A Kite for Michael and Christopher

A second poem about family lines: initially a father with his own father then this same father with his sons. The poem contains various themes: parenthood, the human condition, belief and doubt, the tethered spirit, the fate of being Irish. It is about ‘sticking together’.

A generation ago All through that Sunday afternoon the kite flew,literally high in the sky, metaphorically unaffected by the restrictions traditionally imposed by the Catholic Sabbath: … above Sunday

The plaything possessed a tightened drumhead body and wind-buffeted tail, likened to an armful of blown chaff, the latter offering it stability and proper flight; without it the kite would plummet to the ground.

Heaney had observed its papier mâché construction and tested its properties: at first grey and slippy in the making the boy tapped it when it dried out white and stiff. Recycled materials were used: the bows of newspaper/ along its six-foot tail.

As then so now:the kite like a dot in the sky far up like a small black lark, its bellied string as heavy on the arm (dragged) as raising their catch is for trawler-men: a wet rope hauled upon/ to lift a shoal.

With a hint of merriment in mind, Heaney develops the reported comment of a fellow academic at a Yeats’ summer school, purporting a deeper spiritual and personal significance:the human soul is about the weight of a snipe. If the kite represents the human soul at anchor then its significance as evidenced by the string that sags and ascends is of a spiritual link with heaven: like a furrow assumed into the heavens.

Time for his two young sons to experience the life in the kite before it plunges down into the wood/ and this line goes useless. This is the moment for them to feel/ the strumming string and to learn the hidden message that Heaney has himself learnt: the rooted, long-tailed pull of grief/ You were born fit for both the fleeting human condition and the contemporary political stresses of life in Northern Ireland that his sons are born into.

Together they will take the strain In a close family knot.

  • chaff: the husks separated by the wind from the ears of cereal;
  • bellied: swelled out like a fat stomach;
  • shoal: fish that have gathered in huge numbers making them easy to catch;
  • snipe: a long-billed marsh bird;
  • chuckling with an audience at New York’s 92nd Street Y on September 26th 2011 Heaney recalled the ‘hilarious seed’ set by Yeats’ scholar Professor T.E. Henn at a Sligo Yeats’ Summer School. His friend, poet Michael Longley, reported that during ‘a little lull’ that came over the discourse conversation he overheard Henn’s audible whisper to the group of graduates around him: ‘the human soul has roughly the same weight as a mature snipe’;
  • heavens: poetic reference to ‘sky’ also alluding to the celestial abode of God;
  • strumming: the visible reverberation when ,say, a metal guitar string is struck;
  • nothing is permanent: the laws of physics and the wind will conspire with gravity to cause the kite to fall back to earth;
  • Heaney reminisces: ‘I was definitely remembering my own childhood … an afternoon when my father came out to a field and launched a kite’’ In Michael’s and Christopher’s case, however, I bought one for them made of nylon (DOD p 254);
  • the two boys receive fatherly advice: sampling the pull and unpredictability of the kite will lead them to an appreciation of the pressures of life, to an understanding of its ups and downs, and to an acknowledgement of the pull of grief which is inevitable when one’s flight is never free, one is mortal or member of the Catholic minority in Ulster;
  • In this poem … the poet renews the ‘covenant’ within his family linking a childhood long past with ones that are passing ( ) the kite undergoes a startling metamorphosis ( ) an emblem of the soul struggling to fly ( ) the political and poetical strains his sons have inherited (MP p190);
  • MP suggests that Heaney, in his endeavour to reconcile the conflicting pressures and by accepting his duties to others ( ) will merit release (p188);
  • a five-section piece, stanzas of increasing length; lines variable between 4 and 10 syllables; six-sentence construct;
  • the kite motif: it is compared with a drum and a bird; close observation of the stages in its manufacture are recorded from wet to dry plus its shrinkage;
  • fishing imagery helps understand the kite’s ‘weight’; it is given a spiritual dimension and a soul of its own;
  • the physics involved takes on an allegorical significance and is treated to triple descriptors; its physical weight comes to symbolise repeated Irish experience; ‘born fit’ is the stamina required to bear what is inheritance;
  • Sunday is at once a day, a time span and an object that can be looked down on from above;
  • the music of the poem: fourteen 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 or soothings or hissings or frictions of consonant sound to modify the assonant melodies: in ll.1-3 initial velar plosive [k] works alongside labio-dental fricatives [f] [v]; 4-7 has patterns of alveolar plosive [t] bi-labial plosive [p] labio-dental fricative [f] surrounded by alveolar fricatives[s] [z]; 8-11 brings together alveolar [l] and bi-labial plosives [p] [b]; in12-16 labio-dental fricatives [f] [v] enclose alveolar fricatives [s] [z]; in 17-23 patterns of alveolar [l] [s] [v] are joined by labio-dental fricative [f] and alveolar plosives [t] [d] with faint nasals [m] [n];

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