Crossings xxviii


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 a first order experience that seemed ordinary long ago now recognized as a ‘marvel’ worth crediting.

Schoolchildren taking advantage of winter weather engage in a daring activity producing something extraordinary and ‘furthering’ themselves in the process.

Imagine what a child sees squinting through the mouth of a glass bottle – its circularity, its illusion of distance, its shiny, reflective light effects. Now apply those properties to a strip if ice on a frozen pond somewhere around Mossbawn  on a wintry Ulster day.

Waiting in a line that included a future poet, a conveyor-belt of school-age, eager daredevils is committed to re-enter the long slide. They knew that repeated use (time after time) would hone the slide to a peak of perfection.

Heaney recalls the physical and mental requirements: forward momentum (Running), a prepared stance (readying) and the surrender of personal control (letting go). Get it right and there was no better feeling (a sheerness that was its own reward).

They accepted they might come a cropper (A farewell to surefootedness), that the outcome was out of their hands (a pitch/ Beyond our usual hold upon ourselves) that there was no way of stopping (what went on kept going) … a journey out of earthly gravity (grip) into infinite space (narrow milky way).

Orbit, weightlessness, and re-entry (race-up, free passage and return) … sliding proved to be a repeatable loop (remember the bottle shape effects) of dazzling, addictive pleasure (followed on itseIf  like a ring of light), a recognition of fear overcome (We knew we’d come through) and, a furthering of the self (kept sailing towards) … time for another go before it all melts!

  • slide: length of ice/ snow made smooth along which children skid;
  • sheer: complete, without imperfection, utter;
  • surefooted: capable of staying upright;
  • pitch: level, sphere of activity:
  • milky way: Heaney hints at a link between the thin strip of compressed ice and the faint band of light crossing the night sky, made up of vast numbers of faint stars forming the bulk of the galaxy of which our solar system is a part.; microcosm/macrocosm
  • race-up: the momentum created by running;


  • 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 based on 10 syllables; unrhymed;
  • 3-sentence structure, using a colon and dash to split longer sentences: 1 ice metaphor; 2 engagement; 3 furtherance;
  • balanced narrative flow of punctuated and enjambed lines;
  • Initial simile;
  • Use of triples: present participles ‘running… readying … letting go’; nouns ‘race-up …free passage … return’
  • the poet’s conscious wish in Seeing Things to ‘credit marvels’, to express perfect states only visible to him now, is marked by adjectives and nouns with abstract superlative connotation (‘sheerness’, utter);
  • 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], sibilant [s], front-of-mouth [f] [v] [w] 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;