A Lough Neagh Sequence 2 Beyond Sargasso

Heaney pays tribute to the globetrotting juvenile eel that makes its way to Lough Neagh.

From its Atlantic birthplace (beyond Sargasso) nearly three thousand miles distant from the Northern Irish landfall the sheath like, sticky-substance-exuding shape (gland) reaches its furthest destination, beating a path (agitating mud) through heavy-weight conditions (scale of water on water) on upstream journeys (working up estuaries).

An inner dynamo moved into gear (drifted into motion) at the half way point, its navigation system pre-programmed as surely as by satnav (satellite’s insinuating pull) guiding it through the watery wilderness (ocean), obedient to an urge within itself (true to his orbit).

Meeting every challenge (ebb, current, rock, rapids) the silver-skinned body-builder (muscled icicle) takes on a new shape as if by magic (melts itself longer and fatter), conceals his presence (buries his arrival) in dark crevices (beyond light) away from ebb and flow (tidal water), bringing his rich injection (investing) of glossy eel-ness (sleek root) to river and lough beds (silt and sand). Following its instinctive life pattern is only cut short (abort) by daytime human activity (drainmaker’s spade … mud paddler) – after dark he comes into his own, hunting (hungering) along every contour (each undulation).

  • Sargasso: area of the Atlantic Ocean of the US eastern seaboard all but surrounded by a gyre of currents; spawning ground for the threatened and endangered wild eel population;
  • gland: both an organ that secretes/ discharges substances and a sheath shaped structure;
  • scale: weights to do with weight and variation;
  • work one’s way up: both literally undertake an uphill journey and metaphorically start modestly and rise in influence and importance;
  • estuary: tidal mouth of a large river;
  • drift into motion: swing into action after seeming aimlessness;
  • insinuating: imposing an irresistible influence;
  • pull: authority;
  • orbit: circular course, trajectory;
  • ebb: recede;
  • current: steady, continuous water flow;
  • rapids: fast-flowing turbulent section;
  • icicle: tapering ice structure caused by frozen dripping water;
  • invest: bestow as a gift;
  • silt: sediment, alluvium;
  • sleek: smooth, glossy;
  • root: source, foundation, germ;
  • drainmaker: digger of riverside culverts and water run-offs;
  • paddler: wide bladed wooden spade;
  • abort: halt, stop short:
  • hunger: starve
  • undulation: angled smooth surface;


  • MP83 offers an alternative interpretation: In the second poem, ‘Beyond Sargasso’, cosmic and sexual imagery combine. Within its rhythms the rapid movement of the male eels from mid-Atlantic to the Bann estuary is enacted. Benedict Kiely is surely correct in seeing an analogy between the eel with its instinctual longing for adventure, and ‘hungering’ for home, and the poet feeling the ‘insinuating pull’ of his own contradictory, Celtic nature.


  • two lengthy verses – the split occurs midline (10.5+13.5 lines); 4  sentences (S); short lines predominantly of 6 syllables; unrhymed;
  • the combination of punctuation and enjambment (the short units lend themselves to rich enjambment) dictates flow and rhythm within the oral delivery potential,  governing pace or pause
  • V1 in a single, almost totally enjambed sentence with 2 commas mid line; the continuum including a line-change in mid word is suggestive of free verse; unusual usage – ‘gland’ as something sheath like (which the eels is) or something that secretes substances (which the eel does); sub theme of eel consciousness versus instinct; references to things circular and cyclical; anachronistic 20th century artificial body circling the earth used to speculate on the inbuilt direction-finding capacity demonstrated by an age-old migration;
  • V2 S1 (heavily enjambed); large variety of watery references from enumeration of obstacles to the consistency lough beds; oxymoronic-style inversion enables the sharp pointed, silvery eel ‘icicle’ to dissolve into something solid; vocabulary ‘buries’, ‘dark’ akin to the collection’s title are ‘ doors into the murk’ to be seen through; local colour – traditional river workers’ tools; man’s interference brings about nature’s miscarriages ‘abort’; predation is a vital need that has to be satisfied; contrast ‘day’ ‘dark’;

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