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 is not quite done with the Gaeltacht pursuing the interplay of reality and make-believe contained in the poem Loughanure.

 i  Sidhe (pronounced ‘shee’)

The co-existent worlds where a man (a poet or a novelist-musician perhaps) and a creature of fairy-tale may inhabit the same space are worthy of record … a poem perhaps, why not a film?

Scene One : the magic cavern setting in which a man-of-earth Caoilte figure was entertained by an unidentified female spirit (Sidhe) is replaced by a rural cattle pen .

Action : the she/ sidhe takes the initiative (took me into the ground) leading her male companion down into a man-made (spade-marked clean-cut) animal shelter (dugout), intended for beasts (meant for calves). Any hint of geological riches tempting the imagination (seam of sand like white gold) is tempered by the presence of real-life animals (nicked fibres in the roof).

Suggestions of folklore perhaps (under the hill, out of the day) and intimacy (holding hands), but essentially of the earth – a couple silhouetted against the light of day  breathing in the smell of rich Irish loam (inhaling the excavated bank).

Scene Two: sudden explosion of cinematographic special effect (zoom in over our shoulders) … earth-directed acceleration and friction (tunnelling shot that accelerates and flares) that results in an otherworldly background (us against weird brightness) …finally as suddenly as the sequence takes off it is finished via a command from the Director’s chair (cut).

  • wraith: supernatural being seen especially just after death; ghost;
  • sidhe: 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, in scattered islands across the western sea; an invisible world coexisting  with the world of humans;
  • dugout: trenched, roofed shelter;
  • dung: animal droppings;
  • nicked fibres: scaped off, cut;
  • excavated: dug out;
  • zoom: thread of original hair
  • tunnelling: proceeding down and inwards:
  • flare: blaze, burn up;
  • 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

Shared journeys to Irish Summer School (Heaney signed up for a few) developed an emotional and folkloric impetus of their own as the young companions in transit entered switch- mode from ‘home’ person to otherworldly Gaeltacht version (wraiths in the afternoon).

The border post (parking lot) could lent itself perfectly: a real enough comfort break with no shelter or basic amenities to distract (boothbench) on the top of the world (above the town), its immediate surroundings backtracking them to a time when legends abounded (like a hillfort) beneath the wide expanse of blue above (panned sky) and with scarcely a breeze.

Destination (Gaeltacht) confirmed … young travellers now crossing the linguistic divide (between languages – English to Irish) – caught (in thrall) between the thrill of opportunity (half desire) and bashfulness (half shy of it).

A flash of sunlight transmitted for a split second (blinked) from the far depths of the oncoming Gaeltacht landscape (sunlit lake near the horizon) entered them like  a classical annunciation (a flit of the foreknown) and set rebirth in motion (passed into us).

Once the spell was cast it was time to complete the journey (climbing and clunking up its fretted metal steps), chosen ones reborn in Gaeltacht guise (reincarnated seat by seat).

  • parking lot; area where vehicles may stop temporarily or park;
  • booth: covered space in which to shelter;
  • hillfort: strategic defensive emplacement with banks and ditches associated with Iron Age peoples;
  • pan: camera motion to give a panoramic effect or follow an individual;
  • in thrall to: under strong influence of or control by;
  • flit: skim, dart;
  • foreknown: known in advance;
  • blink: momentary flash;
  • clunk: dull metallic sound;
  • fretted: criss-crossed with strengthening bands;
  • incarcerate: imprison; shut in securely;
  • 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

Rannafast’s famous marching band won many titles at local, provincial and national level. For all its renown Heaney’s response to it is mildly burlesque but he had other thrills in mind.

Whether because it never seemed to get completely dark or because young students never slept the mid-summer atmosphere of Summer School (white nights) provides a back-drop for contrasting activities: Rannafast’s world-famous marching-band in rehearsal; a young couple within earshot of the band hidden and happy to stay out late in each other’s arms.

The clumsy gait of the gathering musicians betrays their day-job behind plough and horses (furrow plodders). The observing eye is drawn upwards from their lower leg decoration (spats and bright clasped brogues) to the fitting of the complicated instruments –from the pouches of air (bags) borne like babes-in-arms (cradled) via the decorated shoulder-draped pipes (beribboned drones) to the finger-holed barrels (chanters) shaping the tunes produced by pipers deemed to have honed their skills slaughtering poultry in the farmyard (skilled neck-pullers’ fingers force).

From the drill hall emerge, tutti (whole band), sounds of loud confidence (stupendous), proud arrogance (swaggering march).

Outside a young couple has escaped supervision, is immersed in dusklight (one twilit field and summer hedge away) familiar with a band routine that excludes beginners (learner who will stay behind) hesitant (piping by stops and starts) mangling the notes (making an injured music) for an audience of two (us alone).

Here the twosome will settle (early-to-beds) distanced from the others (white night absentees) – Heaney’s nature in particular attuned to life’s rich promise and undimmed by age (open-eared to this day).

  • white night: reference to the height of summer nights when it barely gets completely dark; the French idiom passer une nuit blanche (spend a white night, that is ’without sleep’ adds the sense of ‘with better things to do than sleep’ of the final couplet;
  • furrow: trench formed by ploughing that will be seeded;
  • plod: trudge slowly with heavy steps;
  • spat: short gaiter covering instep and ankle;
  • clasped: tightly secured:
  • brogue: leather shoe with perforated patterns:
  • hoist: raise as if by pulley:
  • drone: part of bagpipes that produces a single, low-pitched note;
  • neck-puller: person who despatches poultry by breaking the neck;
  • stupendous: stunning (implied better than expected)
  • swagger: strut boastfully;
  • march: four beat piece of music;
  • twilight: light that remains after sunset:
  • stops and starts: constantly, inpredictably stopping and starting;
  • open-eared: listening, attentive to unusual sounds;
  • 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).
  • 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;
  • 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: fourteen 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;

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