The Sweeney Redevivus poems are fascinating in terms of voicing. In his notes Heaney indicates that they are ‘voiced for Sweeney’ but this does not and cannot exclude the poet’s contribution. Each poem resembles a piece of music with a background accompaniment and two voices that pick up the melody in turn or together; the mood of each piece varies as does its ensemble effect on the listener’s ear and the reader’s sensibility.
The speaker outlines a moment of enlightenment and the animal that awakened him to an alternative world to the one he has been brought up in.
From childhood the lucky speaker (his family life was a happy experience) has been subject to a rigid routine (challenged and always whacked down), taught not to grow up/ too hopeful and trusting,to fit the standard Ulster Catholic model à laThe First Kingdom . This early training was designed to foster orthodoxy, teach him his place in the order.
The idea of one day breaking the mould was a vague notion (could I ever/ and if ever I should/ outstrip obedience).
The catalyst came from the world outside: the bark of a vixen in heat.
She was an animal driven by her instincts, whether actively searching out a mate (She carded the webs of desire) or foraging for food (she disinterred gutlines and lightning. She was programmed – no holding back, no question of frigidity: she broke the ice of demure/ and exemplary stars.
The vixen stopped him in his tracks (rooted me to the spot), providing the wake-up call, bringing realisation that the old understandings/ patterns/ routines hitherto unquestioned were faulty: disappointed/ under my old clandestine/ pre Copernican night.
- whacked down: struck down; there is no question in Heaney’s case of actual physical mistreatment but Sweeney lived in a much more violent world;
- outstrip: originally to ‘run past’ and by extension ‘excel’, ‘surpass’;
- in heat: sexually aroused and prepared to mate;
- carded: combed roughly;
- gutlines: a poetic invention that suggests the meaty tissues that assuage hunger ripped from the skeleton of a stripped carcass;
- demure: 14th century meaning of ‘mature’, ‘fully-grown’, currently ‘modest’, ‘prim’ or ‘prudish’;
- pre-Copernican: from the period when it was thought that the Earth was the centre of the universe (geocentrism). King Sweeney (7th century) predates Copernicus (1473-1543). The revolutionary proposition was that the earth was heliocentric and orbited the sun; used here to assert ‘before I was enlightened’.
- Heaney was in a state of confusion and indecision when an animal alerted him to the way ahead;
- the call of the vixen in heat leaves him transfixed; she underwent no training – mating and survival were instinctive and irresistible to her;
- the impact of this incident cannot be underestimated; Heaney compares it to discoveries which brought about major revolutions in the history and philosophy of science;
- 4 quartets constructed in 2 sentences; unrhymed; generally 7 or 8 syllable lines;
- copious use of enjambment; few punctuation marks;
- Q1: adjectives suggesting a stern uncompromising upbringing; cause and effect: the reason to avoid human weaknesses implicit in hopeful/ trusting;
- irony: use of modal auxiliaries; this has actually inhibited self-esteem and successful independence;
- Q2/3: the vixen; the vocabulary selected depicts herunashamed instincts as regards mating and hunger, describes her natural movements in pursuit of these: carded/ disinterred gutlines; contrast: heat and cold; light/enlightenment/dark;
- the vixen’s symbolic importance to the observer: vocabulary refers to a sophist from the history of science;
- the music of the poem: fourteen assonant strands are woven into the text; Heaney places them grouped within specific areas to create internal rhyme , or reprises them at intervals:
- Analysis of Heaney’s poems reveals how deliberately he seeks alliterative effects that allow pulses or beats or soothings or hissings or frictions of consonant sound to modify his assonant melodies. Heaney deliberately deploys pairs or clusters of like consonants; these come and go as the poem develops, entering the sound narrative, dropping out or reappearing at interval; he rings the changes.
- in Q(uatrain)1 listen to the blend of initial alveolar [l] and emerging velar plosives [g] [k],the latter carried into Q2 alongside voiced labio-dental fricative [v] paired alveolars [t] [d] and emerging bilabial[b]; plosives [t] [d] meet in Q3 with alveoalr [l] and front-of-mouth plosives; in T4 listen for the the plosive sounds: the reprise of [t] [d] joined by bilabial [p] and velar [k[;