Squarings xl


Heaney offers his reader a clue as to how to ‘enter’ the Squarings sequence: 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);

To DOD (p.325) Heaney revealed the period of intense creative activity that accompanied the genesis of Seeing Things:  I was pouncing on twelve liners on all kinds of occasions, chance sentences from my reading, chance sightings of dictionary entries ( ) chance visits to places that unlocked the word hoard.

The Irish dwelling that Heaney recalls from 1943 (I was four) was Irish a thousand times over (I turned four hundred maybe … maybe four thousand even) … an early memory pervaded by smell and touch (ancient dampish) built of age-old Irish building materials (clay floor).

But forget the history, he suggests (Anyhow, there it was),  in favour of what I actually recall as a knee-high youngster : the primitive arrangement for feeding domestic animals (milk poured for cats directly onto the clay); the abidingly  unhygienic smell (rank puddle place);  drinking water drawn from outside stored in a terracotta water-crock marked with signs of moisture and poor ventilation; splash-darkened mould).

From visual coffers of pastness to a much deeper significance: the dwelling as a Heaney life-foundation (Ground of being), wedding his whole self (Body’s deep obedience) to a a kaleidoscope of emotional and spiritual Irishness (all its shifting tenses), opening his mind to infinite scope (a half-door Opening directly into starlight).

Humble beginnings (earth house) that bequeathed myriad personal experiences and insights (stack of singular, cold memory-weights) against which to measure the self, achievement and worth within the grand scheme of things: load me, hand and foot, in the scale of things.

  • rank: foul-smelling;
  • puddle: small pool of liquid on the ground;
  • mould: furry fungal growth
  • crock: earthenware jar;
  • ground of being: both environment and foundation in which consciousness of existence was formed;
  • tenses: verbal forms indicating the time of an action  in relation to the time of the utterancewas made;
  • half-door: two panels, both of which can open; the poem’s crossing point from the earthy to the ‘airy structure of infinite scope;
  • singular: varied connotations; one by one, unique or remarkable, extraordinary or unusual, strange;
  • weights: individual matters of varying significance, importance;
  • scale: instrument that measures and balances weight;

‘A mystical act of imagination heightens the remembering and so forms a new present. The poet is ( ) “Seeing Things” that are not past but a continuation of existence on a different plane. Carl Rumens in the Guardian of May 2016

  • 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; variable line length based on 10 syllables; unrhymed;
  • 8-sentence structure: 1-4 short & staccato, following the youngster’s busy eye; a visual memory renewed; 5 -7 the wider significance of an atavistic symbol; 8 assessing the ‘what was’ against the ‘what would be’
  • narrative flow: balanced – sentence frequency leaves space for enjambed lines;
  • triple references to time measured in years: ‘four … four hundred … four thousand’;
  • vocabulary of solid objective versus abstract: ‘ground of being … deep obedience …shifting tenses’;
  • history figured as unhealthy: ‘dampish … rank … mould’
  • compounds provide economical conflation: ‘puddle-place … splash-darkened … water-crock … half-door … memory-weights;


  • 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: thirteen 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 first four lines are rich in alveolar plosives [t] [d], and nasals [m] [n] alongside front-of-mouth sounds [f] [v] [w] [h];
  • a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;