The Betrothal of Cavehill

A formal engagement ceremony is about to be celebrated; a young couple wish to get on with the important things in life despite the backdrop of divided Ulster. Heaney and fiancée Marie Devlin, both from mid-Ulster rural backgrounds spent their undergraduate lives in Belfast.

In the troubled Belfast of the 1960s sectarian stand-offs seeking ‘ownership’ of locations were common (gunfire barks its questions off Cavehill). The hill’s napoleonic nose shape (profiled) looks down unerringly (maintains it stare) over the religious and political make-up of wards to its south: hard (basalt) and all things Unionist – self-satisfied (prouddominated by non-Catholics like himself (protestant), part of the United Kingdom (northern), run by men (male).

Heaney takes a good natured poke at himself exaggerating the artless innocence of a man who does not know what he is in for (Adam untouched) before exposure to the wiles and ways of a bride-to-be will teach him (the shock of gender).

He is prepared to go along with tradition ceremonial – they still shoot over bridegrooms’ heads on their engagement day, thankfully not in anger (for luck).

So on the betrothal day when Heaney sallied forth (drove out) to face the intimate challenges (bed me down) of Marie Devlin’s space (my love’s hideouts) and her Co Tyrone nature (pods and brooms) a volley of shots was fired in friendship (the ritual gun).

  • Cavehill: an electoral ward of North Belfast made up almost equally of Protestants and Catholics; distinguishing feature, Cave Hill , on the south eastern border of the North Antrim Plateau a prominence overlooking Belfast; a place to walk and from which listen to the sounds of the city
  • profiled: part of the outcrop of Cave Hill itself bears the nickname ‘Napoleon’s Nose’;
  • bark : sharp, explosive sound made by a dog;
  • basalt: very hard volcanic rock;
  • south:  the Catholic wards of south west Belfast;
  • the choice of betrothal is subtle: it refers to the binding promise of marriage and by extension to the commitment of those who are politically ‘wedded’ to causes;
  • Adam: from Genesis first man fashioned from dust by God and placed in the Garden of Eden;
  • untouched: unaffected until led astray by Eve fashioned from Adam’s rib and presented as a partner for him;
  • bed down:
  • pods and brooms: natural vegetation of seed husks and spiky flower-rich plants;
  • 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:
  • 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: fifteen assonant strands are woven into the text; Heaney places them grouped within specific areas to create internal rhymes , or reprises them at intervals or threads them through the text;
  • syllables without highlight are largely the unstressed sound as in common, little [ə]

  • alliterative effects allow pulses or beats, soothings or hissings or frictions of consonant sound to modify the assonant melodies; this is sonic engineering of the first order;
  • a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;

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