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);
The poet discerns a chasm separating a ‘them’ and an ‘us’, certain ones and our ones identified in Squarings xlii as the Irish nearly blessed … gaunt ones.
The other side of death will be kinder to certain ones … what was written may come true; their souls will be relocated , separate from the ‘us’ (in the distance), in an arcadian land of milk and honey (the mouths of rivers).
No such blessing for the poet’s ilk (our ones, no), returned post mortem to the arid best they knew: Dryness that was heaven on earth to them and starvation (scones baked out of clay).
For the blessed, a feast for the senses: sights (delta’s reed-beds), touch (cold), light (bright-footed), sound and movement (seabirds always wheeling).
For the ‘us’, the charred remnants of poverty (snuff … hob-soot … ashes) and the presence of the dominant figure (judge) who has held them back (comes between them and the sun), ostensibly holding things together (pillar) and beaming (radiant) but to Heaney’s mind totally without substance (house-dust).
The implication that Heaney is referring to the Catholic Church seems to have no other explanation but the poet stops short of accusation.
- scone: simple food, unsweetened cake of flour, milk and fat;
- bright- footed: the watery reflection of seabird claws;
- delta: wide river mouth;
- wheel: fly in circles;
- snuff: fine powder inhaled through the nose;
- hob-soot: black carbonized powder that settles around open fireplaces;
- judge: higher authority making decisions affecting the fate of those appearing before him/her;
- house-dust: motes of fine powder visible in sunlight
MP 221 Perhaps the only afterlife is the one created by the Imagination, (Heaney) suspects, yet, paradoxically, the more space Heaney puts between himself and orthodox belief, the less embarrassed he is speaking of souls and spirits. As many reviewers have pointed out, there is a growing conviction that “there is no next-time round” (I), that “All gone into a world of light?” means “All gone” (Squarings xliv); any consolation ‘perhaps’ and ‘may’ in xliv and xlv might have possessed comes up against the definite Images of transience with which those poems end, the dead leaf swirling, ashes and house-dust.
NC 179 For certain ones what was written may come true … Squarings xlv proceeds in the way of many poems in the sequence: a speculative proposition gives rise to ruminative meditation which then modulates into the self-corrective production of an enduring image, emblem or figure. Here, the afterlife is rendered with absolute local specificity: the dead once more, as in Squarings xlii, are anchored in the ground of their previous dwelling.
- 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 4-11 syllables; unrhymed;
- 6-sentence structure reflecting the stark ‘them-and-us’ clash;
- on the face of it the final sentence introduces the Catholic influence that Heaney suggests stood in the way of Irish fulfillment;
- the narrative flow is a smooth balance between punctuation (some of it mid-line) and enjambed lines;
- religious reference built in immediately: ‘what was written’;
- an air of author unsurenes: ‘certain’ yet ‘may come true’;
- heaven absent: after-death images are earth-based;
- oxymoron effect, sustenance that cannot sustain: ‘scones baked out of clay’; ‘heat off ashes’;
- 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 first four lines interweave front-of-mouth sounds [f] [l] [w] [r]; alveolar plosives [t] [d]; sibilants [s][z] [sh] and nasals [n] [m];
- a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;