A Lough Neagh Sequence 4 Setting

Heaney recounts the baiting and laying of hundreds of yards of fishing line. He interweaves an unforgettable experience with reflections on the mind-set of the working Lough Neagh fishermen to whom he has become endearingly accustomed through the Devlin connection.


The line drops into murky darkness (out of sight) – fixed in the poetic imagination for sure but of no importance to the fisherman (out of mind) – snaking its way down to where the eel is to be found (soft bottom of silt and sand) – let out with the impassive dexterity (indifferent skill) of man turned predator (hunting hand).

Cruel barbs resembling a metal spike still-life (bouquet of small hooks coiled) at the back of the vessel (stern) are being released (paid out) to inflict the damage for which they are designed (back to its true form), each spike baited (hidden in the worm) as it goes over the side.

The scene is suddenly one of angles and circles – the vessel’s onward momentum (rides forward) tightens the line (slants back). Its visible movement (oars in their locks) is circular (round and round), matching the imagined eel gyrations in the depths of the lough (arcs without a sound).


The poetic eye rises from lough surface below to sky above where scavenging sea birds (gulls) wheel and fan out (fly and umbrella), hovering (treading air) when no wormy tit-bits are to be had (line runs out), as busy as attentive altar boys at Mass (responsive acolytes).

And the fishermen? They are uninterested (not sensible) in a poet’s churchy imagery (kyrie), indifferent to the Catholic requirement to earn the mercy of the Almighty (don’t know and never try) resigned to earning their crust (work in hand) in the way their working life has determined (destiny).

Once the fishing line is set they clean up (clear the bucket), casting the remnants of bait (last chopped worms) to the skies (pitching them high) with a tetchy farewell (good riddance) – knowing that that bits of creatures dug from the ground (earthy shower) will be scoffed (gulls encompass them) before ever they hit the water.

  • setting: both a positioning, deployment of items and a background, scenario;
  • out of sight out of mind: no longer visible, quickly forgotten;
  • indifferent: dispassionate;
  • bouquet: (said often of flowers) attractive arrangement, pleasing assemblage;
  • coiled: wound into a series of circular loops;
  • stern: rearmost section of a boat;
  • pay out: let out incrementally;
  • slant: slope;
  • lock: rowlock, oarlock; u-shaped metal swivel that acts as a fulcrum for the oar and holds it in place;
  • round and round: in repetitive circles;
  • arc: curve;
  • umbrella: spread from a single to a wider circular expanse;
  • tread air: idea of remaining both airborne yet stationary;
  • acolyte: assistant, attendant – connotations of a religious occasion;
  • sensible: aware, conscious;
  • kyrie: musical movement of a requiem mass/ liturgical invocation of a Latin Mass; full phrase translates as ‘Lord, have mercy’;
  • destiny: fate, lot in life;
  • pitch: fling, toss;
  • good riddance: expressing relief at being rid of adding a touch of disdain;
  • encompass: close in on;


  • MP83 Religious allusion continues in Part Four Setting, where the fishers are described as merciless, ‘Not sensible of any kyrie‘, their’ bouquets’ of hooks soon transformed into deadly lines … programmed to ‘Pursue the work in hand as destiny’, as purposeful as Hughes’s ‘Snowdrop’, who ‘pursues her ends/ Brutal as the Stars of this month”


  • 6 triplets (T) in 2 short pieces; poem I in 5 sentences (S);poem II  in 4 sentences; line length based on 10 syllables;
  • discernible rhyme pattern in I – Xaa bYb Zcc – not carried through into II;
  • the combination of punctuation and enjambment dictates flow and  rhythm within the oral delivery potential,  governing pace or pause;
  • I T1 in a single enjambed sentence; the fishing line represents a door into the darkness; proverb at two levels visual + intellectual – comparable intellects –Heaney’s and the workaday fisherman’s; natural eel habitat imagined; fisherman’s dexterity viewed as no more than the means to earning a crust; fisherman turned predator ‘hunting’;
  • T2 in a single sentence – metaphor: flowers that deliver death and callous treatment (‘true form’) to innocent creatures; circle motif ‘coiled’; continuous present tense; vocabulary of subterfuge ‘bouquet’s hidden’;
  • T3 in 3 sentences; countervailing forces create a ‘forward’ …back’tableau;; circular movements extended to the visible ‘oars’ and the invisible eels; focus on the male of the species;
  • II T4 in a single sentence; circular motion of ‘umbrella’ metaphor; rework of tread water which has its own circularity; ‘acolytes’ echo of Heaney’s surfeit of Catholic training as a boy;
  • T5 in a single sentence; worlds apart: poetic imagination extending the Catholic/ cultural imagery ‘kyrie’ contrasts with fisher fatalistic resignation – 3 negatives; poet imagines, fisherman only has room for daily reality;
  • T6 in 2 sentences; end of a run-of-the-mill routine; lethargic disposal of bait that earns them wages – no ‘bon voyage’ for a worm ‘good riddance’; elemental mix ‘earthy shower’; hive of activity restored; circular motif ‘encompass’ preferred to ‘scoff’;

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