Crossings xxxii


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, a bridge across a ditch that unites him both with the life of his childhood (still present in the landscape and language) and a ghostly revenant, the recently deceased father whose death left the poet ‘unroofed’.

Heaney pays tribute to the never distant, ever-satisfying element of his rural Ulster upbringing (Running water never disappointed). It provided a crossing point to an extension of the self (always furthered something) and stepping stones that recorded the stages in life (stations of the soul), a correspondance he borrows from the Stations of the Cross of his Catholic pilgrimages.

Back in the marshy domain of childhood, Heaney rehearses his Ulster vernacular: – kesh and causey variously a pathway above wetness or a soil and turf bridge over a piped culvert.

To hear and feel the sound of familiar words takes him home, calms him (steadies me to tell these things) and prepares the ground for something involuntary: keshes or the ford are sufficient to bring father’s shade and living son face to face (my father’s shade appearing to me) at a spot that Patrick Heaney would have frequented in life (a path towards sunset).

The revenant father acts in character, alert to the tools and work-clothes left on site for the morrow (spades and clothes/ That turf cutters stowed). Heaney is reminded of the annihilation that awaits all mankind … the labourers themselves, long dead (souls cast off), poised to cross from the earthly shore towards whatever lay on the other side (the log that spans the burn).

  • further: help something progress, advance;
  • stepping stones: raised stones acting as steps across a stream;
  • stations of the soul: clear allusion to the Stations of the Cross, the series of fourteen pictures orcarvings representing successive incidents during Jesus’s last day on Earth as a man (from his condemnation by Pilate to his crucifixion and burial); the stations are commonly used as a mini pilgrimage as the individual moves from station to station;
  • kesh/ causey: Ulster dialect words explained above (similarly English ‘causeway’, a raised path road above flood-level);
  • steady: calm, compose. Support;
  • shade: spirit of dead person, underworld apparition, ghost;
  • stow: pack away neatly;
  • cast off: set adrift, leave moorings, leave shore;
  • span: lie across, bridge;

In Golden Bough Virgil’s Aeneas was on a tortuous mission to link up with his dear father’s ghost; for Heaney in the environment he and his father shared the father’s ghost comes to the son involuntarily;

NC (177) offers an alternative interpretation: Settings xii (metaphysical considerations of ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’ for the attention of W.B.Yeats) is accompanied in the sequence by several others which similarly register the death of the old certainties …  Crossings xxxii sees the afterlife of ‘appari­tions’, caught uncomprehendingly on the territory of their previous lives. The poem’s tone is one of awkward reverence: it displays an affection for the dead that is without any gloss of Christian consolation, and its ‘shades’ are kin, in the pathos of their incomprehension and abandonment, to those of the Virgilian underworld.

  • 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;
  • 6-sentence structure: the first three offer paused thoughts;
  • 4 clarifies vernacular terms to the reader (unusual since elsewhere Heaney explains that he relegates readerly concerns below writerly requirements; 5 brings inner peace; the final sentence, heavily enjambed, recreates a classical coming-together;
  • triple present participles;
  • contrasting adverbs used superlatively: ‘always’ ‘never’;
  • use and explanation of dialect terms ‘kesh’, ‘causey’;
  • 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 [d] [t], sibilant variants [s] [z] and nasals [m] [n] alongside bi-labial plosives [b] [p] and other front of mouth sounds [f] [v] [w] [l];
  • a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;