A Hazel Stick for Catherine Ann

The father recalls a stick he fashioned for his young daughter. Elements that were fleeting (gone), enduring (kept), animate (salmon) and inanimate (hazel twig) turned an everyday event into something remarkable.

Compared to ephemeral natural examples (the living mother-of-pearl of a salmon/ just out of the water) the emblematic stick’s colourings were more enduring; it kept salmon-silver as it matured (seasoned)Ownership of the bendy, reassuring stick gave a status not easily surrendered: what you have you hold (literally and metaphorically ‘something to hang onto’ ). Its uses might be peaceful (to play with or pose with)or aggressive: lay about with.

The stick reminds the speaker of a previous generation (points back to cattle), to an earlier father-farmer version, to the spatter and/ beating the bars of a gate: that makes ita symbol of generation, a stick we might cut/ from your family tree.

Observing the iridescent blue living cobalt of an afternoon/ dragonfly conjures up the scene on the evening I trimmed it for you and of the extraordinary coincidence that followed: your first glow-worm.

The piece chronicles the family response (all of us stood round in silence)as they peered ata wonder of nature so tiny that even a small child was gigantic enough to darken the sky.Inquisitive investigation ensued: I poked open the grass to reveal a tiny brightening den pinpointed by the blunt cut end of your stick – the ordinary and the extraordinary side by side.

  • mother of pearl: the iridescent medley of shade to be seen on many mollusc shells;
  • cobalt: a shade of blue suggested by the metallic element;
  • dragonfly: a darting, flittingflying insect with transparent iridescent colourings
    associated with water courses;
  • glow-worm: fireflies and glow-worms have dazzled mankind for thousands of years. Of scientific interest, these luminescent creatures have frequently appeared in literature, prose and poetry, and also played a prominent part in folklore and medicinal remedies. They are in fact beetles;
  • In this poem … the poet renews the ‘covenant’ within his family linking a childhood long past with ones that are passing(MP p190);a baton being passed ona later Heaney collection will be entitled Human Chain; here is a precursor;
  • twelve couplets assembled in 5 sentences; lines between 4 and 10 syllables;
  • plentiful use made of enjambed lines; a legato feel;
  • vocabulary contrasting the ephemeral with the enduring; subtle colourings; verbs add emotional dimensions to the actions of an impetuous child;
  • the delicacy of a natural phenomenon and the magic generated are deftly interwoven;
  • the music of the poem: fifteen 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: ll.1-4 combines voiceless alveolar plosive [t] and alveolar approximant [l]; the voiceless velar plosive [k] carries into 5-9 alongside pairs of [h] and voiceless bi-labial plosive [p]; 10-14 feature plosive beats: bi-labials [b] [p], velar [k] [g]; 15-21 features velar plosives [k] [g] in combination with labio-dental fricatives [f] [v]; the final triplet features bi-labial plosives [b] [p], alveolar [t] and a final pair of velar [k];

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