An Irish poetic genre – a classical myth – a ‘he’ and a ‘her’ appropriate to allegory – merited punishment.
The Ralegh figure (see ‘Ocean’s Love to Ireland’) whose historical acts would result ultimately in the social and secular violence of the Troubles gets what he deserves in Heaney’s succinct Irish dream poem.
Unlike Ocean’s rape of the maid of Ireland Actaeon’s attempt to possess Artemis (he courted her) is based on arch flattery (decadent sweet art) but judged equally unworthy. Peeping-Tom is given away by Nature (wind’s vowel blowing through the hazels) whispering the forbidden question that seals his fate (‘Are you Diana . . . ?’)
Classical Actaeon or figure of allegory, Heaney warns all abusers of Ireland, rapists or seducers, that they have real crimes to answer for.
Actaeon’s act brought him high lament – his punishment was irrevocable (stag’s exhausted belling).
- aisling: a ‘vision’ poem; an Irish-language poetic genre developed in late 17th century; elegiac in tone; in such poems Ireland was generally portrayed as a woman, young or old, lamenting Ireland’s fate and hoping for better things;
- vowel: assonant voice;
- in a version of a Greek story Actaeon was punished for seeing the goddess Artemis (Diana) naked and later speaking out about it; he was turned into a stag and torn apart by his own hounds;
- the story of Ralegh would deliver its own twist (and the maid of Ireland avenged. In allegorical terms at least). Ralegh’s fate was similar to Actaeon’s: disliked by King James I he was accused of plotting against him and imprisoned for 12 years in the Tower of London. Released, he was sent on an expedition in search of the fictitious El Dorado but disobeyed the king yet again, was sentenced to death and executed in 1618;
- belling: throaty cry of the stag;
- 2 quatrains: a stage-setting followed by questions as to identity;
- first verse enjambed; no rhyme scheme;
- sound effects: a string of [ai] high/ Diana/ / 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;
- Heaney is a meticulous craftsman using combinations of vowel and consonant to form a poem that is something to be listened to.
- the music of the poem: eleven assonant strands are woven into the text; Heaney places them grouped within specific areas to create internal rhymes , or reprises them at intervals or threads them through the text;
- syllables without highlight are largely the unstressed sound as in common, little [ə]
- alliterative effects allow pulses or beats, soothings or hissings or frictions of consonant sound to modify the assonant melodies; this is sonic engineering of the first order;
- a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;