Night Drive

Heaney describes a man’s pent up sexual feelings for his woman as he journeyed towards her, the promise of passion simmering beneath the surface of each passing experience. Fulfilment will be confirmed once are reunited. The piece is a thinly veiled love poem from Heaney to his absent wife Marie based on compatibility-genes and perfect chemistry that to them are totally un-extraordinary.

As he journeyed overnight the driver’s senses were already working overtime. The standard yet distinctive aromas of being in France (smells of ordinariness) came fresh (new) to his nostrils at a time of day that heightened them (night drive through France). He could distinguish between them (rain and hay and woods) carried pervasively (on the air) by pulses (warm draughts) invading his roof-down vehicle (open car).

Visual direction indicators (signposts whitened) constantly repeated (relentlessly) on the road south out of Calais (Montreuil, Abbeville, Beauvais) heralded places (and, we now understand, unstated ‘things’) to come (promised, promised) that slipped by in the night (came and went), each of them gifting him what was promised (granting its name’s fulfilment).

Beyond human settlements the gathering of crops (combine groaning) was still active after nightfall (its way late) with its visible backlit mist of grain (bled seeds across its work-light). Nearby, stubble-burning simmered beneath the surface, under control but ready to erupt when roused (forest fire smouldered out).

In time, the lights of wider human contact were extinguished (small cafes shut) leaving the driver’s full focus on the company he yearned for (I thought of you continuously) a good fourteen hours away by road (thousand miles south) where the very shapes of two Mediterranean countries set the example of intimate togetherness (Italy laid its loin to France) under the blanket of night (darkened sphere).

The poem’s dénouement is  elated yet understated – things turned out as they were meant to be – everything that made her extraordinary to him (your ordinariness) borne out (renewed there).

  • smells of ordinariness: odours unexceptional to a native;
  • Montreuil, Abbeville (the acute accent is misplaced), Beauvais: consecutive towns on the Route Nationale between Calais and Paris;
  • draught: current of air;
  • fulfilment: achievement of what was predicted, of what it had to offer;
  • groan: issue a deep inarticulate sound of fatigue, of being overworked;
  • smoulder: burn slowly with smoke but no flame;
  • loin: part of the body in the hip region; hint of sex organs and erogenous zones;


  • NC 23 A second recurrent feature of the collection identified by NC is that the characterization of the poet-as-driver in Door into the Dark, the potential solipsism of the reflexive … is given an accompanying poetic persona – the perceiver is cut off from the object of perception by a car windscreen and locked into his own silence. This characterization is further complicated in that Night Drive is a love poem in which the solitude of the journey through France is tense with anticipation of the company which will end it, and the strong sexual feeling is, with reticent artfulness, diverted into evocations of the drive itself – the signposts which ‘promised, promised’; the places ‘granting … fulfilment’: the thought of Italy laying ‘its loin to France on the darkened sphere’;


  • 4 quatrains (Q) in 8sentences (including colon); line length between 8-10 syllables; pattern of loose rhymes aabb ccdd and so on;
  • the combination of punctuation and enjambment dictates flow and rhythm within the oral delivery potential,  governing pace or pause;
  • Q1 in a single sentences enjambed around the colon; 2 key words introduced ‘smell’ that will gauge the chemistry between driver and his loved one; ‘ordinariness’ (repeated in the final line) suggesting that physical relationships are hugely influenced by pheromones not in themselves exceptional; vocabulary of scent/ odour transmission to discriminating sensors;
  • Q2 in a single largely enjambed sentence; local colour evoking northern France; place names moving south; introduction of vocabulary with connotations fitting the eventual passionate outcome;
  • Q3 in 3 sentences (1 enjambed) spelling out different journey scenarios in space and time; further evocation of hidden passion; personification – machinery that utters despairing sounds and bleeds;
  • Q4 in 2 sentences (the first totally enjambed); the emotion that lurked beneath the travelogue; countries personified in mating posture; desire attains fulfilment in the simple unrestrained ‘ordinariness’ of Seamus and Marie Heaney in real life; everything achieved in … darkness;


  • 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 quatrains 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];

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