Lightenings v


Heaney offered his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the Squarings 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); all three aspects are clearly visible in this piece. 

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

The material marble pitch of Lightenings iii is still to be seen forty years on thumbed in the concrete road while the concrete was still wet, whereas the school-friend who played with him at the time is half the world away (vanished Into Australia).

The hieroglyph with three marble holes becomes a musical instrument on which his random thoughts (music of the arbitrary) are turned into a three-noted tune (Three stops to play on). Rehearsing them (Blow on them now), would generate an intimate personal continuo (undersong) reminiscent of the single-noted resonance of levelled  breath across an empty bottle lip, as inquisitive youngsters discovered.

A counseling voice chips in with imperative force: as a poet … have no set plan (Improvise)… be inventive (Make free) … go with the flow like farmland chaff in the wind (old hay in its flimsy afterlife/ High on a windblown hedge … compose those personal melodies (Ocarina earth) … respect classical voices (Three listening posts up on some hard-baked tier) … listen to the music of their message (the resonating amphorae).

  • stops: finger holes that change an instrument’s note;
  • music of the arbitrary: that emerges randomly; improvised as the mood takes you;
  • undersong: an underlying melody not accessible to every ear; Walter Savage Landor referred to ‘anundersong of sense which none beside the poetic mind […] can comprehend’
  • levelled: blown horizontally;
  • improvise: make it up as you go along;
  • make free: help yourself;
  • flimsy: frail, fragile, easily damaged;
  • ocarina: small egg-shaped wind instrument with holes for the fingers;
  • hard-baked: burnt solid by the sun;
  • tier: terraced row of seating;
  • amphora: tall classical two-handled jug;

The self at this point in time, ‘Fosterling’ tells us, is that of a poet ‘nearly fifty’ …  absences sharpen individual poems into poignancy, resolve others into melancholy. Indeed, the losses extend beyond those of death and a traditional metaphysic of interpretation; they extend, in fact, to all of the remembered experiences themselves, and, as such, ‘Squarings’ may be thought to take off from the insights of ‘Hailstones’ in The Haw Lantern. As an example, the marble-player ‘vanished / Into Australia’ (NC 183)


  • 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;
  • 7-sentence structure: initial enjambment recounting a memory is followed by a shorter series of imperatives; 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: 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 lines interweave bi-labial plosives [b] [p], alveolar plosives [t] [d],velar plosives [k] [g] sibilant variants [s] [z] and labio dental fricatives [f] [v];
  • a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;