Lightenings ii

Heaney talked about the therapeutic role Glanmore played in his life : the formal purchase we’d arranged with Ann Saddlemyer restored us to the ‘beloved vale’ in Wicklow. Glanmore Cottage was available from then on as a completely silent place of writing, close to Dublin, no phone, no interruptions whatsoever. In fact, the second poem of the ‘Squarings’ sequence is an immediate act of thanksgiving for the cottage as a ‘bastion of sensation’. ‘Batten down’, it says. ‘Dig in. / Drink out of tin. Know the scullery cold’ -this was before we’d got the central heating.   All that natu­rally sent a powerful surge through the system, as did the writing of ‘Fosterling’, which ended by stating that it was ‘Time to be dazzled and the heart to lighten’. (322)

Heaney offered his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the poems: You could think of every poem in ‘Squarings’ as the peg at the end of a tent-rope reaching up into the airy structure, but still with purchase on something earth­ier and more obscure (DOD 320);

The poem is at once a hymn of thanksgiving and an affirmation. Its earthiness relates to the cottage, the family home, the roof-over-the-head that would witness much of Heaney’s poetic output; a series of imperatives urges the poet to make unhesitating use of his current glut of ideas.

Following the death of both parents, the permanent possession of Glanmore Cottage in 1988 provided a retreat that gave Heaney’s morale a boost (Roof it again).

Glanmore was a ‘bastion of sensation’ to be looked after, maintained, upgraded … and defended (Dig inBatten down), with few home comforts (Drink out of tin), no central heating (Know the scullery cold), with unsophisticated security (A latch, a door-bar) and a single source of warmth (forged tongs and a grate).

His maintenance chores (to do equally with restoring his personal sense of security and building a sound poetic) involved: testing the roof’s solidity (Touch the cross-beam); shoring up where necessary (drive iron in a wall); checking against subsidence (Hang a line to verify the plumb); verifying the soundness of load-bearing elements (lintel, coping-stone and chimney-breast); ensuring safe, family-friendly access (Relocate the bedrock in the threshold); weighing up the window on the world outside (Take squarings from the recessed gable pane); accepting modest working conditions (your study the unregarded floor).

Once you have sorted this, he tells himself, write poems as sound as the building: build on those those random ideas (Sink every impulse like a bolt); underpin what you perceive (Secure/ The bastion of sensation); trust in your word-hoard (Do not waver Into language); then, when you have made up your mind, go for it: Do not waver in it!

  • batten down: secure, prepare for difficulties;
  • dig in: prepare trenches for protection;
  • scullery: to the rear of the kitchen, room for washing dishes or dirty household work;
  • latch: metal fastening with catch and lever;
  • door-bar: cross bar for added security;
  • tongs: two-armed hearth tool for picking up and holding;
  • plumb: vertical line;
  • lintel: wall support over door or window;
  • coping-stone: highest stone in wall;
  • bedrock: solid base;
  • threshold: point crossed to enter house or room;
  • take squarings: check right angles; accurate corners;
  • recessed: set back from the rest;
  • gable pane: glass cut with triangular head to fit the gable shape;
  • unregarded: unappreciated;
  • impulse: sudden notion;
  • bolt: metal rod that strengthens foundations
  • bastion: fortified projection;
  • sensation: physical perception, inexplicable awareness;
  • waver: enter indecisively/ falter;


  • HV 150-1 It was a great surprise to many of Heaney’s readers …  to come upon the abstract, unmythologized and mostly unpolitical hiero­glyphs of Seeing Things. The volume proves the degree to which, for a poet, a new sense of life must generate a new style … the poet makes an inventory of what will bear holding on to: ‘Roof it again. Batten down. Dig in.’ Instead of the first-order quiver of sensation, or the elegiac replay of second-order memory, he will enunciate the third-order clarity of adult acknowledgement in language …The final couplet has the sternness of a vow.
  • The 48 poems of the ‘Squarings’ sequences follow an identical format (12 lines in 4 triplets}; Heaney suggests it 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 based on 10 syllable lines;
  • 12-sentence structure bears all the hallmarks of a checklist with boxes to tick; a single loose rhyme but no scheme;
  • the builder’s tick-boxes presented as a list of imperatives for the poet; ultimately these move from dual-use into the poetic domain;
  • 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: fourteen 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 triplet interweaves bi-labial plosives [b] [p] ,velar plosives [k] [g] sibilant [s] and front of mouth sounds [w] [f] [v];
  • a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;