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).
So long for air to brighten, said Fosterling. Time to be dazzled and the heart to lighten.
Heaney’s observer sits astride a crag top at a quarry’s edge, close to a sheer drop (Overhang of grass) where Nature clings precariously but persistently to life (seedling birch).
Heaney identifies himself as the lofty speaker (Rock-hob where you watched), a man in his fifties studying the cargoed brightness carried along by the laws of meteorology: ineffable (travelling/ Above and beyond) awesome in its fullness (sumptuous); visible even from ground level (water in its clear deep dangerous holes/ On the quarry floor).
He identifies a timeless interplay of two extremes: the ultimate fathomableness of what can be seen and passed through; the ultimate stony up-againstness of the earth-bound and impassible.
Have you, he asks himself at this moment of self-reckoning, grasped the difference between what offers infinite scope (diaphanous) and what is unyielding (massive); how did you respond (equal to or … opposite) as regards things and notions as they took shape (build-ups), disorderly (promiscuous) or volatile (weightless).
He counsels himself threefold: don’t let the brightness blind you (Shield your eyes); go for the ‘scope’ option (look up), live with an unignorable reality you cannot change: face the music.
Lightenings i and x juxtapose huge skies offering ‘shifting brilliancies’ and diaphanous scope with earth-bound situations from which to survey soul and intellect, present and future; life and death; in both cases water pools reflect the earthly order back into the airy, from surfaces with a geometry similar to the marble track of Lightenings iii.
- seedling: young
- quarry face: steep side of the deep pit from which materials have been extracted;
- hob: flat shelf;
- cargoed: (noun used as verb) transported;
- sumptuous: splendid, resplendent
- above … beyond … across: prepositions of extended space;
- ultimate: the best achievable or imaginable of its kind; final or fundamental fact or principle;
- fathomable: within understanding;
- stony: ‘made of stone’ but with a touch of ‘stony-faced’ suggesting ‘serious’, ‘sombre’
- up against: in close contact, body and mind;
- diaphanous: delicate, translucent;
- massive: of solid bulk;
- equal to/ opposite: fit for, up to/ at odds with;
- build-up: gradual accumulation;
- promiscuous: mixed, indiscriminate, transient, non-permanent; no sexual connotation here;
- shield: protect against the glare;
- face the music: live with the consequences of your perceptions i.e. death is inevitable;
- HV (144) … by the time of Seeing Things mud has hardened from its nimbus-gaiety into a quarried cliff-face looming over water – Heaney’s new hieroglyph of the world governed by the intractable laws of physical necessity. The question now is not how to reconcile the sullied flesh with the lucent soul, but how – in ‘Squarings’ x – to reconcile the water of the diaphanous virtual with the rock of the massive material. The imagination must work to set mobility of mind against the immobility of the inhuman.
- Heaney takes stock (a squaring) of himself periodically, as demonstrated, for example, in ‘Exposure’, the final poem in the ‘North’ collection of 1975;
- 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;
- 4 triplets; line length not limited to but largely based on 10 syllable lines; unrhymed;
- 5-sentence structure; narrative flow derives from a balance between enjambed lines and mid-line punctuation; 2 questions;
- cluster of prepositions: above and beyond … across’; neologism built on prepositions: ‘up-againstness’;
- cluster of adjectives ‘clear deep dangerous’;
- repetition of ‘ultimate’ like sheer or utter as a superlative;
- neologism ‘fathomableness’
- 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 are dominated by front-of-mouth sounds [w], fricatives [f] [v] alongside bi-labial plosives [b] [p], 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;