Squarings xlvi


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);

The poet recalls what he might term the perfect moment.

An end-of-summer event, alive and brimful: at the poet’s back the feel and sight of empty upland (Mountain air from the mountain); in front of him Irish landmarks (stone-walled fields … a slated house); in the air an unmistakable Irish music (the fiddle going) its unbroken momentum as persistent as the skittering ricochets across water of a flat stone skimmed at sunset; a sound capable of escaping the earth’s pull (irrevocable slipstream of flat earth) and echoing infinitely: Still fleeing behind space.

If music was regarded by some as a manifestation of God’s presence in the world and thereby a proof of His existence, then, to Heaney, once a humble Irish fiddle provides a sublime moment (things beyond measure), then fine, but why waste time debating the issue (that supposition stands).

Better, as he once did, to turn his ear and his attention (like a farmhouse window) when conditions were just right for listening (placid light) to the transcendental properties of the fiddle’s tune: its variations on a theme (the extravagant), its unstoppable forward movement like a ship under full sail, the thrilling outcome for both his senses and mind that only a perfect moment could produce (the longed-for).

  • fiddle: (informal) violin;
  • skimmed: thrown horizontally so that it rebounds off the water as many times as possible;
  • irrevocable: irreversible, ongoing into the future;
  • slipstream: (air/ after) current driven backwards by forward propulsion;
  • music: Heaney explores the link between (Bible references to) music as corroborating the Christian belief in a supreme being, creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority;
  • references to music are numerous: Job (38:7) suggests that when God created the world, the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy. David had a talent for music, providing soothing harp music when King Saul was distraught, commissioning most of the instruments and songs for the temple services and composing most of the songs in Psalms, the longest book in the Bible;
  • beyond measure: with an infinite dimension that transcends ordinary understanding, beyond expression;
  • supposition: hypothesis, belief without proof;
  • attend: Old French – to direct the mind, one’s energy towards;
  • extravagant: etymological breakdown suggests ‘wandering from the usual course’;
  • full sail: both reference to full speed, flat-out and spectacular
  • long for: fervently hope for;


MP 221 As the first poem of ‘Lightenings i’ implies, Seeing Things is full of ‘Unroofed scope’, ‘Knowledge-freshening wind’, ‘soul-free cloud­ life’. Though the old hearth, and the old certainties, may now be cold, they retain an afterlife in his imagination. One cannot imagine Heaney not returning to them to rekindle memory, to admit ‘things beyond measure’;


  • 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 6-11 syllables; unrhymed;
  • 4-sentence structure: 1 an Irish ambiance with extraterrestrial potential; 2/3 an uncorroborated metaphysical question; 4; an appeal to direct the mind towards the exceptional properties of a fiddle tune;
  • the narrative flow is a smooth balance between punctuation (some of it mid-line) and enjambed lines;
  • unprecedented cluster of 4 prepositions ‘up behind; out front’;
  • the fiddle performs like a machine in operation: ‘going’;
  • Heaney’s ‘airy structure, ‘earthier’, ‘more obscure’ all provided for in the text;
  • compound nouns and adjectives used for content and metre;
  • ‘beyond measure’: dual intent the first to do with things blown beyond their normal tolerances; the second to do with musical beats and bars, poetic beat and metre;


  • 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], front-of-mouth sounds, fricatives [v] [f] and [l], sibilant [s] and nasals [m] [n];
  • a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;