The title of the first section, ‘Lightenings’, arrived by accident, when I found a dictionary entry that gives it to mean ‘a flaring of the spirit at the moment before death’. And there were also the attendant meanings of being unburdened and being illuminated, all of which fitted what was going on as the first poems got written (DOD321)
Heaney offers 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);
Lightenings vi and vii form a double-sided coin: vi portrays Hardy as a precocious boy staring into the airy structure above and causing confusion amongst a herd of sheep; vii features Hardy as an eccentric old man pretending he has already died and causing mild embarrassment amongst those present at social gatherings.
Heaney comes clean: Lightening vi was a fabrication (I misremembered). Hardy’s second wife reported that the boy was not lying on his back staring into space – he facing downwards on all fours in the Wessex field (ewe-leaze) seeking the company of sheep (creatures face to face). The youngster sensed that their mindlessness and instinctive vulnerability (witless eyes and liability/To panic) chimed with his own timidity, making a solitary boy less disconsolate at the prospect of of his own demise (proleptic sorrow ( ) perfectly known and sure).
Memory of sheep behaviour (flock’s dismay) re-surfaced (swimming on) at social gatherings eighty years on via the blinks and murmurs and deflections of folk faced with the ‘flaring of spirit ‘of a famed old man in his dotage (renowned old age), feigning death (imagined himself a ghost) and repeating it from one social grouping to another (circulated with that new perspective)!
- Florence Emily Dugdale was a writer of children’s stories and the second wife of Thomas Hardy, whose biography she wrote;
- ewe-leaze: (Dorset dialect word) field stocked with ewes through the summer;
- witless: foolish, not capable of thought;
- prolepsis: figurative device by which a future event is presumed to have happened (as it will one day);
- dismay: distress caused by an unexpected happening;
- blink: rapid opening and shutting of the eye;
- murmurs: quiet utterances
- deflection: turning aside, giving way;
- renowned: celebrated, eminent;
- circulate: move from person to person, group to group;
- perspective: angle on things, frame of mind;
HV (137): (at the age of 50) the self-consciousness of writing and the presence of death cannot be evaded or over looked. It is for this reason that the landscapes and homescapes of ‘Squarings’ are ‘airy’ rather than ‘laden’, static rather than dynamic, ‘distanced’ rather than proximate, made to resemble stills rather than moving pictures. Early in ‘Squarings’ Heaney recalls how Hardy, ‘at parties in renowned old age’, sometimes ‘imagined himself a ghost / And circulated with that new perspective’.The airiness of Seeing Things occurs because Heaney is contemplating the physical through the scrim (obscuring veil) of extinction. That is the given of the book: what does the phenomenal world look like contemplated through eyes made intensely perceptive by unignorable annihilation?
NC (183): The self is, ‘Fosterling’ tells us, that of a poet ‘nearly fifty’, and ( ) losses are therefore those of common biographical experience; the absences sharpen individual poems into poignancy (leaving a cloud hanging over) resolve others into melancholy (leave him down in the dumps). 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;
- 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);
- the piece is presented as an afterthought, in parenthesis
- 4 triplets based on 10 syllable lines;
- 4-sentence structure: 2 initially to set the record straight; 3 a balance between enjambment and punctuation; 4 a single uninterrupted flow;
- ‘swimming on’ echoes the mildly scientific ‘ripple’-effect of the previous poem: movement created in water retains its momentum;
- some suggestion that both animals and humans respond in a herd-like way to the unexpected;
- 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: twelve 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 heavy in nasal [m] [n], also interweavingf bi-labial plosives [b] [p], alveolar plosives [t] [d] and sibilant variants [s] [z];
- a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;