Heaney responds to ‘energies within the Irish landscape’ (MP83), the phenomenal sight of swarming Lough Neagh midges engaged in a seasonal aerial dance. The poet describes how the flow and spiral of the shifting insect cloud produces annoying sound effects that disturb lovers’ bedtime activities!
The midges are swarming in search of a mate, a motif not lost on Heaney whose anonymous lovers, readily identified as him-self and Marie, are driving to a Lough Neagh beauty spot close to Marie’s family home in Co Tyrone.
The poet is captivated by the immensity of the natural phenomenon – a far-reaching, airborne swarm of midges (right along the lough shore) setting a hazy cloud (smoke of flies) against a horizon of pure fire (drifts thick in the sunset).
Creatures hitting the car’s windscreen demonstrate both their fragility (shattering) and delicacy (daintily). The vehicle’s ventilation inlet (grill) and engine canopy (bonnet) transmit the faintest pitter-patter (whisper) of relentless impacts (their million collisions) as if the car were running the gauntlet (drive through) at threshing time on a farm (hail of fine chaff).
The rear-view mirror throws up something unanticipated: there is no trace of the car’s passage (no clear wake), the midges re-forming seamlessly (open and close on us) just as the element on which all life depends fills every void (air opens and closes).
Will the lovers benefit from bedtime respite (when we put out our light) and the onset of intimacy (kiss between sheets)? Think again! The faint sound of an alarm gets breaks out (just audible siren will go) emitted by the see-through midge cloud (invisible veil) that dilutes (weakening) the moon’s already watery paleness.
Sleep brings nightmare … of creatures in unhealthy numbers (rash of them) resembling some sickly microscopic concoction (green pollen) and, worse to come, his and Marie’s bodies shivering at the prospect of midge invasion (infiltrated our clothing) before daylight returns (by morning).
To place a midge under the microscope (put one under a lens) magnifies the creature’s spine-chilling vital functions (pumping body) and gargantuan flying apparatus (such outsize beaters for wings) leading to Heaney’s hyperbolic if humorous portrayal of the whole event as a pestilence (visitation) more punishing (drastic) than the plagues God visited on the Egyptian ruler who refused to liberate the Israelites (Pharaoh’s)!
Folk (I’m told) blacken midge reputation (mosquitoes) but to Heaney Lough Neagh is not a tropical mosquito habitat (forests and swamps), Co Tyrone midges do not bite or transmit disease (our innocent) nor are they strident in flight (shuttling choirs).
Lough Neagh midges drop quickly (within 48 hours) (dying) from the skies into which they hatch (through their own live empyrean), their single downside (troublesome only) that they get in the way of Ardboe’s naked beauty (last veil on a dancer).
- Arboe Point: on a right hand bend of the road out of Ardboe in Co Tyrone leading down to Loch Neagh headstones are planted around a ruined church once a monastery. Views over the lough are awesome. The entrance to the cemetery features an impressive 10th century High Cross. Heaney’s wife-to-be Marie lived in the parental home no more than 2 miles from the Ardboe harbour just half a mile down from the ruins;
- flies: several species of midge (known collectively as ‘Lough Neagh Fly’) can be found swarming around Lough Neagh during late spring and early summer. The flies are non-biting midges of the Chironomid family and are commonly found around bodies of shallow fresh water. The highest concentrations of the flies occur in Ireland around April and May, although other peaks may occur throughout the summer months. The adults first appear in the spring, emerging from the Lough as the temperature begins to rise, gathering in large swarms over the woodland, grassland or areas of scrub, where they spiral upwards like plumes of smoke. The adult flies have a short lifespan, living for only 2-3 days; they have no mouth parts so do not feed or bite; their short life gives them only enough time to mate and to lay their eggs.
- shatter: break or cause to break suddenly and violently into pieces;
- dainty: delicately tiny and graceful;
- grill: screen of metal bars providing protection or ventilation;
- hail: small pellets of frozen rain;
- chaff: remnants of hay or straw;
- wake: trail of disturbed water left by a ship;
- audible: hearable, discernible;
- siren: device producing loud, high-pitched signals or warnings;
- veil: fine see-through material used to conceal/ half conceal what is behind it;
- rash: both a reddish skin patch caused by allergy or illness and unwelcome things in large number;
- pollen: microscopic powdery substance discharged by flowers transmitted as a fertilizer;
- infiltrate: enter surreptitiously, gradually permeate despite efforts to repulse;
- lens: piece of curved glass used to magnify;
- pumping: visibly recurrent swelling and dilation;
- outsize: much bigger than expected;
- beater: air heaver that permits flight;
- visitation: result of a divine or supernatural intervention; when the Pharoah refused to set the Israelites free in the Old Testament book of Exodus God visited ten plagues on him including a plague of flies and a plague of hail;
- Pharaoh: ruler of Ancient Egypt; Greek word derived from ancient Egyptian ‘great house’;
- mosquito: slender long legged fly whose bloodsucking females can transmit serious diseases;
- swamp: bog-land, marshland associated with tropical climates;
- shuttle: move to and fro between points;
- empyrean: visible heavens above, sky; highest point of heaven considered by the ancients as pure fire;
- last veil; final see-through discloser of titillating information before nakedness; possible reference to Salome’s dance of the seven veils before Herod II;
- NC 23 A second recurrent feature of Door into the Dark identified by NC is In the characterization of the poet-as-driver in Door into the Dark, the potential solipsism of the reflexive (the view that the self is all that can be known to exist) is given an accompanying poetic persona, as the perceiver is cut off from the object of perception by a car windscreen …‘At Ardboe Point’ complicates the ‘characterization by being also a love poem. ‘At Ardboe Point’ modifies “the figure: not now a solitary driver, but a pair of lovers together in the car, although curiously isolated nevertheless, at the centre of ‘A smoke of flies’ – ‘they open and close on us / As the air opens and closes’.
- 11 triplets (T) 7 sentences (S) (including colon); very variable line length between 4-12 syllables; unrhymed;
- the combination of punctuation and enjambment dictates flow and rhythm within the oral delivery potential, governing pace or pause; narrated largely in the present tense; use of future thinking ahead to bedtime prospects frustrated’ , also future and conditional perfect involving modal auxiliary;
- personal pronouns replace identities; ‘you’ used in the sense of ‘one’
- T1 (totally enjambed) plays on light and by implication heat – metaphor of relative darkness alongside the fiery sun; first indicator of swarm movement;
- T2/ T3 (balance of enjambment and punctuation; zoom focus on impact; oxymoron ‘shattered daintily’; personification –car parts that speak; ‘million’ literal rather than hyperbolic; threshing analogy ‘chaff’; ‘hail’ – worth noting that the Pharaoh of line 26 was plagued by both flies and hail;
- T4 Heaney visits the laws of Physics to clarify what amazed him; reinforced by verbal repetition almost amounting to onomatopoeia;
- T5 (totally enjambed) future tense adds threat of the inevitable – lovers’ intimacies dashed; suggestion it is beginning to get the poet down ‘siren’ and that in T6 his sleeplessness extends to looking outside; ‘weakening’ sets up an irritation that is resolved in the poem’s final line;
- T7 (in 2 sentences) vocabulary of sickliness ‘rash’, ‘green’; future tense indicates Heaney has seen it before; ‘infiltrated’ chosen to indicate both unstoppable invasion and shivering personal repulsion is rendered into a single sentence for dramatic purposes;
- T8/ T9 (totally enjambed) ‘if’ conditional clause introduces consequences (Heaney was curious enough to have actually done this) and creates a monstrous animal that has fed nightmare and introduces the Old Testament epic ‘visitation … drastic’ at an almost burlesque level; biblical message extended ‘innocents’; previous aggravating sounds now rendered as a massed singing ‘shuttling choirs’); ‘mosquitoes ‘dying through / Their own live empyrean’ -NC 21 refers to this stylistic device (for which he provides examples from ‘Door into the Dark’) as ‘self-inwoven simile’ (or the ‘reflexive image’) also referred to as ‘short-circuited comparison’ whereby things are compared to themselves and somehow described in ‘their own likeness’ – the key to this device seems to lie in the adjective ‘own’; opposites ‘innocent/ troublesome’ (the midges have proved to be both); ‘veil on a dancer’ adds a touch of the exotic, even biblical (Salome) as a metaphor both euphemising slight offence against Irish landscape and not losing sight of the marital sub text (’we…between sheets’);
- 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: fourteen 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]
- the use Heaney seeks to make of assonant effects can be judged and measured in the ‘coloured hearing’ that follows;
- 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;
- the first two sentences are dominated by alveolar plosives [t] [d ], nasals [n] [m] and sibilants [s] [z] alongside a cocktail of front of mouth sounds: aspirate [h], breathy [w], alveolar [l], bilabial plosives [p] [b], labio-dental fricatives [f] [v]; a smattering of velar plosives [k] [g] completes the alliterative deal;