Countdown to extremes of violence prior to the troubled period 1969 – 75.

The following time-line seeks to set out some key dates before concentrating on the period during which North was taking shape. Whilst far from comprehensive it gives an idea of the tensions and fear that might exist on a day-to-day basis punctuated by the incidents listed below.

1801:Act of UnionIreland and Britain formally united;

1905:Creation of Sinn Fein – a political party with the aim of freeing Ireland from British rule;

1913: Creation of Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) – formed of Protestants who opposed Irish Home Rule;

1916:Easter Uprising Irish Catholics proclaim an Irish Republic in Dublin, brutally suppressed by the British army. The Easter Uprising volunteers become known as the Irish Republican Army;

1920: Partition of Ireland. The 6 northern counties will remain part of the United Kingdom with a parliament in Belfast, while the 26 other counties form the Irish Free State with a parliament in Dublin. Conflict over partition led to intra-communal violence that left hundreds dead in 1922;

1948:Irish Free State granted full independence from Britain and become the Republic of Ireland;

1967:Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA)formed to agitate for full civil and political rights for Catholics in Northern Ireland. 19th century anti-Catholic laws remained on the statute books as the Northern Ireland parliament was dominated by Protestant Unionists;

1968: Duke Street Marchwas a demonstration of the Civil Rights Association that was violently attacked by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. It is also commonly referred to as the beginning of theTroubles’;

The first Civil Rights protest march took place in March. The second took place in Derry in October despite it being banned by the Minister for Home Affairs, William Craig, who claimed that the movement was a front for the IRA. The Royal Ulster Constabulary was sent in to break up the march. They used excessive force, much of which was televised and broadcast worldwide. The tactics of the RUC left Catholics fearful and untrusting of them. The British government could no longer take a back seat and forced the Stormont to make reforms, however, the changes were minimal and in no way met the demands of the Civil Rights Movement.


4th January: so-called Burntollet ambush – a People’s Democracy march between Belfast and Derry was repeatedly attacked by loyalists and off-duty police. At Burntollet bridge it was ambushed by 200 loyalists armed with iron bars, bricks and bottles. The police did little to protect the march;

17th April:Bernadette Devlin becomes the youngest woman ever elected to Westminster;

14th July: a 67-year-old Catholic civilian died after being attacked by RUC officers in Dungiven. Many consider this the first death of the Troubles;

Catholic demands were no nearer being met and with the approach of the two main Unionist marches (the march of the Orangemen on July 12th and the march on August 12th to commemorate the siege of  Derry  in 1689 when apprentice boys closed the gates on King James) tension between Catholics and Protestants was high;

12-14 August ‘Battle of Bogside’: as the Apprentice Boys marched past Catholic Bogside there were clashes which forced the intervention of the RUC. However, the rioting escalated and the police were stoned and petrol-bombed. The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) called on Catholics to take the pressure off Catholics in Bogside by mounting demonstrations in Belfast. Consequently there was rioting in Belfast as well and the RUC were unable to cope. The Northern Ireland government had no choice but to call for British troops to be sent in to put down the riots. The first British troops arrived on the 15th August. In the Bogside area of Derry barricades were put up and neither the RUC nor British troops were permitted access to the Catholic area. In order to avoid further bloodshed the British troops allowed the ‘no go’ areas to stand.

14-17 Aug: in response to events in Derry, rioting erupted in Belfast, Dungannon, Dungiven, Coalisland, Armagh, Newry and Crossmaglen. Eight people were shot dead and at least 133 were treated for gunshot wounds. Loyalists set fire to hundreds of homes in nationalist areas;

The British Army deployed on the streets of Northern Ireland;

11 Oct: three people were shot dead during street disturbances in the Shankill area of Belfast. Two were civilians shot by the British Army and one was an RUC officer shot by suspected loyalists. He was the f

Dec 1969: The Irish Republican Army (IRA) splits into the Official IRA (OIRA) and the Provisional IRA (PIRA).


31 Mar: following an Orange Order parade, intense riots erupted on the Springfield Road in Belfast. Violence lasted for three days, and the British Army used CS gas for the first time in large quantities. About 38 soldiers and dozens of civilians were injured;

27 June: following the arrest of Bernadette Devlin, intense riots erupted in Derry and Belfast. During the evening, loyalist paramilitaries made incursions into republican areas of Belfast. This led to a prolonged gun battle between republicans and loyalists. Seven people were killed;

3-5 July: Falls Curfew – for three days the British Army imposed a curfew on the Falls Road area of Belfast as they searched for weapons. During the operation they came under attack from the Official IRA and republican rioters. Five civilians were killed, sixty were injured and three hundred were arrested by the British Army. Fifteen soldiers were shot by the OIRA.

8 July: during street disturbances, British soldiers shot dead two Catholic civilians in Free Derry. As a result, riots erupted in the city and the SDLP withdrew from Stormont in protest;

August: leading Nationalist party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) was formed.


25 May: the Provisional IRA threw a time bomb into Springfield Road British Army/RUC base in Belfast, killing British Army Sergeant Michael Willetts and wounding seven RUC officers, two British soldiers and eighteen civilians;

9 Aug: the Civil Rights Movement continued to protest despite a ban being placed on all marches and the IRA continued to make attacks on British troops resulting in the death of a British soldier. In the face of increasing calls for internment for IRA members, it is introduced on 9th August 1971 Operation Demetrius (or Internment) was introduced in Northern Ireland. Via this Internment the detention without trial of IRA members was legalised. The security forces arrested 342 people suspected of supporting paramilitaries. During 9–11 August, fourteen civilians were shot dead by the British Army, and three security forces personnel were shot dead by republicans. In the following days, an estimated 7000 people fled their homes. The vast majority of the dead, imprisoned and refugees were nationalists and Catholics. The following 48 hours saw violence and protests against internment that left 17 dead including 10 civilians. Throughout the remainder of 1971 protests against internment continued. The protests included violence, withholding of council rents, strikes and resignations by officials.

September: Loyalist groups formed the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). The group would quickly become the largest loyalist group in Northern Ireland;

4 Dec: McGurk’s Bar bombing – the UVF exploded a bomb at a Catholic-owned pub in Belfast, killing fifteen Catholic civilians and wounding seventeen others. This was the highest death toll from a single incident in Belfast during the Troubles;


A march organised by the NICRA against Internment and the ban on marches took place in Derry. In order to ensure that the march was peaceful the IRA had promised to stay away. British soldiers had put up barricades to prevent the marchers entering the city centre square. A section of the marchers and some observers confronted soldiers manning the barricade. This resulted in what is known as Bloody Sunday(30th Jan);

British Paratroopers opened fire killing 14 people. This was the highest death toll from a single shooting incident during the Troubles;

2 Feb: the funerals of eleven of those killed on Bloody Sunday. Prayer services held across Ireland. In Dublin, over 30,000 marched to the British Embassy, carrying thirteen replica coffins and black flags. They attacked the Embassy with stones and bottles, then petrol bombs. The building was eventually burnt to the ground;

22 Feb: Aldershot bombing – seven people were killed by an Official IRA bomb at Aldershot Barracks in England. It was thought to be in retaliation for Bloody Sunday. Six of those killed were female ancillary workers and the seventh was a Roman Catholic priest;

March: Direct Rule imposed; following Bloody Sunday there was a rise in support for the Provisional IRA. In February the British Embassy in Dublin was burnt (see above). It was clear that the British government had to do something to try to quieten the situation. As a result, in March the Northern Ireland government was suspended – Northern Ireland was to be directly ruled from Westminster. One of the first actions by Westminster was to order the dismantling of the ‘no-go’ areas set up in 1969. The IRA responded by using increasing violence;

Apr – July at least 6 major confrontations and shoot-outs between IRA and Security Forces;

21 July: Bloody Friday – within the space of seventy-five minutes, the Provisional IRA exploded twenty-two bombs in Belfast. Six civilians, two British Army soldiers and one UDA volunteer were killed, while 130 were injured;

31 July Operation Motorman – the British Army used 12,000 soldiers supported by tanks and bulldozers to re-take the “no-go areas” controlled by the Provisional IRA.; Claudy bombing – nine civilians were killed when three car bombs exploded in Claudy, County Londonderry. No group has since claimed responsibility;

December: five civilians (four Catholics, one Protestant) were killed in gun attack on the Top of the Hill Bar in Derry. It is believed the UDA was responsible;


7 Feb: the United Loyalist Council held a one-day strike to “re-establish some sort of Protestant or loyalist control over the affairs of the province”. Loyalist paramilitaries forcibly tried to stop many people going to work and to close any businesses that had opened. There were eight bombings and thirty-five arsons. Three loyalist paramilitaries and one civilian were killed;

8 Mar: the PIRA undertook its first operation in Great Britain, when it planted four car bombs in London. Ten members of the PIRA team were arrested at Heathrow Airport while trying to leave the country;

17 May: five British Army soldiers were killed by a PIRA booby-trap bomb in Omagh, County Tyrone;

31 Oct: Mountjoy Prison escape – three PIRA volunteers escaped from Mountjoy Prison in Dublin using a hijacked helicopter.

December The Sunningdale Agreement was signed


With the British becoming increasingly active in Northern Ireland, the IRA launched a bombing campaign which targeted public areas both in Ireland and on the British mainland;

4 Feb: M62 coach bombing – nine British Army soldiers and three civilians were killed when a PIRA bomb exploded on a bus as it was travelling along the M62 motorway in West Yorkshire, England. It was carrying British Army soldiers and some of their family members;

April: the Troubles claimed a 1000th victim;

Bombs exploded in Dublin, Monaghan (17 May), Guildford (5 Oct); the Provisional IRA bombed the Houses of Parliament in London, injuring 11 people and causing extensive damage(17 June); bombs planted in Birmingham(21 Nov). Overall 59 people were killed and over 300 injured. The government responded by introducing the Prevention of Terrorism Act which allowed suspects to be detained without charge for up to seven days

10 Dec: the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) and its political wing the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) was founded at the Spa Hotel in the village of Lucan near Dublin

22 Dec: the PIRA announced a Christmas ceasefire. Prior to ceasefire, they carried out a bomb attack on the home of former Prime Minister Edward Heath. Mr Heath was not in the building at the time and no one was injured;


10 Feb: the PIRA agreed on a ceasefire with the British government and the Northern Ireland Office. Seven “incident centres” were established in nationalist areas to monitor the ceasefire and the response of the security forces;

20 Feb : violence broke out between sectarian groups: a feud began between the Official IRA (OIRA) and the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). The two groups assassinated a number of each other’s volunteers until the feud ended in June 1975;

Mar: a feud began between the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA), resulting in a number of assassinations;

12 April Six Catholic civilians were killed in a UVF gun and grenade attack on Strand Bar in Belfast;

The cycle of outrage and revenge would continue until the signing of the Good Friday Agreement of April 10th 1998, thirteen years after the publication of North.

The ‘bog poems’ and ‘political correctness’.

Half a dozen or so pieces in North deal with the female victims of pagan sacrifice, preserved in peat both in Ireland and present-day Jutland and disinterred at various moments (identified in the commentary notes); the poems came to the attention of feminist readers some of whom responded negatively to what they inferred from Heaney’s narrative as an offence to their personal philosophy.

The following simplistic ‘opinion’ offers a background to the nature and timing of such judgements.

A second wave of so-called ‘feminist’ activity began in the early 1960s and has existed continuously in one form or another since then. This ‘wave’ saw cultural and political inequalities as inextricably linked and encouraged women to understand aspects of their personal lives as deeply politicized, and reflective of a sexist structure of power. Whilst the original group might have focused on absolute rights such as suffrage, the movement was now largely concerned with other issues of equality, such as the end to discrimination.

As if to herald a change of climate, the 1960s had witnessed increasing entry of women into higher education and the establishment of academic women’s studies courses and departments.

For all this, the perceived social, cultural, and political climate of the decade both informed and fuelled feminist theory and its activism. So-called ‘feminists’ questioned accepted standards and authority and scrutinized other related fields such as politics, sociology, history and, as cropped up with North, literature.

The situation was rendered more complex by the different feminisms that existed, according to the different cultures and backgrounds from which they coalesced and intertwined. It also offered a wide range of views and interpretations the most uncompromising of which were said to have caused discomfort amongst some feminists themselves.

Helen Vendler commented in her book on Seamus Heaney (1998): ‘Some feminists regret in the poetry an absence of women engaged in other than domestic roles and have detected patriarchal attitudes in the poet’. Her support for the ‘bog poems’ was met with the same kind of criticism aimed now at her.

A footnote in Neil Corcoran’s The Poetry of Seamus Heaney, 1998 (p 69) refers to specific female writers commenting on ‘the unconscious compulsions of Irish Catholic sexuality and gender attitudes’ but suggests that such critics were ‘insensitive’ to the poet’s efforts to ‘scrutinize and criticize any such tendency rather than indulge it’.

Finding the blend.

The most successful poets share much in common with the best chefs; the latters’ knowledge of the finest products supplemented by a talent that adds the individual flavours of spices, herbs and myriad ingredients in just the right amounts at just the right moment produces the unique, mouth-watering experiences capable of delighting and inspiring those who savour the result. The ‘knowledge’ is gleaned from experience and requires hard work; the ‘talent’ is a gift granted only to the very few.

In these respects Heaney is a craftsman pursuing a similar goal. In North he is the ‘master-chef’.

A number of poems in the collection, North, Viking Dublin and Bone Dreams offer insights into the poetic process as Heaney experiences it.

Whatever the initial stages in the process, the moment a poem ‘comes on’ or ideas with a poetic charge emerge, the stages by which these are translated into poetic form involve a deliberate and sometimes lengthy process of composition and revision, selection and rejection that determines the ultimate structure, vocabulary, verse-form, imagery and potential for success of each poem.

At one stage or another the poet will settle on: the length of the poem and its internal structure; the nature of the verse (free or rhymed); the choice of individual words or phrases most fitting to carry ideas through, thanks to their meaning, implication or sound, and so on. Whilst this is a far from exhaustive list of considerations it does indicate that inspiration is not automatic and that spontaneity can only gain from being worked upon.

In addition to the depth and richness of his personal ‘word hoard’, his personal store of material, gleaned from scholarship and interest, plus a sensitivity and a discrimination born of wide reading of literature, Heaney has access to a rich vein of poetic devices accessible to and used by all poets; he will select from the list deliberately, adapting them to his own intentions, perhaps because he wants them to add something, or ring a change, or carry an image through, or provide an echo; his aim in brief: to turn ordinary language into something special, a recipe of ingredients into a culinary feast for the senses. There is an alphabetical list of such stylistic devices at the end of this volume; knowing them by name is useful but ‘spotting’ one is less valuable, perhaps, than appreciating what it brings to the poem.

The blending of these ingredients can be roughly translated as ‘style’, that is, the ‘mix’ favoured by Heaney in each poem to carry his message forward (v. footnotes that comment on this aspect).

Not least in these considerations is the question of resonance; the richness and variation of consonant and vowel sounds provide the poet with a musicality over and above the bare narrative. Heaney knows this and rings the changes within his poems.Broadly (though not uniquely) the two aspects that best resonate are assonance and alliteration. For questions of oral delivery, intonation and cadence see the relevant section below.

Providing a music pleasing to the ear.

Singing scored music brings an awareness of a code of letters, abbreviations and signs that can be placed above or below the notes to indicate or modify the ways in which a piece is performed. When the human voice becomes an instrument, then in terms of volume: f tells us to sing the next phrase loudly; ff to sing it very loudly; p softly; mp a little less softly; cresc (crescendo) tells us to sing the phrase increasingly loudly, and so on. Other words interpret the tempo: rallentando says gradually slow down the phrase’. Other signs tell us to emphasise a word or to pause for an instant. Others advise on the sound: sad or harsh, light or sweet or slowly dying away. Without expression marks the piece would be monotonous and boring.

The same code should be applied to a poem by its reader. After all, poems are songs that, when read aloud, cry out for individual dynamics. Heaney actually uses specific musical terms in The Rain Stick published in The Spirit Level collection of 1996 (diminuendo, scales [un]diminished) but, of course, he does not provide coded recommendations alongside the text. Musicians do this but, apart from ictus accents and some aspects of sprung-verse, poets do not.

It is the words and phrases themselves and the way they are punctuated that invite variations of timbre, modulation and cadence and by reciting them with dynamics in mind, the reader can turn each poem into a linguistic ‘event’! Heaney is a composer who uses words instead of notes.

Using assonance.

In North, the collection Heaney experiments with a variety of poetic forms and rhyme schemes; these are summarised below. Beyond these end-of-line rhymes he indulges in internal echoes of vowel sounds.

The poet places a rich variety of assonances in ostensibly random but in fact quite deliberate order, now juxtaposed, now separated by other figures. He is seeking to compose perfectly tuned phrases and wants his developing skill of playing with musicality of language and word order to generate beautifully turned passages. His thought processes and instinctive use of rhythm seem to go hand in hand, whether in phrases of bare simplicity or more complex ideas and emotions.

The English language with its complex spelling system offers assonant effects by creating words that sound remarkably similar even though their spelling is radically different: e.g. wood/ would

Equally, offering no assonant effect, some words with similar spelling sound very different: ought/ though/ through/ cough.

The present document uses standard Phonetic symbols alongside assonant sounds; theses are tabled below.

Standard English sounds and their phonetic symbols


[ɪ] pit/ did

[e] press/ bed/ said

[æ] clap/ bad

[ɒ] tot /odd

[ʌ] cut/ love / must

[ʊ] foot /good/ pull

[i:] fleece/ please

[ei]  face/ cake/ break

[ai] price/ try/ trial

[ɔɪ] voice/ toy

[uː]  loose/ lose/ two

ʊ]  moat/ show

[au] south /now

[ɪə] hear/ here

[eə] square/ pair

[ɑː] start/ rather

[ɔː] bought/ law

[ʊə] poor /jury

[ɜː] curse / flirt

[ə] about common

[i] happy radiate

[u]  you situation

Using alliteration.

Consonants differ according to where in the mouth they are formed: between the lips [p] [b] ; behind the teeth [t] [d]; velar or alveolar [[dʒ] [k]. Some, identically produced, are voiced [b], some are voiceless [p]. Some ‘plode’ in a single sound, others can be continuous, floating on air being exhaled [s] [w], some are nasal [m], [n], [ŋ] (as in ‘ring’ some involve friction [f], others are frictionless [w].

The poem can benefit from all of these ‘musical’ alternatives and Heaney knows it. He sprinkles his composition with alliterated consonants judged best suited to mood or melody. No poem seems bereft of this possibility, some are loaded; they may feature an interweave of sounds made in the same area of the mouth e.g. [s] [sh] [k] [tʃ] [dʒ] such that the resonance echoes and re-echoes with the tiniest of variations.

Heaney’s alliterations arrive in pairs or larger groupings. Alliteration and assonance can be used in tandem to create a different effect: The permutations are endless and Heaney rings the changes as each individual poem reveals on close examination.

Standard English sounds and their phonetic symbols


[p] voiceless bi-labial plosive

[b] voiced bi-labial plosive

[t] voiceless alveolar plosive

[d] voiced alveolar plosive

[k] voiceless velar plosive

[g] voiced velar plosive

[tʃ] voiceless alveolar fricative as in church match

[dʒ] voiced alveolar fricative as in judge age

[f] voiceless labio-dental fricative

[v] voiced labio-dental fricative

[θ] voiceless dental fricative as in thin path

[ð] voiced dental fricative as in this other

[s] voiceless alveolar fricative

[z] voiced alveolar fricative

[ʃ] voiceless post-alveolar fricative as in ship sure

[ʒ] voiced post- alveolar fricative as in pleasure

[h] continuant

[m] bi-labial nasal

[n] alveolar nasal

[ŋ] palatal nasal as in ring/ anger

[l] alveolar approximant

[r] alveolar trill

[j] dental ‘y’ as in yet

Forms and Rhymes


  • 7 quatrains; variable line length: longest 8 syllables, the shortest 4; no rhyme scheme but rich use of assonant and alliterative sound effects;

  • Short initial sentence sets out what is in play; the long second sentence provide an exterior still-life scene; the third combines human activity posed; the fourth combines humans activity and rest; the final one stresses the strong emotional memories the scene evokes;

  • sentences 1, 2 and 3 combine the following assonant effects: [ai] Sunlight/ iron; [ʌ]sunlit/ pump/ honeyed/ slung bucket/ sun stood[ɪ] sunlit/ in/ griddle/ its; [uː] cooling/ afternoon and later scoop [ɔː] water/ wall;ʊ] So/ over/ stove[ei] bakeboard/ apron; consonant effects come in larger and smaller clusters: [s] [z] of (1) recurring in (3); alveolar nasal [n] and velar plosive [k] in (2)

  • sentence 2 and 3 are almost totally enjambed;

  • in (4) and (5) the [ɪ] of window is strongly echoed: wing/ sits/ shins/ tick/ tinsmith’s/ its/ in/ bin; [ʌ] recurs: dusts/ love/ sunk; [ɔː] board/ broad; [ɒ] scone/ clocks; [ei] nails/ space again; [i:] measling/ here/gleam/ meal; alliteration is not marked: some bi-labial [w]; more plentiful sibilants [s] [z]; tick of two offers an onomatopoeic pendulum effect;

  • continued rich use of enjambment;

  • slung: used particularly of items thrown around the neck here of the personified pump;

  • scuffled suggests both nervy movement and tiny scratching sounds;

  • measling: describing skin texture using a metallurgic concept itself echoing the children’s ailment measles with its red rash effect;

  • scoop: tin beaten into half cylinder shape; handle added to the stern end;

Seed Cutters

  • A sonnet; the volta after line 11 moves from pictorial detail to wider issues of solidarity in farming communities; 10 sentences (including the colon); repeated examples of enjambment

  • lines based on 10 syllables; rhyme scheme abab cdcd efe xgg;

  • The assonant chains are strong: [i:] Seed/ seem/ kneel/leaf/ seed/ later gleam/ frieze; [ei] away/ windbreak/ breaking/ lazily [e] them/ get them/ hedge/ buried later centre/ Yellowing[ɪ] if/ in/ windbreak/ wind/ frill/ with/ kill/ milky/ with/ anonymities; [ai] I/ behind// time/ knife/ [ɑː] half later sharp// halving/ falls apart/ palm/ dark watermarkʊknow later goes/ O/ yellowing over; [uː] true/ through later root/ broom; 

  • Alliterative effects are less marked: initial sibilants [s] nasal [n] and [m]; [w] in (4); alveolar plosive [t] in (5-8);


  • Five quatrains; line length and rhyme scheme combine: abba cddc/ first and last lines based on 6 syllables, the inner pair on 10 syllables;

  • 6 sentence structure offering variable rhythms via mid-line punctuation and enjambment;

  • the first 2 stanzas add to the assonances of the rhyme scheme via [ei] Antaeus/ arrange/ veins/ cave later cradled/ fame; [ai] I lie/ I rise/ fights [ʌ] flushed/ rub [ɒ]on/ operative/ cannot/ / Off/ long contour[ɪin/ ring/ operative/ elixir/ river; [i:] elixir/ weaned/ here; in (1) note the variant sounds of vowel (a) and alliterative effect of front-of-mouth [s/z] and [f]; in (2) velar plosive [k] elixir/ cannot/ contour/ cave;

  • stanza (3) introduces trill [r] 5 times alongside assonant [uːroot/ wombed; [ɜː] girded/ nurtured; in (4)the [i] 0f arterybecomes the [i:] of each/ hero/seeking; [æ] is injected: apples/ Atlas/ pass alongside [e] that carries through to the end: wrestle/ realm/ well/ let elevation; a beat ofnasal consonant [m] can be heard between wombed and the final line my; [θ] voiceless dental fricative is prominent in (5): throw/ birth/ earth alongside [ai] sky/ my/my;


  • 9 quintets; lines based on 6/7 syllables; enjambment is clustered so the rhythms within the 11 grammatical unit structure make for interestingly varied oral delivery;

  • varied pattern of rhymes: peat/ dreaming/ wheat in (2); tomb/ coomb in (3); fossilized/ eyes; Mayo/ go in (4); stones/ bronze in (5); moss/ Norse in (6); sound/ ground/ mound in (7); sanctuary/ tree; outworn/ quern in (8); stones/ grounds in (9);

  • mutable as sound: sound effects in (l.1-15) produce a variety of (initially paired) assonant flavours: [ʌ] just/ turning/ up; [e] Belderg/ benign; later centuries/ fell [ɜː] were/ Quernstones; later were/ first/ turfed/ turf [ai] eyed/ benign;[au] house/ about/ out [ɒ] one/ bog; after (l.5) injection of [ɪlift/ lid/ this/ Neolithic/ stripped/ glib [i:] peat/ dreaming/ Neolithic wheat; further change rung in (v.3) [uː] tomb/etc coomb;

  • in the first 15 lines look out for alveolar plosives [t][d] and dental fricative [θ] that provide an alliterative effect: just/ turned/ eyed/ thought;

  • stanzas (4/5) offer frequent assonant [əʊstone/ Mayo/ go/ stones/ home/ growth; consonant sounds made in the same area of the mouthbilabial plosives [p][b], fricative [f] and sibilants are evident in this section;

  • (7/8) hang on to [əʊSo/ old home’s/ older/ told alongside other vowel (o) variants [ɒ] Moss/ bogland/ crossed; [au] how/ foundation/ sound/ ground/ mound [ɔː] Norse/ bawn/ fort/ or; alliterative effects combine sibilant [s] with bilabial nasal [m] in (7) and with alveolar (n) in (8); [ɪ] think etc and [ai] Irish  recur with strong sibilant accompaniment;

  • the final stanza maintains assonant [ɪ] Grist/ mill; [ai] mind’s eye/ piled with consonant [m] [s] and [sh] support: 

  • congruence: mid-15c., from L. congruentia “agreement, harmony, congruity,” ‘coming-together’;

Funeral Rites


  • 8 quatrains; line length variable between 3 and 8 syllable; 6 sentence unit of free verse (1 repeated word);

  • multiple use of enjambment

  • rich recipe of assonant flavours of varying strengths: [ai] Rites/ I/ kind later admiring/ behind/ suffice; frequent [ɪ] in to lift the coffins; eyelids glistening; unwrinkled/ wrists; quilted satin cribs; coffin lid/ little/ kissing/ igloo [e]stepping/ dead relations later knelt/ melted; nail-heads dressed; [ei] laid/ tainted/ nails; veined/flames/ always/ nails; [i:] been/ beads later gleaming/ each;ʊ] dough/ rosary/ obediently/ sloped later soapstone;

  • After line 8 a dominant sonic chain [ʌ] puffed knuckles; unwrinkled/ dulse later suffice/ sunk/ pushed alongsidetwo pairs of [æ]:satin/ wax/ black glacier;

  • Alliterative effects: in (1) nasal [n] and sibilant [s]; in (2) sibilant [s]; in (3) velar plosive [k] and nasal [n]; in (4) sibilant [s] alveolar plosive [d]; in (5) [d] and repeated words [v]; in (6) [k] and alveolar plosives [t] [d]; in (7)sibilant [s]; in (8) bilabial plosive [b] and (s) variants;

  • The vocabulary betrays an antipathy to death and the feeling of impotence felt by the observer; the trappings and protocols of the organised Catholic church are portrayed;

  • dough: flour coloured preparation used to bake bread for example;

  • sloped: the hands were placed together as in prayer;

  • crib: one meaning “child’s bed with barred sides” related here, perhaps, to the structure of the coffin is probably a reference to the manger where infant Jesus was laid.

  • soapstone : a soft, metamorphic, talc-base stone; easily carved (used already in Viking times) chosen perhaps for its textural qualities and pale bluish-grey colouring;


  • 7 quatrains; lines between 4 -7 syllables; no rhyme scheme;

  • 5 sentence units; punctuation mainly end-of-line; almost half of the lines enjambed lending themselves to the adagio pace of processing

  • assonant effects, some recurrent others sectional: [ɪ] in/ rhythms later imagining/ in its/ megalithic; [ai] pine/ winding/ blinded/ I later side/ bye/ line/ behind/ triumph/ quiet; strong presence of [e] ceremony/ temperate footsteps later prepare/ sepulchre;/ten/ engines/ left behind/ emptied recurrent serpent/ procession/ head already enters/ megalithic [ɔː] cortège/ restore [ʌ] customary/ footsteps/ sepulchre/ cup/ country/ muffled-drumming [ei] great chambers [əʊ] home/ stones/ roads/ nose later slow; [au] Out/ thousand/ mounds [uːmove through/ towards/ boulevard;

  • alliterative effects: in (1) nasals, bilabial [m] and alveolar [n]; in (2) alveolar plosives [t] [d]; in (3) a cluster of bilabial plosive [p]; in (5) clusters of sibilant [s] and alveolar [t]; in (6) bilabial nasal [m] and sibilant [s];

  • vocabulary of quiet calm: purring/ cars; somnambulant; snakes make little sound if any;


  • 5 quatrains; variable line length, the shortest three syllable the longest eight; no rhyme scheme; impressive 2 sentence structure combining punctuation and enjambment that make for compelling oral delivery of a prophetic message;

  • assonant effects: [əʊstone later disposed/ opened [au] mouth later mound/ about [ɔː] north/ fjords later four/ corners [ei] allayed/ arbitration/ placated/ lay later chamber/ face; [uːfeud/ beautiful; [ʌ] put/ cud/ under/ Gunnar/ unavenged; [e] memory/ burial/ dead/ unavenged/ said/ then; [ɜː] verses/ burned/ turned;

  • consonant effects include a cluster of sibilants bilabial [b] and alveolar plosive [d] in (2/3);

  • voiced labio-dental fricative [v] picks outs the fundamental problem: violence/ unavenged;

  • the unusual and hitherto unused [ɔɪ] announces the most positive word in the sequence: joyful;


  • 10 quatrains; short lines of variable length (4 – 8 syllables: 6 sentence structure; no rhyme scheme;

  • assonant effects are plotted below with a key of phonetic symbols:

  • coloured-coded sound –a pattern of assonances is to be found in the individual commentary

Viking Dublin


  • 4 quatrains; variable line length from 3 to 8 syllables; no rhyme scheme;

  • 2 sentence structure with up to 8 enjambed lines that offer variable flow in delivery;

  • assonant effects: the piece is dominated by the 4 sounds of the sequence title [ai] Viking/ Trial [ʌ] [ɪ] Dublin[i:] Pieces

  • [ai] outline/ incised/ child’s/ line/ flight; [ʌ] could/ cut/conjure/ tongue; [ɪ] it/ rib/ something/ incised/ trellis/ in/ -ing/ his calligraphy/ itself/ bill/swimming/ nostril; [i:] eels/ eel/ eluding; further sonic echoes with [ɔː] jaw/ portion/ small;

  • consonant effects emanate from velar plosive [k] and sibilant [s] sounds in sentence (1);

  • in (2 )these are joined by alveolar plosives [d] and [t] plus alveolar fricative [dʒ] cage/ conjure;


  • 4 quatrains, lines between 4 and 7 syllables; no rhyme scheme;

  • 2 sentence structure with up to 8 enjambed lines

  • the frequent assonant echoes of I viz [ai] trial/ improvised/ magnified/ migrant; [ɪ] mystery/ bestiaries/ interlacings/ display/ nostril/ sniffing the Liffey/ dissembling itself/ pins are supplemented by new clusters: [əʊbone/ foliage/ combs/ bone;[ei] interlacings/ trade/ display/ weights, scale; [e] bestiaries/ elaborate/ netted/ ancestry/ dissembling itself;

  • the final 10 or so lines are strong in bilabial [m] and alveolar [n] nasals interlaced with sibilants;


  • 4 quatrains, lines between 3 and 7 syllables; no rhyme scheme;

  • 2 sentence structure with up to 8 enjambed lines;

  • the rarely used assonant [ɔɪ] of coins in II links with moisting and buoyant;

  • strong assonant echoes: [ai] Like/ spined later trial/ incised by a child/ migrant line; [i:] sheathed/ keel/ reach/ piece; [ʌ] stuck/ hull/ Dublin [ɪ] in its/ / in the slip of its clinker-built/ plosive/ ribs/ incised/ longship;

  • sentence (1) achieves alliterative effects with pulses of alveolar [l] sibilant [s] and velar plosive [k] ; stanza (3) combines alveolar fricative [tʃ] reach with velar fricative [ʃ] shards/ caches;


  • 4 quatrains, lines between 3 and 7 syllables; no rhyme scheme;

  • 2 sentence structure with up to 6 enjambed lines;

  • Sentence 1 contains variant vowel (o) sounds: longhand/ zoomorphic/ thought/ follow into; [ɜː] cursive/worm; alliterative combination velar plosive [k] and bilabial [w];

  • sentence (2) features [ei] Dane/ state/ graves [æ] am Hamlet/ handler, parablist/ affections [ɪ] infused with its/ pinioned/ coming/ jumping in/ dithering/ blathering; sibilant [s] offers an alliterative effect;


  • 4 quatrains, lines between 3 and 7 syllables; no rhyme scheme;

  • 4 sentence structure with up to 9 enjambed lines;

  • the principal assonant cluster is [ʌ] grudges/ butcher’s aplomb/ lungs/ us/ ambush; other sonic pulses include:[ai] fly/ Vikings; [i:] me/ expertise/ gombeen; [ɪ] sniff the wind/ killers; [æ] haggers/ hagglers; [ei] neighbourly/ gain; [ɔː] scoretaking/ hoarders; ʊ] shoulders/ old; 

  • alliterative clusters include: the labio-dental pairing [f] [v] in stanza (1); the aspirates [h] and velar plosive [g] of (st2); sibilant [s] volume in the rest


  • 4 quatrains, lines between 3 and 8 syllables; no formal rhyme scheme but some end-of-line pairings;

  • 3 sentence structure with as many as 9 enjambed lines;

  • sound effects: assonant[ɪ] Did [e] ever/said/ yellow/ [ʌ] skulls/ some repeated Dublin/ hunting [i:] teeth/ maybe [au] compounded/ drowned/ around/ ground [ei] Dane maybe; the final stanza contains a selection of vowel (o) sounds [au] around/ ground [ɒ] cobbled[ɜː] wordsʊgo/ over [uːpampooties;

  • alliterative effects of velar plosive [k] via skulls; alveolar plosive [d] in stanza (3); return of [k] in (4): lick/ cobbled quays/ skull capped;

Digging Skeleton

1 and 2

  • Both pieces are written in quatrains based around lines of 8 syllables; the rhyme scheme abba cddc carries through;

  • I sees frequent use of enjambment within its single sentence structure;

  • II has 7 sentences including questions; those seeking to undermine belief are succinct;

  • further sound effects in I: assonant [ɒ] –tomical/ along/ forgotten/ odd/ responded/ anatomy; [ʌ] dusty/ Among/ mummies Slumbering/ touched/ studies; [æ] anatomical/ among/ as/ had/ sad/ anatomy/ candid/ around/ navvies; [ei] plates/ crates/ illustrator/ gravely/ flayed; alliterative frequency of velar plosive [k] anatomical/ quays/ books/ crates and bilabial nasal [m] anatomical/ Among/ mummies Slumbering later Mementoes/ anatomy/ Mysterious;

  • II rings certain sound changes: [æ] Sad gang of apparitions/ plaited/ dragged [e] sedge/ edge/ tell/ unrelenting/ there/ emblems/ Death’s/ cell/ tell/ rest eternal/ breath/ sends/ sweat/ deaths/ instep [ei] spade/ patient/ labour/ break/ faith/ traitor/ clay/ spade [ɑː] hard/ barns/ farmer/ -yard/ are; [i:] even/ deceives/ leaves/ sleep in peace/ bleeding;

  • II(i) combines alliterative sibilants and voiceless bilabial plosive [p]; ii introduces voiced bilabial [b];

  • iii offers the oxymoron Death’s lifers (lifer refers colloquially to a person sentenced to life imprisonment); also alliterative sibilants and plosive [t] both produced in the same area of the mouth, carried through with slight variations into iv and the sibilants into v and beats of alveolar plosive [d] in the final lines;

  • synonyms: flayed/ skinned/ stripped; dragged/ hauled;

  • allusions to death, itself repeated: rest eternal/ void/ sleep in peace/ repose;

Bone Dreams


  • 4 quatrains; variable line length between 3 and 7 syllables; 8 enjambed lines; no rhyme scheme; 2 sentence structure;

  • assonant effects centre round: [əʊ] bone/ yellowing/ stone; [ʌ] rough/ porous/ touch/ nugget [ai] white/ find/ wind [ɪ] its/ ribbed impression in/ ship/ flint/ it in the sling/ England/ pitch it; [e]yellowing/ impression/ burial/ dead; [ɒ] follow its drop; distant echo[ei]grazing strange;

  • vowel (i) sounds in melodic assonant combination: I wind it in/ the sling of mind/ to pitch it;  


  • sonic chains: [ʌ] tongue’s/ dungeons/ push; [ai] I/ devices/ ivied/ iron/ line; [ɪ] dictions/ Elizabethan canopies/ erotic/ ivied Latins; [ɒ] erotic/ Provence/ scop’s/ consonants;


  • 4 quatrains; variable line length between 3 and 5 syllables; 8 enjambed lines; no rhyme scheme; 2 sentence structure;

  • fricative consonant sounds [ʃ] declensions/ generation [tʃ] riches/ benches alongside numerous sibilant [s] from riches to centre and pulses of plosive [k] from coffered to cauldron and fricative [f] from found to roofspace;

  • sound chains and echoes include[ai] I/ fire/ while [ei] space/ brain/ generationʊ] soul/ holt [ʌ] fluttered/ swung/ love;[ɒ] coffered/ wattle/ was/ crock; [ɔː] small/ cauldron;


  • 4 quatrains; variable line length between 3 and 7 syllables; 10 enjambed lines; no rhyme scheme; 3 sentence structure;

  • Sound effects: assonant [ʌ] come/ love/ / upon/ sunken; [ɪ] philology/ kennings/ is/ in/ gazing [ɒ] philology/ ossify/ on/ fosse of; [e] kennings/ enter/ memory/ lair/ nest/ head/ escarpments [ei] lady’s/ gazing;ʊbone’s/ hold [uːsoon/ move; alliterative: velar plosive [k] around stanza (3); recurring sibilant [s] groups;


  • 4 quatrains; variable line length between 3 and 6 syllables; 10 enjambed lines; no rhyme scheme; 2 sentence structure;

  • principal assonant chains: [i:] we/ each/ between later dreaming; [ɜː] earthwork; [e] estimate/ pleasure/ elbows/; [ei] cradling/ estimate/ paving/ pace/ Hadrian’s/ Maiden;ʊelbows/ bone/ shoulder;

  • pulses of bilabial [m] and alveolar [n] nasals; paired bilabial plosive [p];


  • 4 quatrains; variable line length between 3 and 7 syllables; 7 enjambed lines; no rhyme scheme; multiple sentence structure;

  • Sentence (1) assembles slightly variant vowel (o) sounds with [e] Devon/ dead and beats of alveolar plosive [d] Devon/ found/ dead/ dew/ beading;

  • (2) rings a change to assonant ʊ]mole/ boned coulter/ cold and paired [ɔː] thought/ small combined with velar plosive [k] coulter/ cold/ thick;

  • (3) (4) and (5) re-echo ʊ] blow/ blow/ Those/ shoulders; labio-dental fricatives fur/ feel;

  • (6) combines flavours of [ɪ] distant/ running and sibilant [s], the bilabial plosive of Pennines/ pelt and alliterative trilled velar plosive grass/ grain;

Come to the Bower

  • 5 quatrains; 5 sentence structure with lines of variable length from 3 to 8 syllables; no rhyme scheme; frequent use of enjambment;

  • first person speaker;

  • Sonic echoes: [ʌ] come/ touch/ unpin/ unwrap/ skull/ tuck/ brush/ bullion/ Venus; [i:] sweet/ queen/ peat/ see/ each/ reach/ Dream/ Venus; [ɑː] past/ dark/ sharpened/ mark/ Starts/ past [ɪ] gizzards/ unpin/ is/ willow Withdraws/ skins/ Reddish/ spring/ riverbed; ʊthroat/ gold/bone;

  • Stanza (1) is strong in variant gentle sibilant sounds: [s] [z] and fricative [tʃ] touched/ vetch[dʒ] foraging;

  • (2) mixes an alliterative blend of bilabial sounds: plosive [p] and [b] and continuant [w];

  • (3) retains [p] and [w] adding velar plosive [k];

  • (4) returns to variant sibilant sounds: [s] [z] adding [ʃ]reddish/ brush/ flesh and fricative [dʒ] gorget; there is an initial trill of [r] sounds in (5);

Bog Queen

  • 14 quatrains; lines vary in length between 2 and 8 syllables; no rhyme scheme;

  • 10 sentence structure with variations on punctuation and enjambment;

  • The verb-tense is not past, but a continuous present;

  • main weaves or clusters of assonant effect in verses 1-4: [ei] Lay waiting later repeated/ face/ Braille; [ei] between/ demesne/ between/ creeping/ feet/ seeps/ me; [e] heathery levels/ head/ digested; ʊstone/ groped over; [uː] toothed/ cooled/ through/ roots; [ɪfabrics/ skins/ winter/ illiterate/ in;

  • alveolar [l], alveolar plosive [t] frequent initially; paired bilabial [b] body/ Braille and velar [k] fabrics/ skins; cavings/ stomach/ socket;

  • personification: stone has teeth; water digests solids; roots can think but have no formal education;

  • (5) and (6) pick up the[ei] of cavings in brain/ nails;paired [ɑː] of darkening/ jar [ɔː] spawn/ hoard and [u] bruised/ reducing; interwoven alliterative effect of bilabial [b] bottom/ brain/ Baltic/ Bruised berries and, unusually, labio-dental fricative [v] echoing cavings: gravel/ vital/ pelvis;

  • Stanzas (7) to (11) ring some changes: assonant [ai] my diadem/ like/ dyed/ thighs/ hides/ hibernated; [eə] carious/ bearings; [e] gemstones/ retted/ fledge breasts/ heavy/ wet nest; [i:] peat/ weaves/ Phoenician; alliterative effects include velar [k] variant (s) sounds in (8) plus [tʃ] stitch- and [ʃ] phoenician ; alveolar nasal [n] from phoenician in (8) meets bilabial [m] in (9); (10) heralds the return of sibilants;

  • In stanzas (11) to (14) the closeness of nuzzle and swaddle is replaced by a vocabulary of violation: robbed/ barbered/ stripped/ bribed/ hacked/ frayed strong in plosive/ explosive sounds; sound effects also include [ei] spade/ veiled/ again/ frayed; [ai] bribed/ slimy/ I;

  • 5 consecutive enjambed lines in (11) contribute to a slow dolente music suddenly replaced in the final lines by a staccato litany of abuses with contingent clashes of vowel sound;

Grauballe Man

  • 12 quatrains in a 10-sentence structure; variable line length between 3 and 7 syllables;

  • no rhyme scheme; final words in each line might repeat a consonant: foot/ root; visor/ vent etc. or offset a vowel sound: photograph/ shoulder; note 1 rhyme: nails/ scales;

  • sentences are largely short in length except for the final 21 line structure; enjambment plays a role in the flow and rhythm of the piece: some middle sentences are totally enjambed;

  • sound effects: (sentence 1) runs with [æ] of the title: Grauballe Man/ As/ black adding[ɪif/ in/ pillow/ river/ himself and [i:] seems/ weep; alliterative flavours of bilabial plosive [p] and labio-dental [f];

  • (s.2) offers assonant [ei] grain/ basalt; consonant bilabial plosive [b] carries through from black to basalt;

  • (s.3) plays with variant vowel (o) sounds: compare cold/ foot/ or/ root; the sibilant in basalt provides a reopeated alliterative effect;

  • (s.4) adds aspirate [h] examples, picking up the earlier [ʌ] sound in shrunk via mussel/ under/ mud; [ɪ] earlier instep is reinforced: hips/ ridge/ glisten;

  • (s.5)maintains the assonant[ɪlifts/ chin/ is/ his alongside labio-dental [v] and alveolar [t] from lifts to toughened; also [æ] echo of slashed/ tanned;

  • Sentences (6)(7) and (8) interweave alliterative velar [k] of cured/ dark/corpse/ cast/ opaque ʊ] opens/ repose[ɪinward/ will/ his vivid/ will/ his [uː] Who/ to/ Who; (s.9) [ʌ] rusted/ unlikely/ foetus;

  • The final sentence includes pairs chains or clusters of assonance: [ɪ] twisted/ in/ with/ strictly/ his victim [ei] face/ baby/ nails/ scales/ weightʊphotograph/ shoulder [i:] peat/ shield [au] out/ now/ down [ʊə] forceps/ horn [ʌ] hung/ hooded/ dumped; alliterative effects combine labio-dental [f] Face/ photograph/ forceps/ perfected with sibilant [s], bilabial [p]peat, forceps/ perfected, later [k] strictly compassed/ actual/ victim


  • 11 quatrains; lines vary in length between 2 and 8 syllables;

  • 7 sentence structure with plentiful use of enjambed lines. No rhyme scheme;

  • the 1st person narrator turns out to be Heaney himself;

  • assonant effects in stanzas (1) and (2): Heaney retains the [ʌ] of the title in tug/ front; a pair of [i:] feels/ Beads/ later see; [ei] nape/ naked/ shakes; [ɪwind/ nipples/ rigging/ ribs; nasal consonant [n] is repeated alongside bilabial plosives [b] and [p];

  • stanza (3) offers a weave of variant vowel (o) sounds [au] drowned/ boughs; [ɒ] body/ bog/ rods:ʊ] stone/ floating; bilabial [b] is heard;

  • stanza (4) reverts to [ʌ] Under/ dug up; ʊ] is retained: oak-bone; [ɜː] first/ firkin;

  • [æ] emerges and carries into (5) :at/ sapling/ that/ black bandage; alliterative effects are achieved using labio-denatl fricative [f] bilabial plosive [b] the latter joining sibilant [s] in (5) and (6); (6) interweaves [ɔː] Store/ before and [ʌ] love/ adulteress/ punished;

  • (7) (8) and (9) retain assonant [ʌ] undernourished/ love/ muscles’/ numbered/ dumb also exploring the variant sounds of vowel (a): [ei] brain/ shaved/ face/ scape [ɑː] tar/ cast/ artful/ darkened; [æ] flaxen/ black and so on; ʊ] goat/ know/ stones/ exposed/ combs/ bones;

  • the final 8 lines mix a sound cocktail around [ʌ] (stood)/ dumb/ understand [ei] betraying/ railings/ outrage [ai] connive/ civilized/ tribal [ɪ] civilized/ intimate [e] when/ betraying; alliterative effects are achieved using voiced and voiceless alveolar plosives [d] and [t];

  • the use of powerful language accompanies the graphic images of humiliation published in the British media: betraying/ cauled in tar/ connive/ outrage/ tribal/ revenge;:

Strange Fruit

  • a sonnet; volta after line 10; lines based on 10 syllables; no rhyme scheme;

  • 5 sentence structure, the earliest move in quick succession from feature to feature; then increasing in length; the colon allows the pause that unleashes the initial roar of anger then the deeper grasp of the feelings expressed by the disembodied head;

  • lines 1-5: pick up the assonant sounds in the title [ei] strange/ faced/ They/ made; [uː] Fruit/ exhumed gourd/ prune/ prune/ beauty with added flavours of [əʊ] oval/ stones and [e] wet/ hair/ exhibition/ let/ air/ leathery; alliterative effects: initial aspirate [h]; alveolar [l] of unswaddled/ coil/ let/ leathery; one enjambed line ends the staccato effect of the first lines;

  • lines 5-8 ring a change [æ] pash/ tallow/ blank as combines with [əʊ]tallow/ broken nose/ eyeholes/ old and [ɜː] her/ her/ workings; alliterative notes can be heard:voiced [b] and voiceless [p] bilabial plosives; fricatives work in tandem:[ʃ] (exhibition) Pash/ perishable, [ʒ] treasure and[z] nose/ holes/ pools/ workings; these latter carry into the next couplet from Diadorus to this;

  • lines 9-10: Heaney navigates the vowel sounds of then Latin name to some assonant effect [ai] Diodorus/ likes; [ɪSiculus/ His/ this [ʌ] Diadorus Siculus [u] Siculus/ gradual interwoven with strong sibilant[s] presence;

  • lines 11-14: the narrative is carried forward by the grim power of the adjectives (alternating syllable rhythm). Alveolar plosive [t]and bilabial [b]provide alliterative touches; assonant effect is provided by [ɜː] and Murdered/ girl and [e] terrible Beheaded/ reverence;



  • 6 quatrains; a 2 sentence structure each broken by semi or full colon;

  • line length varies between 3 and 8 syllable; 10 lines enjambed; no rhyme scheme;

  • In stanzas (1) and (2) Heaney picks up and runs with the assonant [ɪ] of the title:

  • First person narrator; autobiographical;

  • Kinship/ kinned/ hieroglyphic/ victim/ origins/ memories/ wilderness; this is flavoured with [i:] peat/ -field; [e] spread/ nest/ step/ memories/ wilderness; alliterative use is made of voiced [g] (from –glyphic to turning) and voiceless [k] velar plosives (from Kinship to kitchen);

  • (3) offers the onomatopoeia of cheeps and lisps with other sibilant [s] sounds; [ɔː] pairs water and walk; the [ɪ] of lisps carries into (4) this/ its/ incisions/ ritual with emergent [k] sounds: shakes/ walk/ black/ cooped;

  • in (4) and (5) Heaney plays with 5 variant vowel (o) sounds: love; cooped/ pool; process; off/ dropped; ground; pool; gallow’s drop; alliterative ‘pop’ of bilabial plosive [p] from cooped to open pool; assonant [æ] bank a gallow’s

  • the [au] of ground re-echoes in (6): mouth/ sounded and the [uː] of pool in moon;presence of nasal consonants [n] [m];


  • 6 quatrains in a 7 sentence construction; lines between 2 and 7 syllables; fewer enjambed lines reflects the enumeration of bog characteristics;

  • no rhyme scheme but sound sonic structure based on assonant and alliterative effects;

  • in stanzas (1) and (2) [ɒ] is the dominant assonance: Quagmire, swampland, morass:/ domains/ bog/ soft alongside [ʌ] blood-/ mud and [ei] domain/ rain; strong presence of bilabial nasal [m] (8 examples) plus combinations of voiced [b] and voiceless [p] bilabial plosives; gentle sibilant [s] of soft/ windless;

  • Stanzas (3) (4) and (5) ruminant/ fugitives pick up the [u:] of pupil; [i:] seed/ deep; {p/ɒ] combination in pod/ pollen; ʊbone/ votive/ swallower/ floe; alliterative effect of voiceless bilabial plosive [p] pod, deep pollen/ pantry turns voiced [b] bone/ bank/ embalmer/ sabred/ bride later side; paired [ei] sabred/insatiable; increasingly frequent [ɪvotive/ insatiable/ midden/ history carried into (6) strip/ its; sibilant [s]effect in (5): Ground/ dark / nesting ground/ outback

  • (6) echoes the [ai] of bride in side/ mind accompanied by alliterative effect of velar plosives [g] [k]:


  • 6 quatrains; 3 sentence construction, the third sentence split by 2 colons; no rhyme scheme;

  • variable line length between 3 and 7 syllables; 13 enjambed lines;

  • lines 1-14 the principal assonant/sonic chains are: [ei] spade/ laid/ raisedʊovergrown/ growth/ opened; [i:] green/ feet/ steam/ [ɪ] hidden/ with/ lips/ splitskin/ it/ beginning; [ʌ] under/ muttered/ rut/ upright/ sun; alliterative clusters: labio-dental fricative [f] in found/ turf/ flat/ fog and [gr] of grown/ green; alveolar [t] and sibilants [s] [z] combine in stanza (2) and re-echo in (3) adding [sh] shed/ shaft/ wettish;

  • lines 15-22 the new vowel sound is [ɒ]: obelisk/ bog/ cotton/ goddess accompanying reprises of [ɪtwinned/ obelisk/is disturbed/ catkin [ʌ] among/ under/ love/ up ʊstones/ cloven oak and [ei] raise/ facing; alveolar plosive [t] provides the main alliterative note from trimmed to stand with a cluster of velar plosives [k] and [g] between obelisk and cloven oak;

  • the final couplet mixes consonant sibilant [s] stand/ centuries/ facing a goddess and vowel [e] edge/ centuries/ goddess;


  • 6 quatrains; 5 sentence construction; no rhyme scheme;

  • variable line length between 3 and 7 syllables; 10 enjambed lines;

  • lines 1-5: assonant chain of [e] centre/ spreads/ seedbed/ melting sits alongside alliterative sibilant [s] effect;

  • lines 6-13 add [i:] leaf/ deepen/ unseeds later dreaming/ seasons; the early use ofʊ] in holds is echoed in ochre; sibilants will maintain their alliterative hold, especially sour and sink; earlier [e] reappears: head/ heather; cluster of voiced [b] and voiceless [p] bilabial plosives;

  • lines 14-20 seek assonant effects from [au] vowel/ flowersʊsnow/ composing and other vowel (o) variants root/ floor it rots into interlaced with the bilabial consonants [w] and [m];

  • final quatrain interweaves[ai] I/ like/ appetites with velar [gr] and [w];


  • 6 quatrains in a 4 sentence structure; no rhyme scheme but an interesting use of sonic echoes at specific ends of line: [əʊ felloes/ mould/ bow; [ɪlitter/ lips cribs/ drink/ circuits; [æ] man/ waggon; feeder/ bearer; [ai] died/ pride;

  • vowel sound effects include the above with other assonant reinforcement: [ɑː] carved/ cart/ hearth; [ɜː] turf/ turf; [e] felloes/ buried/ attendant/ bread; [ai] I deified/ squire/ wives/ right; [ɪburied in/ cupid’s/ given/ haw-lit;

  • alliterative effects (1-8) using groupings of labio-dental [f], voiceless velar [k], voiceless alveolar [t] and sibilant [s];

  • (9-24): bilabial plosives [p] [b]; voiced alveolar [d]; voiced alveolar [g] god of the waggon; a swell of sibilants after l.15; aspirate pairing: haw-lit hedges;


  • 6 quatrains; line length between 4 and 7 syllables; no rhyme scheme;

  • Constructed in 4 sentences; 13 enjambed lines;

  • addressed to Tacitus as if in person with the vigour of polemic but without the personal attack;

  • lines 1-7 exploit 5 variant sounds of vowel (o): observe/ on/ crannog – how/ our/ ground/ sour – grove/ old – desolate – mother/ blood; initial alliterative effects are engineered using velar plosives [k] and [g] also paired [i:] fearful/ peace later legions/ Read;

  • after line 7 assonant [a:] gargling/ heart/ ramparts interweaves with sibilants [s];

  • assonant echoes in lines 13-24 come from combinations of [ai] island/ suffice alongside[ɪ] this/ nothing will/ inhumed/ victim; [ʌ] Come/ nothing/ suffice/ us/ good/ goddess/ love; [u] inhumed/ casualty; [ei] faces/ shave; [ɔː] slaughter/ notorious; frequent andvariant sibilant sounds of [s] [z][sh][ʒ] casualty;

Ocean’s Love to Ireland


  • 3 triplets without rhyme scheme; variable line length; 2 sentence structure; 4 lines enjambed;

  • recurring assonant sounds:[ai] Ireland/ -shire; [i:] speaking/ tree later weed; [æ] Ralegh/ backed/ As/ backed/ strands;[e] Devon-/ breathless;[ɑː] farthingale/ scarf [ɪ] is/ inland/ lifting/ lifting/ in; initial string of sibilants after Ocean’s alongside alveolar plosive [d]; major cluster of onomatopoeic sibilants and bilabial [w]; final group of labio-dental fricatives [f];

  • Vocabulary of the sea: strands/ water/ ocean/ weed/ wave;

  • Vocabulary of sexual innuendo;


  • 3 triplets; no rhyme scheme; lines generally of 9/10 syllables;

  • 3 sentence structure; 6 lines of the 9 are enjambed;

  • Assonant effects achieved via [e] Yet/ crest/ bent later ever/ beheld; [ɪ] inclines/ it/ Cynthia/ in rivers later six/ papists; [ei] while/ rise [i:] Even/ Lee/ these/ seepings; [ei] lay/ cape/ name/papists: the final stanza employs 5 variants of vowel (o) sounds: sowed/ mouthing corpses/ of/ good;

  • consonant sounds are added: clusters of sibilant [s] prevail; alveolar [r] trill in (1); velar [k] in (2); (3) interlaces [s] with bilabial [p] and alveolar plosive [g];


  • 3 quatrains in 2 sentences; lines based on 9 syllables; no rhyme scheme;

  • assonant sound effects [ei] maid complains/ failed/ fades;ʊOcean/ gold/ poets/ Onan [i:] dream of fleets/ beat [ɪ] ruined/ spilled his/ Iambic/ sink/ ringlet; [ai] Irish/Iambic [ɒ] from/ somnolent/ possessed/ repossessed; distant echo ruined/ dew;

  • alliterative ingredients: sibilant variants [z] complains/his; [s] scattered/ fleets/ prince/ Spanish/ spilled through to repossessed; [ʃ] Irish/ Ocean/ Spanish / English/ mushroom; pulses of bilabial plosives [p] [b] and alveolar [t] [d];


  • 2 quatrains: a stage-set followed by 2 questions;

  • first verse enjambed; no rhyme scheme;

  • sound effects: a string of [ei] Aisling / hazels; [ai] high/ Diana/ Actaeon/ high; the alveolar plosives [t] [d] of the first couplet contrast with the vowel sounds [ɑː] [au:] [uː] [ei] of the second lengthened to reflect the suspenseful excitement of the observer and mimic the sound of the wind’s vowel; assonant [e] of the final couplet: lament/ exhausting/ belling;

Act of Union


  • sonnet; volta after line 10; rhyme scheme abab/ xcyd/ efef/ gg; line length variable;

  • constructed in 6 sentences; the distribution of punctuation and enjambment makes for a variety of rhythm in oral delivery;

  • the ‘coloured sound’ of both sonnets (below) demonstrates the tightness of the composition and illustrates how talent and hard work strive to leave key words with sonic support:

  • coloured-coded sound –a pattern of assonances is to be found in the individual commentary;

  • Alliterative effects: initial alveolar [t] gives way to velar[g] and bilabial plosive [b]; cluster of sibilant [s] variations up to line 8; nasal [m] and [n] mix with velar [k] and beats of alveolar [d] and final [g] of legacy/ inexorably;


  • sonnet; volta in line 11 moves from allegory to pessimism, from past to future; lines of variable length; no rhyme scheme bar the final couplet; assonant effect traced below:

  • coloured-coded sound –a pattern of assonances is to be found in the individual commentary;

  • Alliterative effects in verse (1): initial nasal [m] bilabial [p] and alveolar [l], bilabial boom burst in combination; in (2) and (3) strong alveolar plosive [t] and later nasal [m] of wardrum/ Mustering; (4) and (5) (beyond sibilant foresee will salve) pair beats of alveolar [t] and velar [k].

Betrothal of Cavehill

  • 2 quatrains; loose rhyme scheme abab cdcd; line length based on 10 syllables;

  • 4 sentence construction with 3 enjambed lines;

  • Sound effects of stanza (1): [ei] Cavehill/ basalt maintains/male; [au] South: proud;[ʌ] off/ protestant/ shock; alliterative effects: profiled/ proud, protestant; prominent alveolar nasal [n]and sibilant [s];

  • In (2) interplay of 6 variant vowel (o) sounds: shoot/ to/ broom; over/ drove; morning; out/ down; pods; above; the plethora of voiced and voiceless plosives [d] [t] and [b] [p] made at the front of the mouth contrast sharply with the velar [g] of the final gun echoing the first word of the piece: Gunfire.

Hercules and Antaeus

  • 8 quatrains; line length between 4 and 7 syllables;

  • constructed in 4 sentences; 14 enjambed lines; no rhyme scheme but more than a dozen internal sonic chains and alliterative beat of consonants;

  • coloured-coded sound –a pattern of assonances is to be found in the individual commentary

  • Alliterative ingredients: title and stanza (1) offer alveolar [n] aspirate [h] and velar [k] carried into (2); (3) is strong in [n] and (4) in bi-labial plosive [p];

  • (5) and into (6) voiceless velar [k] cradling dark with its voiced counterpart [g] gullies/ strengths/ hatching grounds; cave/ bequeathed alongside bilabial [b] of the 3 historical icons;

  • (7) and (8) are constructed around a strong sibilant [s] presence and the increasing ‘pop’ of bilabial [p] in the final line;

Legislator’s Dream: prose poem

Whatever you Say


  • 6 quatrains with rhyme scheme abab cdcd etc.

  • 7 sentence structure including short reported comments and questions; line length based on 10 syllables; enjambment used readily in the first 5 stanzas;

  • Assonant effects are signalled by different shadings:

  • coloured-coded sound –a pattern of assonances is to be found in the individual commentary

  • alliterative effects in sentence (1) are achieved using alveolar plosive [t] and nasals [n] and [m]; there are also beats of velar [k] and variant sibilant sounds [s] [z] [sh];

  • Added to these in (2) are voiceless bilabial plosive [p] from politicians to polarization and its voiced [b];

  • (3) runs with the velar [l] of ‘polarization’ then bilabial whispered [w] and alveolar [t]; after the colon the narrative is peppered with sibilants;


  • 7 quatrains; lines based on 10 syllables; rhyme scheme abab cdcd etc.;

  • Constructed in 10 sentences, many short and sharp with polemic tone; notable also for the frequent use of enjambed lines, the whole creating varied rhythm and flow in oral delivery;

  • The choice of vocabulary unites the sounds of conflict, the historical language of religious courts and punishments with modern recreation, characters from history;

  • Heaney is critical of both sides in the conflict; the one for being ‘wet’; the other for its loud brashness;

  • parallels: tribalism and group behaviour of fish; oratory and fisherman’ equipment;

  • coloured-coded sound –a pattern of assonances is to be found in the individual commentary

  • alliterative effects in stanza (1) are achieved by alveolar plosives: voiceless [t] and voiced [d];

  • (2) supplements the continued use of [t] with aspirate [h] and velar plosive [k];

  • (3) is strong in [d]; (4) picks up the bilabial [p] of papist and (5) runs with the sibilants of the previous stanza; final bilabial ‘pop’of Pearse and Pope;

  • in (6) sibilant frequency is sustained alongside percussive [k]: (Cruise) Backlash, Burke;

  • final stanza combines alveolar [l] with emphatic bilabial [b] in key words;


  • 6 quatrains; lines based on 10 syllables; rhyme scheme abab cdcd etc.;

  • Constructed in 9 sentences, the first 3 short, quoted comments; 10 enjambed lines;

  • The choice of vocabulary confirms the inability or unwillingness or fear of one section to criticise the other, language of secretiveness two-facedness;

  • Sound effects: similar assonant sounds in chains or clusters carry the same shade:

  • coloured-coded sound –a pattern of assonances is to be found in the individual commentary

  • consonant effects: (ll.1-6): principally bilabial nasal [m] and velar nasal [n] rhythms within sibilant [s] [z] frame; percussive velar [k] in leak/ dyke alongside cluster of alveolar [d];

  • (ll. 7-13): frequent plosive [t] and sibilant [s]; late alveolar [d] and bilabial [m] cluster that will run into the next section with Manoeuvrings; alliterative [d] loud-mouthed compared

  • (ll. 14-24): sibilant [s] joined by voiceless post-alveolar fricative [ʃ] discrimination/ exception/ Seamus/ Sean will resonate to the end: morse; beats of bilabial nasal [m] will recur; later inclusion of bilabial [w] and velar [k] in the final quatrain;


  • 12 lines of 10 syllables in 3 quatrains; 3 sentence structure with frequent use of enjambment; rhyme scheme abab/cdcd

  • ‘coloured’ sound suggests up to 9 main assonant groups sprinkled into the narrative;

  • coloured-coded sound –a pattern of assonances is to be found in the individual commentary

  • alliterative effects are achieved in the first sentence via the use of bilabial [w] and voiced and unvoiced alveolar fricative/ sibilant variation [s] [z] [ʃsh]; the second sentence introduces alveolar plosives [d] and [t] in combination while the final 4 lines use bilabial plosives [b] and [p];


  • 16 ten-syllable lines in 4 quatrains, 6 sentences;

  • there is a rhyme scheme aabb/ ccdd initially loose then tightened;

  • the ;’colour’ of sound suggests at least 8 assonant clusters or chains:

  • coloured-coded sound –a pattern of assonances is to be found in the individual commentary

  • alliteration provides a series of alveolar sibilant [s] in stanza 1alongside bilabial [p] [b ], alveolar [l] and plosives [d] [t] and fricatives [f]; the second stanza uses more bilabial [m] and alveolar [n] nasal consonants and the third reverts to alveolar plosives [t] [d]; the final stanza combines bilabial [p] and sibilant [s];

  • the vocabulary selected borrows directly from Latin terms used in religious services or requiems or employs rarely used, archaic terms with a Latin derivation (manumitted/ optimi); both approaches echo the heavy almost pompous language used in church contexts, indeed the routine use of a classical language might be said to bamboozle ordinary folk;

  • oxymoron: earth-starred;

Singing School

1. Ministry of Fear

  • a lengthy piece comprising sections of approximate sonnet length connected by a broken line or including a short dialogue; two final triplets;

  • no formal rhyme scheme; few rhymed endings (me/ free), examples of assonant correspondences at ends of line (weak/ eat; spine/ rhyme/ fine);

  • large variations of sentence length, enjambed lines (the first 14 lines for example have no fewer than 10 enjambed lines in the 6-sentence structure); line length based around 9/10 syllables but numerous shorter/ half lines;

  • use of both direct and indirect speech;

  • relaxed vernacular: here’s two on’s are; pre-war usage: throttle of the hare; contrast of country and city manners: hobnailed boots … fine lawns of elocution; yokel country, the back of beyond: over the mountain (the weekly journeys to school did include the Glenshane Pass); schoolboy usage that intended no insult: the leather strap/ Went epileptic; local usage: plashed for ‘splashed’; the oral value of chimes for as opposed to ‘rhymes with’; innovative identification: kissing seat;

  • adjective/ noun similes: free/ As the seed-pods; tight as ivy;

  • the long vacation section is especially rich in sense data, appropriate to the circumstances;

  • an assessment of assonant effects using colour code indicates9 principal phonetic sounds in chains or clusters:

  • coloured-coded sound –a pattern of assonances is to be found in the individual commentary

  • ringing changes: skimming the piece as a whole for alliterative effects suggests, in rough order, clusters of the following consonant sounds: [k] [s] [b] [k] [s] [b] [s/z] [p] [w] [n] [s] [f] [p/b] [k] [r] [t] and finally nasals [n] [m];

2. Constable Calls

  • 9 quatrains; no rhyme scheme; lines of widely differing length from 4 to 9 syllables

  • the piece’s sentence structure, use of punctuation and enjambed lines complement the drama: early observation uses 2 quatrains; reaction to the constable’s movements increases sentence turn-over; the interrogation sequence is short and snappy; the child’s discomfort changes the dynamic of the narrative; preparation for departure and moving away revert to the pace of poem’s outset;

  • coloured-coded sound –a pattern of assonances is to be found in the individual commentary

  • overall the Authority and plosive [b] become associated, the child and sibilant [s]; sentence 1 is rich in plosives, bilabial [b] [p] then velar [k] [g]; stanza 3 introduces sibilant variant [s] [sh] [z]; its alveolar [l] recurs in stanza 4; stanza 5 has sat staring then reverts to percussive bilabial plosives [b] [p]; nasals [n] [m] echo through stanza 6; in 7: [s] assumed/ Small guilts and sat; imagined punishment reverts to hard [b] sounds, softening in 8 to alveolar [d]; the final stanza zooms into alveolar [t];

3. Orange Drums

  • 3 quatrains with an abab/ cdcd rhyme scheme; lines based on 10 syllables;

  • 6 sentence structure; limited use of enjambed lines;

  • the vocabulary is deliberately chosen to convey the caricature, swank and hyperbole of the moment;

  • coloured-coded sound –a pattern of assonances is to be found in the individual commentary

  • bilabial plosive [b] is ideal for describing the bullying dominance of drumbeat, accompanied in 1 by nasal [n]; (2 uses alveolar plosive [d] more xtensively); (3) weaves the [p] of Pope into the narrative;

  • the poster representation of a bent-backed men coping with the size of their drum is deftly managed: weighs/ Him back on his haunches … like giant tumours

4. Summer 69

  • 34 lines in four sections (split 14/ 5/13/ 2); line length based on 10 syllables; no rhyme scheme;

  • 11 sentence structure; the distribution of punctuation and enjambed lines provides break,s ebbs and flows in the rhythm, even occasionally a knid of musical syncopation;

  • evocation of heat: bullying sun; casserole heat/ sweated (physical and figurative); vocabulary of unhealthy smells; stinks; reek/ flax-poisoned; vocabulary of execution, surrender, nightmare, power and violence;

  • shocking juxtaposition: Jewelled in the blood of his own children;

  • coloured-coded sound –a pattern of assonances is to be found in the individual commentary

  • clusters of consonant sound are assembled then either resonate on or are replaced by others: [k] and [f] in the early lines; [k] carried through between stinks and dark corners; doses of [g], then [t] in the quatrain; prominent [k] in the next 13 lines: cool to sinking;the final couplet blending labio-dental [f] and sibilants;

5. Fosterage

  • 16 lines of poetry in a single stanza; broadly 10 syllable lines;

  • the sentence structure, use of punctuation and enjambed lines set the pace of the initial acquaintance, mimic the staccato quasi instructions of the poet-Headteacher, followed by calmer reflection and tribute on behalf of the speaker;

  • use of direct and free indirect speech;

  • reworking of press jargon: ‘cub reporter’;

  • vocabulary switches from the up-to-date (cubbed; biro) to the more archaic (lineaments; obols);

  • McLaverty’s strong, forthright character: gripped; used to instructing people; buckled; imposing;

  • coloured-coded sound –a pattern of assonances is to be found in the individual commentary

6. Exposure

  • 10 quatrains of free verse; lines almost exclusively between 6 and 8 syllables;

  • an 8-sentence structure plus 4 short internal questions;

  • many lyrical natural descriptions; vocabulary of a cosmic or scientific nature: comet/ meteorite/prismatic;

  • classical usage: tristia;

  • simile that links the properties of a cosmic phenomenon with humble earthly nature: Like a glimmer of haws and rose-hips;

  • contrasts in attitude: prismatic counselling/ anvil brains;

  • personification of natural things: rain’s voice mutters; pathetic fallacy: poet and naure in emotional harmony;

  • the moment and eternity: December in Wicklow/ The once-in-a-lifetime portent;

  • the poem’s ‘music’ is based around 14 assonant features, paired, recurrent or echoing:

  • coloured-coded sound –a pattern of assonances is to be found in the individual commentary

  • key consonants in the first 3 stanzas are alveolar plosive [t] and velar [k]; after line 4 bilabial nasal [m] is dominant between comet and compound; stanza 4 offers velar [g[: gift/ slingstone amidst the sibilant [s]; the questions of stanza 6 bring [w] variants; alveoalr [l] of (7) alongside [t] of Mutter about let-downs; (9) witnesses clusters on nasal sounds; bilabial plosives [p] [b] appear in (9) and (10) in tandem with nasals [m] and [n];

Subjects and Settings.


  • The poem is a memorial to its central figure, a warm, nostalgic rural study from the poet’s past dedicated to his Aunt Mary;

  • Mossbawn: Seamus Heaney was brought up on the family farm at Mossbawn until his brother’s death in a car accident in 1953 (the poet was 14 at the time); his aunt, Mary, lived with the family.

Seed Cutters

  • A ‘word-canvas’ depicting an age-old routine practised in Heaney’s Ulster farming community. There is a suggestion of autobiography;

  • He is perhaps inspired by a photo depicting a familiar scene.


  • A ‘giant’ figure from Greek/ North African mythology, supposedly invincible in combat as long as he retained contact with the earth that renewed his strength whenever he fell. Antaeus clarifies the myth foreseeing the advent of a more cunning combatant who will work out the means to bring him down;

  • No Saharan landscape; the setting has all the hallmarks of an Ulster rural Irish ground-levelsetting; the main character assumes the mantle of an Irish character with a magical gift but ultimately unable to help his nation;


  • A specific historical site in Ireland provides Heaney with the catalyst for exploring, in congenial dialogue with a ‘local’, the linkage between artefacts, peoples, myths, cultures and languages of previous times and the present; the piece tells of doggedness, roots and recurrence; autobiographical element

  • Belderg, an excavated settlement in CountyMayo dating from more than 3000BC; during the neolithic, pre-bog period; excavated remains were largely those of a circular dwelling; fragments of quernstones were discovered; stone slabs characterised by a hole in the centre, they were used for grinding cereals;

Funeral Rites

  • A sequence of 3 poems; Heaney treads three paths associated with death and burial: natural causes; the result of sectarian strife; legend. As the sequence unfolds it suggests a solution to the unbreakable cycle of murder and revenge.


  • describes Irish Catholic family funerals close to the Heaney family;

  • The vocabulary betrays an antipathy to death and the feeling of impotence felt by the observer; the trappings and protocols of the organised Catholic church are portrayed;


  • Deals with the period of civil strife in Ulster culminating in the Troubles that reached a violent climax in the years immediately preceding the publication of North in 1975.

  • Heaney dreams of a monumental, symbolic demonstration of human solidarity proceeding to the great chambers of Boyne chosen precisely because it forms a non-denominational burial site, pre-dating both ‘catholic’ and ‘protestant’.‘The Gap of the North’, both strategic route into Ulster and major centre of power in ancient Ireland; South Armagh was known as ‘bandit country’ during the Troubles owing to its intense nationalist paramilitary activity;


  • From burial to resurrection: the journey home skirts town with Viking connections;

  • Heaney has identified a character from Icelandic saga whose story offers a glimmer of hope to Ulster’s future: forgiveness and reconciliation rather than an unbreakable cycle of murder and revenge


  • An uncertain poet revisits a stretch of the Donegal coast in search of advice the rôle of the poet; autobiographical element

  • imagery from Viking mythology implicates the god Thor in earth’s creation and the sounds of Nature and a comprehensive picture of Viking life and culture emerges’

Trial Pieces

  • A sequence of 6 poems in which Heaney pursues the Viking theme. Dublin was founded by the Vikings themselves in the tenth century.


  • offers a vision of how writing, written records and ultimately poetry might have started; the speaker traces the development of marks inscribed on a bone by a Viking child living in some ancient time from hieroglyph to alphabet;


  • the further development of these contrived linear shapes leads into the linkage between Dublin and the Vikings


  • Linking historical and linguistic development Heaney establishes a ‘line of ancestry’ using the evidence of a tenth century longship on the muddy banks of what is now the Liffey that lay preserved there;


  • introduces a drama of personal conscience: the collision between lines of ancestry and congruence and contemporary events of sectarian-fuelled violence in Ulster suddenly reminds Heaney of his own sense of insecurity.


  • appeals for kinship, congruence and support for a country in crisis; the reader is invited to take a bird’s-eye view in assessing the situation An apocryphal way of telling the future provides insights into the Vikings and, alongside it perhaps, Irish traits inherited from them.


  • finds a Viking echo in a passage from an Irish play of 1907 borrowing from Act III sc.1 of Synge’s Playboy of the Western World

Digging Skeleton

  • Baudelaire’s subject and setting: Heaney is loyal to the French poet’s picture of human misery and his ultimate rejection of religious promises of eternal life after death, spent in Paradise.

  • The speaker is wandering along the quays of the Seine, past the stalls of Parisian ‘bouquinistes’ still to be found there more than 150 years later; the objects unearthed are already old when the original poem was written;

  • human suffering evident from anatomical plates of vivisection; the suffering continuing post mortem;

Bone Dreams

  • scenes and myths associated with Roman-Celtic times


  • An Irish field; a bone found around Mossbawn becomes a missile to fire into England;

  • England seen as a historical oppressor;


  • the poet-philologist picks out a ‘kenning ‘ that acts as a catalyst. to a journey back in time through a European linguistic landscape to reach the sounds and manners of long-lost Ireland;


  • The ‘bone-house’ kenning (referring to both home and ‘human-being’) inspires a dream of Celtic landscape and the human instincts that prevailed there;


  • a personal experience is associated with a hillside symbol of Celtic carnality to be found on the Dorset hillside; an occurrence born of, intimately related to and at one with the landscape in which it occurred; Heaney associates a personal happening with a hillside symbol of Celtic carnality, recounting an occurrence born of, intimately related to and at one with the landscape in which it occurred;


  • an intimate physical relationship set against a Roman archaeological background in southern England;


  • discovery of an animal not known in Ireland reminiscent of the travels the poet has made in southern England and stretching as far north as the Scottish Borders; reminder also of mortality.

Come to the Bower

  • an individual inspects the mummified corpse of a woman’s body retrieved from the bogland in which it has been preserved; the setting is typical of Ireland and Denmark where bodies were recovered from the peat;

  • the mummy is dealt with care and compassion; the feelings she arouses are ambiguous.

Bog Queen

  • The voice is ostensibly that of the first body dug up in Ireland, on the Moira estate (in Co Lisburn, NI) in the autumn of 1780 or Spring of 1781, at a time of English ‘occupation’ of Ireland; the body discovered in Ireland was deemed by some to be Viking, thereby creating a genuine, not-just-imagined connection between the 2 cultures;

  • The Bog Queen’s body lies dead yet sleeping at the threshold between Nature and Man Her peat-bound body has been prey to the violating forces of nature: there is some suggestion of Viking origin; her retrieval exposed the wrong done to her and by her to Ireland – not at the hands of the peat-diggers, rather defilement by the English peer’s wife who paid for her to be raised;

Grauballe Man

  • close description of and the poet’s emotional responses to viewing a bog-body currently on show in the Moesgaard museum near Arrhus in Denmark;

  • removal from the bog in which he had lain for 2000 years likened to childbirth;

  • questions as to the victims of imperialism (Roman/ barbarian; British/ Irish) and the cycle of murder and revenge currently witnessed in the news..


  • poem possibly prompted a body retrieved from a peat bog in North Germany in 1952 and ‘set’ there;

  • the poem explores a contradiction: on the one hand a sense of injustice; on the other a community’s brutal intolerance of rules perceived to have been violated; the reconstructed execution of a victim sets out the last journey, the burial process and pretext; the same cycle prevails still in Northern Ireland’

Strange Fruit

  • the sight of the bodiless head of girl akin to the one recovered from a Danish bog in the 1940s.

  • pictures of barbarian races reported by Roman commentators confirmed primitive tribal values; the girl’s head shows only defiance ahead of her execution.



  • the closeness existing between the speaker and the bogland with which he is familiar; description of the bog; hints at the secrets the bog contains beyond the sight of man;

  • Ulster setting.


  • bog ; the word, its synonyms, its ‘mechanics’, its contents dating back to a mythical time.; its associations with murder victims and a Norse goddess.


  • development of the Nerthus myth: an object found triggers an unreal happening;

  • Nerthus was a pagan Norse deity; the rituals associated with her veneration were said to include human sacrifice including the drowning of servants who had completed her bidding.


  • suggestions of an analogy between the self-involved processes of the bog and the self-involved processes of poetry.

  • Heaney sets up a subtle interplay between the bog’s ‘living’ presence and his own emotions, creating a linkage between his landscape, his origins and his work.


  • personal experience set in the roads around his family home; a warm-hearted and humorous canvas of rural life during the poet’s childhood.


  • Heaney can perceive no change over the two thousand years since Tacitus: Ireland is still an occupied land and still a prey to social unrest.

  • he presents the commentator with a native who can comment on the existence of the oppressed then provides an example of this continuing cycle.

Ocean’s Love to Ireland


  • the invasion and occupation of Ireland by the Elizabethans is presented as an act of rape at the hands of an eponymous hero of the time


  • Ralegh’s ruthless pursuit his political mission in Ireland in the name of his English queen confirms that he sought no personal relationship with Ireland. His favoured status with Elizabeth I cuts no ice across the Irish sea;


  • regrets the impoverishing effect of invasion and occupation by English speakers upon the Irish language.

  • he rues a passage of history when Catholic Spain’s ambitions might if successful have improved Ireland’s fate.


  • use of a ‘vision’ poem, that is an Irish-language poetic genre developed in late 17th century suggests the setting;

  • however the ‘he’ and the ‘her’ from classical mythology and in this case crime and punishment are dealt with differently by a different genre and a different age.

Act of Union

  • both sonnets express dire warnings to those who regard the rape of the Irish maid, the violation of Ireland itself, as an act of possession;

  • lasting union is impossible; the metaphorical child conceived by the act is born to oppose and resist as witnessed now amongst those seeking freedom from occupation.

Betrothal of Cavehill

  • set in Belfast; a short but powerful contrast: ordinary folk get on with their lives against the backdrop of a divided Ulster;

  • harmless marriage rituals provide a paradox.

Hercules and Antaeus

  • a North African myth, perhaps, but the ensuing drama in which Antaeus is defeated by superior tactics is set in an Irish environment;

  • Heaney uses three examples of men who were killed as a result of their opposition to being dispossessed by invaders, leaving it to poets to sing their lamentations about the sorry fate of Antaeus and the Irish race he stands for.

Legislator’s Dream

  • to do with freedom of speech, gagging and repression; a prose passage that explores the capacity of the poet to ‘make a difference’ in the face of all that opposes him not least the despotic forces of control;

  • the poet perceives political shortcomings and his voice would lobby on behalf of political prisoners; seen as a threat he is removed from the public domain, incarcerated even tortured; the justification offered turns logic on its head; escape proves fruitless and claustrophobic paranoia ensues;

  • fantasy set partly in a political gulag.

Whatever you Say

  • a title reflecting the tight-lippedness of individuals and groups in Ulster living with neighbours and communities caught up in religious strife and accepting the warning to refrain from unguarded political or religious comments that could cause a violent reaction;


  • the shallowness, insensitivity and short-termism of the British media, for whom the Troubles are just another news-event;

  • politicians and journalists who produce the clever sound-bites, the clichés and screaming headlines that reinforce violence and prejudice;

  • the still, small voices off locals that are ignored;

  • those who should be responding loudly to injustice but do not;

  • set in Belfast during the Troubles


  • silence’ does not hear the sounds of sectarian violence and explosion of the early 70s;

  • the double standards of liberal Catholics of whom he confesses to be one: Catholic muteness is compared to the clamour of Protestant Unionism

  • Ulster is subdivided into sectional groups, ghettos to which people belong and in which they feel protected;

  • the poet’s wish for a metaphorical monument of non-denominational love for one’s country is blocked by his unsuccessful search for expression;


  • bland, ‘politically-correct’ statements avoid the contentious issue of sectarian identity when, for those speaking, recognition actually requires no discussion;

  • confession of his own feeble rôle in effecting change;

  • sectarian mechanisms: people’s religious background identified by their name or address or school attended; derogatory labels people hang around each other’s neck; coded messages revealing religion;


  • a symbol of the British government’s repression via the imprisonment of Catholics without trial;

  • what it is to be Irish currently: coping but suffering; a life of shared, consistent grief ; a life reduced to its basics; echoes of Ireland’s repeated fate in the broader historical and political scheme of things;


  • a change liberated the speaker from previous control; a poetic vocation awakened dissatisfaction with the Catholic markings of tribe, caste and conditioning and by its success brought self-esteem ; the debt owed to poetry celebrated;

  • a serious appraisal of the Catholic Church’s shortcomings.

Singing School

Ministry of Fear

  • a journey back in time identifies names and incidents that recall important events in Heaney’s personal biography: the emotions of a boy feeling cast out; his education and academic career; his rise as a poet; the propaganda employed by his own Catholic teachers to spur academic motivation; the infringement of freedoms of movement and identity practised by Protestant forces of law and order; the atmosphere of the period.

Constable Calls

  • a compelling psychological drama: an atmosphere of threat from a minion of Authority; an interrogation; a father’s lie; a moral dilemma that tests the innocence of the listening child; the threat receding.

  • set in Ulster during Heaney’s Mossbawn days of childhood; autobiographical element.

Orange Drums

  • the brash, dramatic poster of a figure prominent in a Protestant Unionist march. He allows his emotional responses to the scene and what it represents to leak out; the energy generated by a sectarian parade often planned to insult the Catholic communities;

  • set in Ulster, such parades took places in traditionally known locations.

Summer 69

  • in a year when Irish riots had broken out the poet was in Spain; his personal discomfort paled into insignificance when compared with the events experienced by the Catholics;

  • sketches of Spain; consideration of other repressive forces: Guardia Civil; memory of poet Lorca (an emblematic left-wing Spanish poet and playwright killed at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in 1938); nightmare paintings by Goya in the Prado that chimed with Heaney’s sense of the atmosphere, emotions and psychology of current social disorder.


  • a brief encounter thirteen years earlier with one of Ireland’s finest writers; the recognition that McLaverty had much to teach this modest ‘rookie’ still searching for his poetic voice;

  • another llterary giants; their perceived contribution to literature; how the event was an act of ‘fosterage’.


  • a point of crisis: the speaker, an Irishman in his thirties walks alone through a December landscape in County Wicklow at dusk, ponders upon his rôle and function, society outside (particularly the Belfast community he has left behind) and current events; his search for answers to fundamental questions about identity.

  • he feels as earth-bound and therefore as impotent as Antaeus; nature in tune with his glumness;

  • he perceives himself to be in an honourable position given the non-negotiable principles for which he stands; for all his fears and like his Irish forbears he is a free man;

  • he is afraid of failing to witness huge signs of optimism.

Stylistic devices

Translating ideas, notions, themes, that ‘something’ from the inner recess of the mind, into words involves first selection: words and phrases, the ‘mot juste’ and so on, then the weaving of these lexical items into the fabric of the piece. This weaving process is a means to multiple ends: flow, sound, rhythm, echo, emphasis and so on; part of the ‘fun’ is drafting and redrafting text to achieve maximum impact in the finished product.

Published poetry, though not perhaps written for the reader, is there for the enjoyment and can be an intellectual challenge as well as a pleasure. Part of that enjoyment can legitimately include analysis of the style of the piece. What follows is a list of devices open to writers as part of their technique.

Whilst there might be no intrinsic value in spotting a particular device and knowing it by name, nevertheless it is good training. It helps the reader to be inquisitive and begs the question as to why the writer chose that particular device and to what end. We cannot always tease out the poet’s real intention but it is well worth trying!

a figure of speech is a way of talking or writing by which you say what you don’t mean and yet mean what you say. For example, ‘He blows his own trumpet’. You don’t mean he has a trumpet but you do mean that he blows it. HUNT, Fresh Howlers (1930)

Antithesis: an arrangement of contrasted words in corresponding places in contiguous phrases, to express a contrast of ideas.

Chiasmus: the arrangement in parallel clauses of related terms in a reversed order, so AB BA as opposed to parallel order AB AB

Cliché: A phrase whose wording has become fixed, or almost fixed, as usage has given it a fixed meaning. Cliches commonly use a recognised literary device which eventually uses its power

Comparison: A statement that there is a likeness between things which can in fact be likened

Dual meaning: This when a word or phrase is used so as to be understood in two different meanings, both of which fit the sentence (e.g. a literal and a symbolic meaning), and in order that the two meanings may be related with each other

Enjambment: The continuation of a sentence, in verse, into the following line. Traditionally an enjambement is permissible if the break is at the normal break in the syntax or at a normal break between breath groups. This happens more routinely outside those conditions in free verse.

Enumeration: The arrangement of terms in succession, e.g. nouns in apposition, adverbs or adverbial phrases; economy of words is achieved. As a literary device enumerations can be used to add implications and rhythm to the subject matter, by grouping or gradation or even intentional iincoherency.

Euphemism: replacement of a distasteful by a more pleasant term, to refer to the same thing.

Free indirect speech: the expression of what is spoken or thought without introductory words such as He said, ‘…’ or He said that.. In narrative fis may be signalised by use of vocabulary appropriate to the character rather than the words of the author. Continuous fis becomes ‘interior monologue.

Hyperbole: the intentional use of an exaggerated term in place of the one more properly applicable, adding implications to the subject matter.

Inversion: The reversal of the normal order of the members of a sentence, perhaps to avoid ambiguity or to bring certain words into stressed or key position or to modify the rhythm.

Irony: The use of words containing a sufficient and apparently serious meaning in themselves, but conveying also, intentionally, to a more initiated person a further, generally opposed meaning; frequently the first meaning is laudatory or untenable

Litotes: intentional understatement inviting the reader to rectify. Frequently a negative expression.

Metaphor: an expression which refers to a thing or action by means of a term for a quite different thing or action, related to it, not by any likeness in fact but by an imagined analogy which the context allows.

A simile uses words like ‘like’ or ‘as…as’. Metaphors and similes have 2 terms: the thing meant and the thing ‘imported’ as a means of expressing, by analogy, what is meant.

Personifications are only 1 sort of metaphor.

This substitution of words has wide uses: ornament, implication, overtone. Its use may be regarded as a special means of revealing hidden truth.

Apart from enriching the thought by a device of form and enhancing the reader’s contact with the author, metaphors and similes may be significant or characteristic because of their reiterated suggestion of a writer’s preoccupations or his processes of thought.

Metonymy: the use of a word in place of another with which it is associated in meaning.

Objective-subjective: ‘objective’ – expressing reality as it is or attempting to do so; the reality of events or things is regarded as ‘external’. The reality may mental or emotional experience, examined rather than evoked. ‘Subjective’- expressing a version of reality in which it is modified by emotion or preconceived belief; or expressing conscious or subconscious experiences of states of mind

Oxymoron: the juxtaposition of contradictory or incongruous terms, understood as a paradox

Paradox: a statement or implication expressed so as to appear inconsistent with accepted belief, or absurd, or exaggerated, but intended to be realised by the reader as an acceptable or important truth, in some respect; often placed as a conclusion; in a paradox there is often a word which cries out for redefinition in order to provide the alternative meaning which the writer has prepared his reader to accept.

Pathetic fallacy: ascribing human traits or feelings to inanimate nature, corresponding with those being experienced by a character or ‘voice’.

Periphrasis: the expression of a meaning by more words than are strictly necessary or expected, so that additional implications are brought in.

Porte-manteau word: a deliberate mixture of 2 words into one retaining both meanings: ‘’a bestpectable gentleman’, respectable guy wearing glasses!

Preciosity: aiming at or affecting refinement or distinction in expression; avoiding vulgar phrases; visibly introducing greater care in expression; using this precision, formal arrangement of words, difficult combinations of ideas, allusions and puns in the hope of revealing truths not to be expressed in plain and simple terms; exaggerating this so that, for example an ‘armchair’ might become a ‘commodity for conversation’!

Repetition: expressing a meaning or an attitude by implication, through the deliberate use of a word or phrase a second time

Symbol: a term for an object representing, conventionally or traditionally, an abstraction.

Synecdoche: the use of a word denoting a ‘part’ in place of the word for the whole, so ‘100 sails’ meaning ‘100 ships’.

Synesthesia: the representation of a sensation or image belonging to one of the five senses by words proper to another (‘loud tie’; Disney’s ‘Fantasia’).

Zeugma: providing syntactical economy of words by using one word with dual possibility so that two meanings are taken separately – ‘he took his hat and his leave’.

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