From cover to cover Seeing Things features a series of interfaces: journeys in and out of real world situations; between real and mythical; 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 access points: doors, windows, gates, casements, a car’s windscreen, the human eye.
Heaney sets the scene for a dramatic, unexpected encounter: a time of day (driving south at dawn); a state of emergency (going full out); poor visibility on narrow Irish roads (high-up stone-wall country); the early chill (rocks still cold); potential skid conditions (Rainwater gleaming).
Then suddenly around a bend (took a turn) the need for an emergency stop (fox stock-still,/ Face-to-face) The driver’s immediate reaction is of combined thrill and panic (Wildness tore through me); he captures the movements and colouring of the fleeing creature on memory-film: the creatures tensing (dipped), turning away (wheeled) and making a loping escape (a level-running tawny breakaway).
The poet addresses the creature in hindsight (O): its attractive head and characteristic tail (neat head, fabled brush), its instant of surprised alarm (astonished eye), its eye colour altering in the sudden brightness (flared into with morning).
Then, equally dramatic, a change of tack, light shone on the reasons for driving fast at this early hour: a mother in labour, a plea for successful outcome (Let), a third child (rebirth) born both protected by a mother’s fluids and on a rainy day (come through water), a daughter both wanted and begotten in love (through desire).
Present at the birth he has a queasy ‘turn’ and requires a fox-like exit – crawling backwards across clinic floors with an equally astonished eye (that startled iris), back into fresh air.
- full out: at full throttle;
- stock-still: without any movement, frozen;
- wildness: unrepressed emotion;
- tear: move forcefully and quickly;
- dip: bend lower, stoop;
- wheel: move away in a curve;
- tawny: orange/yellowish brown;
- neat: well formed, pleasing;
- fabled: legendary, celebrated, notable;
- brush: fox tail;
- flared into: picked out in its headlights;
- clinic: specialist health centre;
- iris: part of the eye into which light and images are introduced via the pupil;
- NC 180 reads it differently: In Crossings xxv, the shock of an encounter with a fox at dawn is a revelatory moment imagined as a Christian baptism, a ‘rebirth … through water, through desire’… These enlargements of the commonplace when it is brought into apposition with the Christian and classical are managed with tact and finesse in the sequence; there is a vibrantly authoritative assurance in Heaney’s tone and address;
- 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; line length based on 10 syllables; unrhymed;
- 4-sentence structure of varying length: narrative flow more punctuated than enjambed;
- vocative form of address: ‘O’;
- unusual imperative ‘let’ placing the power of outcome in the hands of a third party;
- 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: 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, 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 are dominated by, alveolar plosives [t] [d] and velar plosive [g] [k], alongside front of mouth sounds [v] [f] [w] [l];
- a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;