Crossings xxxv


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 objective and subjective; from the present into the future; between first order experience and seeing things through new eyes, between existence and annihilation. Such boundaries require a range of crossing points: doors, windows, gates, casements, perceived prison bars.

The Foyle valley in Derry separates hormonal weekend boarders within single-sex St Columb’s College from the freedoms and pleasures being enjoyed by the rest of their visible world.

Imprisoned adolescents with the first signs of facial hair (Shaving cuts) and unhealthy proclivities (pallor of bad habits) are so bored that time seemed to stand still (summer idled); they could but watch men and women mixing freely together (couples walked the road along the Foyle).

The devil finds work for resentful hands: ingenious minds find a way to get their own back, carrying a shaving mirror to the point in the school which gave it the greatest range (top storey of the boarders’ dorms) and from where they target folk enjoying what they are expressly denied (Lovers in the happy valley) in parked cars that permit private intimacies (Eager-backed and silent).

The impassible obstacle (the absolute river/ Between us and it all) proved no barrier to the laws of deflected light: angle (tilted the glass up Into the sun); focus (found the range);

trembling control (flitting light); pretext (what we could not have).

A random spot- light attack (brightness played over them in chancy sweeps) – for the more academic students like something out classical mythology (flashes from a god’s shield), for the fun seekers more to do with the dance-floor.

  • pallor: unhealthy pale appearance;
  • idle: mark time, do nothing, laze around;
  • Foyle: river in Derry where Heaney went to St Columb’s College as a part-time boarder;
  • dorm: dormitory for several people;
  • happy valley: where people were perceived to be enjoying themselves;
  • eager-backed: a flurry of associations: hungry couples in rear seats; cars reversed keenly into parking spaces;
  • absolute: real, definite, conclusive; there;
  • tilt: angle, change the angle;
  • flit: dart, dance;
  • chancy: random;
  • sweeps: passing movements;


  • MP 221 As the first poem of ‘Lightenings i’ implies, Seeing Things is full of ‘Unroofed scope’, ‘Knowledge-freshening wind’, ‘soul-free cloud­ life’. Though the old hearth, and the old certainties, may now be cold, they retain an afterlife in his imagination. One cannot imagine Heaney not returning to them to rekindle memory, to admit ‘things beyond measure’(xlvi), to relish ‘the dazzle of the impossible’ (Station Island’, X). ‘I trust contrariness’, he says early on in the collection ‘Squarings’, like so much of his poetry since Death of a Naturalist, exemplifies his determination to keep faith with his ‘Plain, big, straight, ordinary’ origins (xxxiii), and his preparedness to flash beyond them like light from ‘a god’s shield’ (xxxv) or a ‘goldfinch over ploughland’ (xxx).


  • 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 around 10 syllables; unrhymed;
  • 5-sentence structure: 1 & 2 short, the symptoms of pubescence, one defined, the other inferred by the reader; 3 divided by a colon … denied pleasures; major reason why; 4 getting one’s own back; 5 its significance: a future poet’s take;
  • narrative flow a balance between punctuation sometimes mid-sentence and enjambed lines;
  • personification: a season drags its heels, walks slowly with nothing much to do;
  • correspondence; emotional transfer to the surroundings ‘ lovers … happy (valley)’;
  • compound ‘eager-backed’ encapsulates reversing into a parking spot with other thoughts in mind;
  • ‘absolute’: example of the superlative, quintessential images (positives or negatives)) Heaney is seeking in revisiting sites; elsewhere he uses ‘utter’ or ‘sheer’;
  • light images, visible yet unsubstantial, to do with ‘scope’, varying, coming and going: ‘flitting … chancy sweeps … flashes’;
  • final line juxtaposition of classical-mythology extraordinary and everyday humdrum;


  • 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 front of mouth sounds [w] [f] [h] [l], alveolar plosives [d] [t] , sibilant variants [s] [sh] [z] and nasal [n];
  • a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;