Squarings xlviii



(DODp.325) Heaney reported on a period of feverish activity as the Seeing Things collection was taking shape: I was pouncing for twelve lines on all kinds of occasions, chance sentences from my reading, chance sightings of dictionary entries, such as ( ) ‘offing’.  The final Squaring should be read as a complement to the previous piece in which ‘offing’ occurs for the first time. In Squarings xlvii Heaney signifies that his poetic radar is in constant scanning mode.

When he assesses it he finds that the way his mind operates is odd (strange how …) The eye-scan data entering his consciousness (sensed) from distant reaches are  déjà-vu (things foreknown) … amorphous early recollections that crystallized, random events (what’s come upon) that acquired significance via life’s general dynamic (in light of what has been gone through).

In Heaney’s case the marvels of earthly existence he has discovered on the road are exalting (seventh heaven), of genuine marvel-status (the whole truth) thanks to the poetic ‘method’ of ‘Seeing Things’ that enabled them (a sixth sense come to pass).

But enough of abstract thought, he suggests (at any rate). Heaney is waiting for a moment of revelation (when light breaks over me) like the one that occurred one day on the road beyond Coleraine. He recalls his senses filled to overflowing: touch/hearing (wind); taste/smell (saltier); sight and movement (sky more hurried); ‘shifting brilliances’ (silver lamé shivered) above earthly signs of safe navigation (in mid-channel between the painted poles).

When revelation strikes the poet will realize he has succeeded in giving true credit to the wonders he failed to recognize first time round (in step with what escaped me) … ‘a glittering epiphany’ (HV147).

The poem’s heightened sensibility to sense data associated with moments of revelation corresponds with the final poems of other collections (Personal Helicon of Death of a Naturalist, On the Road of Station Island, Postscript of Spirit Level and Exposure of North.

  • in the offing: originally a nautical term ‘the most distant part of the sea as seen from the shore’, whence reference to the ‘distant future’; later meaning suggests, impending, likely to happen, in prospect;
  • foreknown: sensed in advance;
  • seventh heaven: in Jewish and Islamic theology the most exalted level of heaven; according to Talmudic  the place where God dwells over the angels, the souls of the righteous, and the souls of those yet to be born; its figurative extension points to a place or state of supreme bliss;
  • sixth sense: kind of intuitive instinct beyond normal perception that anticipates or warns about impending events;
  • Coleraine: Co Londonderry town near to the mouth of the river Bann and the so-called Causeway Coast; a dozen miles by road from the Giant’s Causeway featured in Squarings xxxix
  • lamé: fabric interwoven with silver threads;
  • pole: post warning sailors of shallow water so that they may navigate safely;
  • in step: in tune with; as soldiers marching in step with one another form a coherent whole;


HV 147 Because Seeing Things is a book so pervaded by extinction, its hieroglyphs of what remains – recreating moments of full­ness of feeling – are particularly striking. The last of these returns to ‘water and ground in their extremity’ ( ) and foreshadows ‘Postscript’ in The Spirit Level, where ‘the wind / And the light are working off each other’. It too records a glittering epiphany: ‘When light breaks over me … That day I’ll be in step with what escaped me.’

In a collection that ponders the meaning and shape of memories of the ‘earliest self’ and the impact of time upon them Heaney explained it to DOD (p.31) as a space ‘that is necessarily vague and  ( ) bound to be affected by ways of knowing and feeling that literature and culture offer you. I must have had this image of the little me as the animula, the little soul alone’. He goes further: early feelings become locked in ‘behind all kinds of socialized defences , barriers he learned to put up’.

In this final piece of the Squarings sequence Heaney suggests that ‘Seeing Things’ (the fresh approach; the re-examination of first order memories; the revaluation of old certainties) is still  a personal development ‘work in progress’.

  • 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 5-11 syllables; some loose end-of-line rhyme but no scheme;
  • 3-sentence structure: 1 a kind of pseudo-learned proposition to do with memory and the impact of time on it; 2 spiritual and intuitive parallels; 3 hugely lyrical description of a moment of revelation;
  • the narrative flow of sentence 3 is enjambed to ensure smooth rhythm and uninterrupted pace;
  • contrast amorphous/ solid: ‘offing … sensed … convert … foreknown … manifest’;
  • vocabulary of sea and water;
  • conditionality: ‘only in the light of’;
  • supernatural effects (figures serve a composition purpose): ‘seventh heaven’ spiritual perception; ‘sixth sense‘ intuitive perception;
  • contrast: intellectual enlightenment ‘light’ and unroofed scope ‘simmering lamé’;


  • 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 are dominated by alveolar plosives [t] [d] and nasals [m] [n] alongside sibilants [s][z] and bi-labial fricatives [f] [v]
  • a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;