Glanmore Revisited 5. Lustral Sonnet


The poet explains his absence from Glanmore as a classical Roman ‘lustrum’ ritual of spiritual cleansing …  Heaney reflects on his return to the cottage.

His desire to be a poet turned him into a ‘word-burglar’, an accumulator of intellectual possessions from early on. He experienced the same intruder mentality (breaking and entering) on taking up the ownership of Glanmore.

The excitement of pilfering the word-hoard for poetic use  (thrilled me) was stronger than any fear it generated (scared me­). The same mix of feelings (still did) accompanied his upward-mobility (came into my own) and his slightly uncharactreristic acquisition of bricks and mortar (my own masquerade as a man of property).

Heaney’s instinctive first impulse was to trust in the honesty of his Irish neighbours: he regarded bolting the cottage (double-bar a door or lock a gate) or concealing what was inside (fitted blinds and curtains drawn over) as a step-too-far (too self-protective and uptight).

Re-entering the cottage after a ‘lustrum’ interval feels like criminal trespass (my own first breaker-in). His mission is to destroy an ancient ‘relic’ (saw up the old bed-frame) for sound practical reasons (the stair was much too narrow for it) … and yet it feels like a sin (bad action) with ominous consequences (so Greek with consequence, so dangerous).

Only proper behaviour (pure words and deeds) will create the memorial Glanmore deserves (secure the house).

  • lustral: (from Latin lustrum) to do with purification; a ‘lustrum’ refers to the five-yearly purification of the Roman people at the time of the census; enacted via animal sacrifice;
  • breaking and entering: burglary, unlawful entry into a building for the purposes of committing an offence;
  • thrill: fill with excitement:
  • masquerade: make-believe, pretence;
  • impulse: instinct;
  • double-bar: secure in two places;
  • fitted: to fill a space exactly;
  • blind: window screen;
  • uptight: tense, anxious;
  • breaker-in: burglar, raider;
  • instruction: order, directive;
  • bed-frame: base;
  • Greek: reference to inevitable, disastrous outcomes in Greek tragedy;
  • consequence: both outcome and importance
  • pure words: straight, untainted;


  • sonnet (8 + 6); volta after l.8 moves the poem from pre-lustral to post-lustral feelings;
  • lines based on 10 syllables; very loose rhyme pattern;
  • 4 sentence structure; frequent punctuation and few enjambed lines fragment the poem’s flow;
  • 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 Glanmore sonnets: thirteen assonant strands are woven into the 7 texts; 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 lines might interweave bilabial plosives [b][p], front-of-mouth sounds [f] [h] [y] [w] and sibilant variants [s] [z] [ts]; the sounds will be heard as the poem is read;
  • a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;