Crossings xxxi


From cover to cover Seeing Things presents 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 through new eyes. Such crossings involve a range of access points: doors, windows, gates, casements, an area of Ulster fen.

Heaney’s poem generates increasing momentum: his camera eye moves from measurable distance (quarter of a mile) to nano close-up (millionth of a flicker); his eye-brain coordination shifts from ‘easily recognizable objects’ to unrecognizable objects because too fast to register; the poet himself morphs from the man behind the steering wheel of a car into a Heaney/ Sweeney birdman figure at the point of lift-off.

Driving across a very real area of Ulster to the north east of Loch Neagh (North Antrim bog)  the reality of what the driver is seeing is presenting a dizzying challenge: the road bears all the hallmarks of an avenue, yet is not an avenue; the trees are not unlike but not a bower.

The dominant tall old fir trees … Scotch firs suggestive of ‘avenue’ (line it on both sides) no longer seem to stand up to close inspection:, now calligraphic shocks, hieroglyphic representations, shaped  by nature over time (Bushed and tufted in prevailing winds).

The scene poses questions. At what point does an avenue cease to be an avenue, a tree cease to be a tree? At what point does speed translate thngs seen into a meaning made up of trees or not exactly trees? At what point does increasing speed (sense/ Of running through and under without let) replace identifiable objects by fleeting impressions of thermselves in patchy light (glimpse and dapple).

The driver has reached critical speed: his living instant is reduced to basics (trace and skim); he ceases to be a poet behind the steering wheel (car has vanished) and trensmutes into the figure of his exiled king-birdman surrogate, Sweeney, poised to soar above his native Irish landscape, aerodynamic (fanned nape) and emotionally supercharged: Sensitive to the millionth of a flicker.

  • avenue: wide tree-lined road;
  • bower: shady private spot under trees;
  • North Antrim: one of the 6 Ulster counties to the north and east of Lough Neagh;
  • scotch fir: pine tree originating in the Scottish Highlands;
  • calligraphy: delicate, beautiful handwriting, lettering;
  • bushed: with thick clumps of leafage
  • tufted: with knots, clusters
  • prevailing: predominant
  • meaning: your interpretation of what you see;
  • sense: awareness generated by the five bodily senses (sight etc.) in combination;
  • without let: (… or hindrance) unimpeded, with nothing in the way;
  • glimpse: fleeting sight;
  • dapple: patch of light and colour;
  • trace: outline;
  • skim: rapid visual appraisal;
  • nape: hollowed base of the neck where strong emotions were said to originate;
  • flicker: tiny, almost indiscernible movement, sensation;


  • 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 of 9/10 syllables; unrhymed;
  • 7-sentence structure: the first sets the scene; those that follow swiftly reflect the momentum of the vehicle;
  • punctuated narrative flow leaves room for enjambed lines;
  • frequent ‘not’ suggestive of reality/ old certainty under scrutiny; ‘drive into meaning’ old reality taking on a new perspective;
  • Heaney’s escapades with Sweeney are to be found in the Sweeney Redevivus section of Station Island
  • 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 are dominated by alveolar plosives [d] [t] and nasals [m] [n] alongside velar plosives [g] [k], sibilants [s][sh]] and front-of-mouth sounds [h] [f] [v] [l];
  • a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;