The pilgrim has gone to one of Station Island’s ‘beds’. His initial humble posture (I knelt)is followed by a pause: Hiatus.. This is not prayer but rather obedience of the protocols of the pilgrimage, a ‘pervasive element’ from Heaney’s Catholic upbringing.
The mindset (Habit’s afterlife) has transported him back to bead clicks and the murmurs/ from inside confessionals. Textures and odours have invaded his sense-memory: the invasiveness of waning candles insinuating slight/ intimate smells of wax at body heat.
Expectancy (an active wind-stilled hush) and a marine association (the sea-shell held to the ear in which the jugular hiss of blood-flow resembles that of the sea) seem to herald a magic happening: the ocean stopped … a tide rested and sustained the roof.
On cue the ghostly shape of a seaside trinket appears: floated then and idled/ in vision like phosphorescent weed. A modest mass-produced object, it promises its own regeneration: seedling mussel shells and cockles glued in patterns.
The relic he once held in his hands and its association with a beloved person who died young has a deep spiritual significance: pearls condensed from a child invalid’s breath/ into a shimmering ark, my house of gold. The time of year when she passed on is recalled: the snowdrop weather of her death/ long ago.
The young Heaney retrieved the object from our big oak sideboard, ship-sized and large enough for a child to hide in: I would stow away in the hold. He recalls the nature of the search (forage) and the respect with which relic was packed away: laid past in its tissue paper for good.
His conscience chides him still for a ‘sinful’ intrusion: like touching birds’ eggs, robbing the nest of the word wreath. His parents had hidden away the sad memento (kept dry and secret as her name which they hardly ever spoke). To him howeverthe dead girl’s memory is of a white bird trapped inside me beating scared wings, an awareness sharpened by memory of the moment in church when her name figured in prayers offered in support of those who were sick.
He is awakened from reverie by his physical discomfort and the need to stretch his legs round and round a space utterly empty, that is,totally free from the sound of human utterance and yet rich in associations: utterly a source, like the idea of sound.
The pilgrim conjures up a parallel emptiness, something else loved that went missing like an absence in the swamp-fed air/ above a ring of walked-down grass and rushes: in the Mossbawn landscape we once found the bad carcass and scrags of hair/ of our dog that had disappeared weeks before. The ‘we’ hints, perhaps, at a moment when he and the ill-fated ‘Aunt Agnes’ (see below) walked together.
- bead: from Old English word for ‘prayer’, ‘entreaty’, thus ‘prayer beads’;
- Insinuating: the Latin word ‘sinus’ , ‘curve’ or ‘winding’ provides the idea of ‘working its way into’; a further sense suggests that the act was calculated;
- seedling mussel shells: small mussels (a sea-food) are known as seeds;
- ark: the word has spiritual overtones whether Noah’s ark or the Ark of the Covenant, both as a ‘large chest’, ‘place of refuge or ‘sacred container’;
- wreath: ring or garland of flowers, often deposited as a mark of affection or respect at funerals;
- Pray for us … litany: a series of prayers, petitions and entreaties as part of Christian services; here part of the litany addressed to the Blessed Virgin Mary; there are echoes in the text of the words of the Litany of the Blessed Virgin (MPp195);
- kneeling boards: provided to protect the knees from the wet and dirt of earth surfaces;
- utterly: originally 13th c. ‘truly, ‘plainly’ , ‘outspokenly’, later ‘totally, ‘completely”; Heaney retains the association with ‘utterance’ and ‘speech’ to produce a dual suggestion;
- Heaney discussed the ‘relic’ status of the seaside keepsake: a little grotto shaped like a sentry-box that was kept deep in a sideboard in my parents’ bedroom. He was small enough to climb into the cupboard and pull objects out. This keepsake had a touch of the sacred and, as he learnt at a fairly earlystage, had belonged to Agnes, Aunt Agnes as she was called, who died from TB in her teens. Her name has always been synonymous with tenderness (DOD p 240);
- juxtaposition of pious death and brute death somehow sentimentalises the poem;
- the poet kneels but not in prayer;
- the simple trinket becomes a ‘grotto’ in the imagination of the impressionable, intensely religious boy … why he felt her spirit had been transferred to him … he recalls a grim intimation of mortality from his own past the discovery of the decomposing body of the family dog (MP p195);
- in cantoIIIHeaney returns to private spaces to focus on death faith and innocence (MP p195)
- eight quatrains (Q) based on lines of 10 syllables; nine sentence (S as below) construct, three in the first line; comprehensive use of enjambed lines; most other punctuation mid-line;
- no formal rhyme scheme but the emergence of a pattern loosely assonant in Q1 but tighter as the piece unfolds at variable points; S1-3 echo the pause in proceedings; S4 vocabulary of insubstantial sights and sounds;
- S5 oxymoron ‘active … hush’; comparison with marine landscape; emergence of ‘as if’ and ‘like’ as a means to comparison; S6 similar mirage evocation; toy grotto made to seem living; vocabulary of spiritual significance; time-of-year evoked using a seasonal flower; guilt disguised as a forbidden rural practice;
- S7 modal auxiliary ‘would’ denotes repeated action; comparison furniture/boat to evoke smallness of child;
- S8: memory compared with ‘a white bird’ within the context of a religious service; triple adjective; S9 dual association of ‘utterly’: ‘complete’, to do with utterance; comparison ‘source’ and ‘sound’; more abstract comparisons; key sound ‘stationed’; compound adjectives; absence recalls a bad but concrete memory;
- the music of the poem: eleven 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: in Q1 listen for continuant [h] thenvelar plosive [k] and nasals [m] [n], then emerging alveolar fricatives [s] [z] and alveolar plosive [t] carried into Q2 with added voiceless post-alveolar fricative [ʃ] (sh); Q3 adds labio-dental fricatives [f] [v]; listen for bilabial plosives [p] [b] carried into Q4 and beats of alveolar plosive [d]; similar blend in Q5 but added trill [r]; in Q6 listen for alveolar [l]; ‘fluttered is onomatopoeic; Q7 starts with beats of alveolar pair [d] then [t] and emergent [s] carried into Q8 and final group of velar [k];