Crossings xxix


From cover to cover Seeing Things features a series of interfaces: journeys in and out of real world situations; between real and mythical worlds; between secular and spiritual; between existence and annihilation; between objective and subjective; from the present into the future; between first order experience and seeing things anew. Movement from one side to the other requires a range of crossing points: windows, gates, casements, a familiar Ulster door with a latch.

‘All these things entered you/ As if they were both the door and what came through it’ said Markings III, presenting a crossing point with no view – between  the‘within’ and the ‘without’, between the present and the what-next, between the known and the longed-for.

Heaney stands iun front of a familiar door that to the scraping sound of blade against blade, of metal bar against its keeper (Scissor-and-slap abruptness of a latch)

His touch knows its coldness to the thumb, its up-and-down lever mechanism operating  like children’s play equipment (see-saw lift and drop). The rasping noise it makes is not intended to set one’s teeth on edge (innocent harshness), but rather produce a rural sound (music) associated with events that brought people to the house: marriage (binding) or bereavement (loosing).

This bygone piece of Irish door furniture unheard in this generation is there to be summoned from the treasure house of  memory (called up or called down at a touch renewed).

Once Heaney hears the latch’s voice (pronounces) the world prior to the loss of his nearest and dearest comes back to life (roof Is original again); the threshold) is a crossing point associated with loss (fatal), an emotional burden to those who live on (sanction) and a dread for the living who acknowledge annihilation (foreboding).

The poet knows his father’s footfall (Your footstep is already known); he can see his slightly  stooping figure (bow just a little) and encourage the next action (raise your right hand) bidding him act according to his nature (Make impulse one with willfulness) and step back into Heaney’s life for a moment, please (enter).

  • scissor and slap: notion of a blade/ latch bar opening then closing with a bang;
  • abrupt: sudden, without warning;
  • see-saw: the pivoted arm moving up and down resembles a children’s playground installation;
  • binding and loosing: making fast and releasing;
  • at a touch: at the touch of a (mental) button; quickly accessible;
  • fatal: as fate decreed, as it evolved;
  • sanction: punishment, penalty;
  • foreboding: a disquieting threat;
  • impulse: might imply thumb pressure;
  • make one with: unite in common purpose;
  • willfulness: intention


  • MP 219 Equally impressive is the marriage of sense, image and sound found in poem XXIX, where Heaney makes available again ‘a music of binding and loosing/ Unheard in this generation’, the music of a latch. Something clicks in the inner ear as we listen to its ‘Scissor-and-slap abruptness’; for the poet its ‘see-saw lift’ gives entry to the potent and the ominous in his past;


  • The 48 poems of the ‘Squarings’ sequences follow an identical format (12 lines in 4 triplets}; Heaney suggests the format just happened that way: ‘given, strange and unexpected’ … ‘I didn’t quite know where it came from but I knew immediately it was there to stay’) DOD 321;
  • 4 triplets; variable line length between7 and 11 syllables; unrhymed;
  • 6-sentence structure, the first 3 in rapid succession; balanced narrative flow using punctuation and enjambed lines;
  • compounds: ‘scissors-and-slap’ alliterative invention; ‘see-saw’ equally alliterative but commonplace object – noun used as adjective;
  • juxtaposition of actual, and figment sense data announcing a ghostly return: sound/hearing: ‘slap’ actual, ‘music’ metaphorical and ‘unheard anyway, ‘footstep’ figment; touch ‘coldness’ actual;
  • personification: door-latch has language; also metaphorical witness of marriage and death;
  • final sentence addresses the approaching ghost (‘your’); use of imperative form;
  • 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: twelve 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, soothings or hissings or frictions of consonant sound to modify the assonant melodies; this is sonic engineering of the first order;
  • for example, the final four lines interweave alveolar plosives [d] [t], alveolar [r] , front-of-mouth sounds [f] [v] [l] [w] , voiced dental [th], sibilants [s] [z] and nasals [m] [n];
  • a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;