Night Piece

Night Piece introduces the collection’s leitmotif that acts largely as a positive metaphor for discovering the treasure trove that lay within an inquisitive individual’s reach. Here however Heaney paints the picture of the youngster and the farm horse behind his bedroom wall coping sleeplessly with scary darkness. Poems that follow will pick up the theme: Dream sets out the dynamics of nightmare in an older Heaney whilst Vision and Bogland both suggest that his family’s finger-wagging warnings inadvertently exacerbated his subconscious fears.

It interested DOD (p. 96) that the negative connotations of Heaney’s choice of collection title were immediately visible in the first poem. Heaney’s explained the sensitivity and unsureness he was born with that remained forever part of his temperament: I did have my night fears as a youngster, on the road and even in the bedroom. The first poem in Door into the Dark ‘Night Piece’ is about hearing the horse in the stable, on the other side of the bedroom wall. The home horse turned nightmare. But I imagine every child had experiences of this sort, they’re part of the growing process of the species.

A scenario from the pre-electric darkness of early childhood in Mossbawn surfaces involuntarily; to be reminded of his propensity for bad dreams is not altogether welcome but the poet he cannot shut them out (Must you know it again?)

As the child lies waiting for sleep in the darkness sound are amplified – both he and animal he can hear are unsettled: the muffled stamps of the farm horse (dull pounding through hay); its gentle if troubled call (uneasy whinny).

The sounds become distorted by an active imagination: the horse’s mouth shape (sponge lip drawn off each separate tooth), its perspiring hind quarters (opalescent haunch, muscle and hoof)… a tenseness shared by child and animal shut in by the darkness (bundled under the roof).

  • dull: not sharp, muffled;
  • pound: move heavily, stomp;
  • whinny: high-pitched neigh;
  • sponge: marine creature formed of soft porous substance, generally drab brownish in colour
  • drawn off: revealing the teeth; sign that a horse is tense;
  • opalescent: made up of shifting, varying colours;
  • haunch: buttock and upper thigh together;
  • bundle: shoved into a constricted space;


  • two triplets and a single line that defines a joint constriction and shared discomfort; three short sentences including interrogative; variable line length 5-10 syllables; the longest sketching the close up of the animal’s face and adding texture and implied colours to physical features (‘sponge lip’);
  • rhyme pattern aaX bYbb; heightening of internal feelings of scary claustrophobia (‘bundled’); parents of imaginative sensitive youngsters will recognise the inability to drop off to sleep and propensity for nightmare;
  • single useable verb ‘know’; ‘you’ addressed to himself; vocabulary of tension and attempt in final line of diagnosis;


  • 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: ten 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;
  • the 7 lines are dominated by alveolar plosives[t] [d], nasals [m] [n] and sibilants [s] [z] alongside front -of-mouth aspirates [h] and alveolar [l] bi-labial plosives [p] [b] and labio-dental [f];

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