Heaney pinpoints stretches of the Irish coast where sea and land meet. He combines lyrical description with a sprinkling of geographical locations which open a treasure chest of events and associations in his mind.
From the 1960s’ days when the poet was assessing teaching practices around Northern Ireland he became accustomed to using his car to access remote schools he was required to visit as part of his job. The habit stuck and, as time went by, countless outings undertaken alone or with wife and friends took him along the beautiful and varied Irish coastline by road. Unsurprising perhaps that in numerous poems across his published work a windscreen separates the passing Heaney from the object of his attention.
From behind the wheel of his car north of Belfast (County Down), as if merely following the road (turning a corner, taking a hill) he catches sight of the sea, now angling in, now coming to rest (sidling and settling) strikingly close to the land (back of a hedge).
At another spot (or else) a dull coloured stretch of strand (grey foreshore) with pools (puddles) left behind – lifeless and washed out (dead-eyed as fish) – where random (haphazard) tidal remnants (craters) bounded (march) arable and dairy farmland (corn … grazing).
From Ulster’s north coastal plateau (all round Antrim) down the Atlantic coast of the Irish Republic (two hundred miles at Moher) igneous rock (basalt) forms a line of defence (stands to). Perhaps Heaney was misled about the shale and sandstone of Moher cliffs but no matter.
The immense power of water-flow is awe-inspiring both out at sea and in outlets leading to the sea (ocean and channel), as it seethes (froth) against man-made, black painted barriers protecting placid river flow (black locks) or subjects the beaches (strands) to wind-whistling salvos (hissing submissions) on both sides of the island of Ireland (off Wicklow and Mayo).
At whatever moment one chooses (any minute), wherever and without exception (foot of all fields, all cliffs and shingles) incoming seawater will be poking around (rummaging in) conjuring up sound reminders (listen) of eighth century Viking raiders (Danes) their longboats spreading fear (black hawk bent on the sail) or two centuries later chain-mailed northern French invaders (chinking Normans) – or in places marshy stretches fighting back – (currachs) seeking to reclaim (hopping high) the sea’s domain.
Human coastal settlements both large and small to all four corners of Ireland (Strangford, Arklow, Carrickfergus,
Belmullet and Ventry) are set in stone (stay), disregarded guardians of the shoreline (forgotten like sentries).
- sidle: move obliquely;
- settle: come to rest;
- foreshore: area between water and cultivated land or shore between high and low water mark; point to point the Irish coast is estimated to be about 2,000 miles in length;
- puddle: poll of liquid on the ground;
- dead-eyed: with no sparkle of life:
- haphazard: random;
- crater: bowl shaped cavity;
- march: act as a boundary, bound, mark out, delimit
- basalt: hard volcanic rock very common in Antrim (for example the Giant’s Causeway coast) but also along stretches of the wild Atlantic coast of the Irish Republic;
- stand to: wait prepared for attack (by the tide)
- Moher: sea cliffs located on the Burren cost of County Clare; the name means ‘ruined fort’ in Gaelic; formed largely of sandstone and shale;
- froth: mass of bubbles in a liquid;
- channel: length of water linking two larger areas of water;
- black locks: Dublin’s Grand Canal has three black-painted sea locks where it enters the tidal River Liffey;
- strand: beach, sea shore
- submission: capitulation;
- Wicklow, Mayo: counties of the Republic of Ireland;
- rummage: sift through, poke around
- shingle: describing a beach formed by small rounded pebbles en masse;
- Antrim, Wicklow, Mayo: counties of the island of Ireland;
- Danes: Viking: 8-11 century Norwegian seafarers who first raided and then built coastal settlements in Ireland, which would go on to become some of the country’s major cities – Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Wexford;
- black hawk: bird of prey that would instil fear when used as a Viking long-boat emblem or insignia;
- Normans: from the 12th century groups of Normans originally from northern France invaded and settled in Gaelic Ireland
- chinking: body armour by Norman times included chain mail;
- curragh: stretch of marshy waste ground;
- hop: spring, dance;
- Strangford: Co Mayo village at the head of Strangford Lough north of Belfast;
- Arklow: seaside town town in County Wicklow founded by the Vikings in 9th century;
- Carrickfergus: large town in Co. Antrin, Northern Ireland
- Belmullet: coastal Gaeltacht (where Irish is spoken) town in Co. Mayo
- Ventry: Gaeltacht village in Co. Kerry;
- stay: stand one’s ground;
- sentry; sentinel, military guard;
- MP 84 The final group of poems from Door into the Dark which merit consideration are ‘meditative landscape poems’, (‘The Peninsula’, ‘Whinlands’, ‘The Plantation’, ‘Shoreline’ and’ Bogland’) encompassing ‘notions about history and nationality .. primeval, and sometimes pre-Celtic landscapes … all illustrating Heaney’s increasing concern with Irish geography, history and archaeology, and how ‘home’ now means something greater than the Mossbawn microcosm… natural forms and shapes from both childhood and adult experience, ones … which articulate the identity of the whole of Ireland, and not merely his own ... (MP94) His growth and survival as a poet will depend on his ability to ‘uncode all landscapes’, to remain fluid and responsive like the spirit of ‘Undine’, to accept new personas, other personalities … After the sensual richness of Death of a Naturalist, Heaney developed a taste for the austere sublime, influenced in part perhaps by his painter friends, such as T. P. Flanagan to whom Bogland is dedicated;
- NC 18 In ‘Shoreline’, Heaney receives the first of those visitations from the Vikings which are to constitute part of the mythology of North: ‘Listen. Is it the Danes, / A black hawk bent on the sail?’ Even if the Vikings are present not in the vegetation of Ireland, but in the tide ‘rummaging’ at its coastline;
- NC 23 picks out Heaney’s taste for ‘meditative solitary driving’: 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 or theory 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. Even ‘Shoreline’, for all its recovery of a history of invasion from the Irish coastline, and for all that it eventually swells to embrace the whoIe island of Ireland opens with a car ‘Turning a corner, taking a hill/In County Down’.
- 7 quatrains (Q) in 13 sentences (S) including questions; variable line length of 4-7 syllables;
- composed in the present tense; the addition of participle ‘ing’ gives the poem a continuous happening-nowness;
- The sentence frequency reflects the poetic mind flicking between images and intellectual charges;
- unrhymed perhaps with the exception of the final couplet;
- the balance of punctuation and enjambment dictates flow and rhythm within the oral delivery potential, governing pace or pause; overall the longer sentences are more heavily enjambed interspersed with short sentences ; overall the poem is heavily enjambed;
- Heaney has things to transmit to/ invite his reader to share his reader hence perhaps his use of imperatives;
- Q1 the ever proximity yet surprise appearance of the sea depicts the configuration of the Co Mayo landscape; personification perhaps in use of ‘sidle’ and ‘settle’; final two words introduce move from sea to shore, from distant to closer; from landscape to interface;
- Q2 muted colourings; antithetical comparison puddles/dead fish; human activity/farms identified by their output;
- Q3 geography and geology; suggestion of all-Ireland coastline and hard rock deposits (only partly accurate); place names; final line introduces the sea’s will to conquer the land (worth reading the Aran poem of ‘Death of a Naturalist’);
- Q4 onslaught of sea seeking ‘submission’ visual ‘froth’ and audible ‘hiss’;
- Q5 imperative seeks Heaney’s/ reader’s reflection on the generalised tidal circumstances ; personification ‘rummage’ is a human activity;
- Q6 imperative seeks attention to imagined sounds as a way into examples of Ireland under occupation and the conditioning effect on the people; use of interrogatives; image of the land fighting back;
- Q7 named geographical settlements; final image introduces a Heaney fondness for those with physical oversight of a place or a dilemma (see for example ‘Mycenae Lookout’) set in position and forgotten;
- 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: fifteen 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 final two stanzas are dominated by nasals [n] [m], alveolar plosives [t] [d ], sibilants [s] [z] and velar plosives [k] [g] alongside front of mouth sounds: alveolar [l], bilabial plosives [p] [b], aspirate [h], labio-dental [f] [v];