (it has a remembered name) yet fairy-tale: The Lodge with its storybook/ Back kitchen. The year has moved on to late summer harvest-time: The full of a white/ Enamel bucket/ Of little pears set against red tiles creates an artistic, three-dimensional Still life.
The speaker has arrived there modestly via the ‘tradesman’s entrance’: By the scullion’s door. There he has discovered his Sleeping beauty. He came on, the phrase echoing a double outcome: he discovered her; her beauty excited him.
- We are treated to an example of Heaney painting a picture in words, here a still-life. He adds texture, colour, detail and shape to his subject-matter and generates emotion.
- Let us imagine that The Lodge figured during the days of Heaney’s dalliances;
- form similar to (i) above; fewer than 40 words in total;
- Heaney creates an adjectival noun: The full of a …
- assonance: floor … door;
- vocabulary of fairy-tales Sleeping beauty with a ‘courtly love’ flavour in which males play a subservient rôle: scullion;
- parallel phrases depicting things on hold: Still life … Sleeping beauty