The second of consecutive poems in which Heaney recalls incidents involving his deceased parents in particular his father. Heaney had left the family home (after seven years of part boarding-school experience) to go to university after which he worked, married, travelled and brought up children in locations distant from his roots. His memories of those early days are crystal-clear.
The child Heaney shows an early flash of the intelligence he will demonstrate abundantly as schoolboy and scholar: the father gives his eager-beaver son a job he wants done without delay: ‘On you go now! Run, son, like the devil’ ; he is to pass on an instruction: ‘tell your mother to try/ To find me a bubble for the spirit level / And a new knot for this tie.’
When the child simply stares back at him without budging, his non-compliance is not regarded as insubordination: he was glad, I know, when I stood my ground, / Putting it up to him. The youngster has overcome an attempt to send him on an errand that would make him look a fool With a smile that trumped his smile and his fool’s errand.
He knows it will not be the last effort to hoodwink him: … Waiting for the next move in the game .
- errand; a job;
- fool’s errand: task or activity asked of ingenuous people without hope of them succeeding ;
- like the devil: at full speed;
- bubble: thin sphere of liquid enclosing air;
- spirit level: device used in the building trade consisting of a sealed glass tube partially filled with alcohol or other liquid, containing an air bubble whose position reveals whether a surface is perfectly level;
- knot: a looped fastening;
- putting it up; standing firm;
- trump: in cards one of a chosen suit that beats cards from other suits; by extension to win the round;
- move … game: Heaney illustrates the battle of wits that took place using vocabulary of competitive games;
- two quatrains with lines of variable length; loose rhymes scheme abab cddc ;
- first quatrain direct speech in 2 sentences with enjambed lines; second quatrain in a single sentence;
- imagery and vocabulary of card play;
- the music of the poem: six 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:
- alliterative effects allow pulses or beats or soothings or hissings or frictions of consonant sound to modify the assonant melodies:
- the first quatrain already gathers together bi-labial plosives [p] [b] and nasal [n]; note also alveolar [l];
- it is well worth teasing out the sound clusters for yourself to admire the poet’s sonic engineering:
- Consonants (with their phonetic symbols) can be classed according to where in the mouth they occur
- Front-of-mouth sounds voiceless bi-labial plosive [p] voiced bi-labial plosive [b]; voiceless labio-dental fricative [f] voiced labio-dental fricative [v]; bi-labial nasal [m]; bilabial continuant [w]
- Behind-the-teeth sounds: voiceless alveolar plosive [t] voiced alveolar plosive [d]; voiceless alveolar fricative as in church match [tʃ]; voiced alveolar fricative as in judge age [dʒ]; voiceless dental fricative [θ] as in thin path; voiced dental fricative as in this other [ð]; voiceless alveolar fricative [s] voiced alveolar fricative [z]; continuant [h] alveolar nasal [n] alveolar approximant [l]; alveolar trill [r]; dental ‘y’ [j] as in yet
- Rear-of-mouth sounds: voiceless velar plosive [k] voiced velar plosive [g]; voiceless post-alveolar fricative [ʃ] as in ship sure, voiced post- alveolar fricative [ʒ] as in pleasure; palatal nasal [ŋ] as in ring/ ang