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; of first order experience seen through new eyes.
The poem is triggered by recollection of Heaney’s late father’s advice to a close family member. He fondly remembers his father’s dry, reticent personality and his occasional shafts of wit, fitting for the world in which Patrick Heaney lived and for whatever lay on the other side.
Nothing is for ever (Everything flows). Patrick Heaney stood for solide feet-on-the-groundness, personal and professional strength (solid man … pillar to himself and to his trade) eternally recognizable with his yellow boots … stick … soft felt hat.
Post mortem, the poet elevates him to the status of multitasking mythological deity, a Hermes figure (wings at the ankle … fleet), speeding round the Ulster rural scene (god of fair days, stone posts, roads and cross roads), once exercising significant responsibility amongst the living (Guardian of travellers) now ensuring the safe passage of dead souls between the world of man and the world beyond (psychopomp).
The brotherly advice he gave to an apprehensive sister about to embark on a journey across the sea to London urged her to select as her guardian-angel a man curiously resembling himself (with an ash plant), to stay close to him on the night ferry and emerge intact (safe).
Heaney cannot slow the passage of time, so let it flow on. He is on his own journey of the soul – he has benefitted from his own paternal soul guide, a shrewd Ulster cattle-wheeler-dealer who encapsulated the mysteries of dealing-men with sticks) … one of an ilk.
- flows: is in flux;
- pillar: tower of strength, mainstay;
- sprout wings: allusion to Mercury (Hermes), Olympian god of herds and flocks, travellers and hospitality, roads and trade, thievery and cunning, heralds and diplomacy, language and writing, athletic contests and gymnasiums, astronomy and astrology; he was the herald and personal messenger of Zeus, King of the Gods, and also the guide of the dead who led souls down into the underworld; met in the Aeneid carrying messages to Aeneas; depicted as either a handsome and athletic youth or as an older man, with winged boots and a herald’s wand; Heaney introduces his late father;
- fleet: swift, agile, nimble
- fair days: hunger and poverty drove many Ulster folk to seek work, often seasonal, in agriculture or domestic service; hiring fairs connected job-seekers with potential employers’ at their peak, they took place in more than 80 towns across Ulster and were generally held twice a year in May (the beginning of the harvest season) and November ( for preparation of the ground and planting);
- psychopomp: reference to a spirit, deity, angel from a number of religions whose responsibility it was to ensure safe passage to deceased souls without judging them;
- ash plant: Ulster term for (walking-) stick
- dealing-men: individuals concerned with the purchase and sale of merchandise (in the Heaney context cattle);
HV 138 What does the phenomenal world look like contemplated through eyes made intensely perceptive by unignorable annihilation? HV’s ‘reduction to non-existence’ closes the door on Christian notions of ‘things following life’, confirming Heaney’s agnosticism;
- 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: 1 short thesis as regards the human condition; 2 ordinary man, now dead granted extraordinary status; 3 autobiographical anecdote including direct speech; 4 initial thesis reprised – the Heaneys’ position in the chain;
- 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 triplet interweaves alveolar plosives [d][t], alveolar [l], sibilants [z] [s] 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;