Wraiths, A three-poem sequence dedicated to Ciaron Carson, a fellow Northern Irishman, about ten years Heaney’s junior. Principally a poet and winner of a number of prestigious literary awards, Carson is also a novelist and accomplished musician with an interest in traditional Irish music and ways. Heaney pursues the interplay of reality and folklore contained in the poem Loughanure.
 i Sidhe (pronounced ‘shee’)

Co-existent worlds in which a man both poet and a creature of fairy-tale, both a Heaney and a Caoilte figure, is led ‘underground’ by an unidentified female figure at once real and Sidhe; a further parallel is drawn between a cavern beneath the mythical mound on Tory Island and a real-life cattle-pen.

The she/ sidhe takes the lead. She took me into the ground, into a dugout: man-made rather than folkloric, spade-marked/ Clean-cut; agricultural rather than magical: meant for calves; deep enough to reveal a geological richness that tempts the imagination (a seam of sand like white gold) yet betraying the presence of real animals: nicked fibres in the roof.

There they stood as if in a fairy domain under the hill, out of the day, intimate (holding hands), silhouetted against the light, their senses awakened to the smell of excavated bank.

All of a sudden stand-still time accelerates to the point of catching fire. Heaney finds the words to describe a cinematographic special effect: Zoom in over our shoulders,/ A tunnelling shot that accelerates and flares; the sequence is scary: us against weird brightness. Then, as suddenly as it started, the film-shot ends: Cut.

  • In Irish mythology, the aos sí (Irish pronunciation: [eece shee]) are a supernatural race comparable to fairies or elves. They are said to live underground in fairy mounds, across the western sea, or in an invisible world that coexists with the world of humans.
  • 4 three-line units; free verse;
  • assonance: gleam/ And seam; dugout/ Dung; stood under;
  • alliteration: seam of sandholding hands/ Inhaling;
  • Short, sharp final imperative: Cut (and blackout).

ii Parking Lot

A shared journey to Irish Summer school develops an emotional and metaphorical significance  of its own. The companions have already entered into the switch from real to fairy-tale:We were wraiths in the afternoon. Their progress has been temporarily halted and they are left without shelter or basic comforts with the world at their feet: Above the town, like a hillfort open to a huge panned sky..

Heaney remembers how unnerving the transition was: from home to camp, from one cultural base to another, Between languages from English to Irish. He describes the mixed emotions of young people officially registered for the school whether they like it or not (half in thrall), excited by the possibilities yet nervous at the prospect, half shy

They sense that the journey they are taking will lead to the elusive Yew Tree Lake of Loughanurerevealed as then by reflected light: a flit of the foreknown/ Blinked off a sunlit lake near the horizon. No surprise as they re-boarded the bus up its fretted metal steps that the magic passed into us transforming them as with the chosen ones of Elysium who, forgetful of the past, are entering a world they have selected: reincarnated seat by seat.

  • 4 three-line units; loose rhyme scheme over four lines: noon/ room; lot/fort, then free verse;
  • assonance and alliteration in tandem: nor booth nor bench; or apart: noon/ booth; it/ flit; fretted metal steps; echo by repetition: seat by seat;
  • He(aney) finds magic at a parking lot bus stop, on his way to the Gaeltacht “between languages” and is reincarnated on the bus, writes Christine Fears in the Literateur


iii White Nights

The mid-summer atmosphere of Summer School white nights (whether because it never seemed to get completely dark or because they never slept) provides a back-drop for contrasting priorities: those of Rannafast’s world-famous marching-band; those of a young couple within earshot of the band, hidden and happy to spend the night outdoors in each other’s arms.


Their attention is captured by the gathering musicians judged to move about in a clumsy, clod-hopping way: Furrow plodders. The poem’s eye is drawn upwards from the legs sporting spats and bright clasped brogues to the air-bags of the instruments, borne like babes-in-arms and the beribboned drones draped across the shoulder that emit a continuous low sound; it comes to rest on the chanters shaping tunes that the pipers’ skilled neck-pullers’ fingers force (Heaney implies that their vigour and shortage of skill are down to an apprenticeship served in the farm-yard slaughtering poultry!).

From indoors, both heard and pictured by the couple comes the super confident, proudly arrogant, stupendous, swaggering march of the whole band.

Meanwhile, the young love-birds who have escaped supervision, have already retired to their nest One twilit field and summer hedge away. They have been there before since they are already familiar with the routine and await the hesitant learner who will stay behind/ Piping by stops and starts,/ Making an injured music for us alone. There the couple will stay, already settled early-to-beds, white night absentees. What’s more, their senses attuned to life’s rich promise then remain undimmed by the passing of time: Open-eared to this day.

  • Rannafast’s famous marching band has won many titles at local, provincial and national level; for all its celebrity the response to it here is mildly mocking;
  • White Nights: whilst this is a reference to the so-called ‘midnight sun’, nights when it never gets completely dark, the French idiom passer une nuit blanche (spend a white night, that is ’without sleep’/ ‘with better things to do than sleep’) comes closest the implications of the piece;
  • Furrow plodders: dual intent; metaphorically ‘clumsy’; literally ‘marching across fields’;
  • 4 triplets.; free verse;
  • the poem reads as a piece of music: the first sentence focusing on the musicians is enjambed into a single flow; its musical dynamics build from  f (loud) to ff (very loud); there is a brashness in its tone; the second sentence (with just 2 punctuated pauses) mapping the responses of a mutually contented young couple is mainly ( quiet) so as not to give their hiding-place away; the final line slows, ritenuto, in tribute to the open-eared;
  • Meanwhile: an often-used single utterance in English to stress a contrast, here between activity (band) and keeping still (couple avoiding detection). Meanwhile, back at the ranch’ was a phrase frequently used by narrators of American cowboy movies to shift from one scene to another. It originated as a stock subtitle in the silent movies of the early 1900s and is still with us today;
  • assonance: brogues/ drones; away/ wait;
  • alliteration: fingers forcestops and starts; white-night absentees;
  • a sonic crescendo based on sibilant [s]: starts rehearsing/ Its stupendous, swaggering march;
  • personification: music presented as a creature injured by a beginner’s ineptitude;