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 combines young speaker, factual experience, fairy-story and ‘still life’ Art form to describe pleasurable moments from his life. His two settings elevate the less refined sensuality of the original song.
In 2011 Helen Vendler spotted Heaney’s subtlety – ‘Two mildly erotic snatches of pleasure ‘, she commented, adding ‘sensuous delight in Heaney has often a tinge of the erotic’.
i Heaney was foraging for fruit close to his Mossbawn home. It was July and he spotted the assonant ripeness (lush sunset blush) of a full bosomed fruit (big ripe gooseberry). His daring attempt to access (gather) its promise and plenitude had personal peril attached (I scratched my hand reaching in). The Butts teaches that ‘reach in’ is an expression of intimacy.
Suddenly pre-pubescent reaction or indeed subsequent pleasure experiences woven retrospectively into the poem that the reader might have inferred run out of steam – contrary to the ‘forbidden fruits’ of sexual feelings in the repressive atmosphere of the 50’s or in the story of Adam and Eve this large, ripe object is unforbidden – Heaney has permission to help himself from a close neighbour’s soft fruit patch (Annie Devlin’s overgrown back garden). No doubt Heaney is chuckling at anyone who read too much into it!
- lush: fleshy, luscious;
- blush: reddening bloom;
- gooseberry: round edible berry with translucent hairy skin:
- unforbidden: permitted; it is difficult not to underestimate young Heaney’s knowledge of ‘forbidden fruit’, objects of desire that must not be experienced – reference 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 against God’s explicit instruction leading to their expulsion;
- Annie Devlin: a close neighbour of the Mossbawn-Heaneys, living down a lane alongside the farm; no relation to Marie Heaney née Devlin’s family from Ardboe;
- 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 trespasser moved inside a neighbouring dwelling house (The Lodge) at once real (it has a remembered name that sounds grand) yet make-believe (storybook back kitchen).
What presented itself to his memory-eye was an assemblage of shapes and colours: shiny, reflective, curvilinear (white enamel bucket), inset with alternatice shapes (little pears ) that filled it to overflowing (the full of), whites and greens set on rectilinear red tiles framed to create an artistic, three-dimensional still life.
Inanimate objects triggered aesthetic appreciation (sleeping beauty) discovered by a shy observer arriving modestly via the ‘tradesman’s entrance’ (the scullion’s door) – suggestive, and why not, of a fairy-tale princess. There was a double outcome (I came on): he discovered beauty; beauty excited him. Thus the diptych can turn full circle.
- The Lodge: neighbourhood dwelling;
- still life: art form depicting objects, fruit or flowers arranged in tableau form; We are treated to an example of Heaney painting a picture in words, adding texture, colour, detail and shape to his subject-matter and generating emotion and sensation;
- sleeping beauty: in the first sense a reference to something inanimately beautiful; possible further reference to the well-known classic fairy tale about a princess who is cursed to sleep for a hundred years by an evil fairy, awakened by the kiss of a handsome prince;
- scullion: menial servant;
- 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-talesSleeping beauty with a ‘courtly love’ flavour in which males play a subservient rôle: scullion;
- parallel phrases depicting both things on hold and art forms:Still life … Sleeping beauty
- 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: ten 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;