Lightenings iii


Heaney offered his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the ‘Squarings’ poems: You could think of every poem ( ) 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)

So long for air to brighten, said Fosterling, Time to be dazzled and the heart to lighten.

Heaney offers a master-class in describing, in the closest detail imaginable, what it takes to be a successful marble-shooter. Viewed through the lens of time a first order experience takes on new significance.

Heaney runs through the infinite modulations of a childhood game played in the road outside Mossbawn farm, weighing up (squarings) everything that precedes his marble-shoot within the unwritten code of rules (allowed): the lining up stage (anglings, aimings); the mock attempts (feints); the eyes narrowed in concentration (squints); the crouching body (Hunkerings); the warmed up muscles (tensings); the variable grip (pressures of the thumb); the practice actions (test-outs); the attempts abandoned in mid-action (pull-backs); the re-startings from scratch (re-envisagings). The participle-nouns are plural – this exercise was repeated whenever Heaney took a shot.

As one, body and mind were optimistic (your arms kept hoping), closed to the possibility of shooting badly (Blind certainties that were going to prevail) until the launch announced otherwise (Beyond the one-off moment of the pitch).

The marble’s trajectory is subject to a million million accuracies between the arm’s follow-through (your muscles’ outreach and landing-site , space like the Squarings poems themselves, with a geometric design (three round holes and a drawn line), a stylized hieroglyph that opened a porthole of perception to what lay beyond the instant: You squinted out from a skylight of the world.

The boy setting up to achieve the perfect shoot will, of course, grow into the poet drafting and redrafting to come up with the perfect poem.

  • marbles: children’s game in which small glass balls are propelled along the ground with the aim of dislodging those of opponents
  • anglings: calculating intersection points
  • aimings: lining up the direction;
  • feint: incomplete action,
  • squints: looking through narrowed eyes as if to see more clearly;
  • shoot: release the marble at pace;
  • hunker: squat, crouch;
  • tense: tighten the muscles;
  • test-out: follow through without letting go
  • pull-back: swing the arm back to generate momentum;
  • re-envisage: start the planning process again;
  • blind certainty: the mind closed to the possibility of failure
  • prevail: succeed, triumph
  • one-off: happening only once, unrepeatable;
  • pitch: delivery of the marble;
  • outreach: outward extension;


  • 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;
  • 4-sentence structure following an initial question; a flow dominated by commas that detach and separate he individual stages; unrhymed;
  • 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 four lines interweave alveolar sounds[t] [d][l], sibilant variants [s] [z] and nasals [m[ [n];
  • a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;