In Illo Tempore

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 participation. 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.

From his location on the Dublin sea-front a man shakes his head with disbelief at the success of a religious practices that shaped him as a youngster once upon a time (in illo tempore) and cloned him with countless others. His imagination has settled on one of the ‘tools’ of the process (The big missal)and its decorative insignia: silky ribbons/ of emerald and purple and watery white.

He spent time in church with others not to do but to be done to (Intransitively we would assist). He was taught to know his place: confess, receive.He wasdrilledin religious cue and response: The verbs assumed us. The system’s success was total: We adored.

Conditioning brought reflex responses without the need to understand: we lifted our eyes to the nouns. The church was part of their lives morning, noon and night: Altar stone was dawn and monstrance noon; the tired-eyedreading ofred-printed orders of evening service was routine: itself a bloodshot sunset.

The speaker’s Now world is by a famous strand distancing him from the religious world of abstract notions and iconography; the poet is now surrounded by sense data, the sounds of seabirds … in the small hours sounding like incredible souls. He is leaning on the range wall of the promenade seeking support from its solid reality (that I press down on for conviction) but it can do very little to lessen his incredulity at having been taken in by those formative experiences: hardly tempts me to credit it.

  • In Illo Tempore: the Latin phrase heard in Catholic mass that refers to a non-specific time in the past, ‘at that time’;
  • assist: to be present without an active rôle;
  • missal: in liturgy, the book of words and texts used for conducting mass;
  • assume: with overtones of the Assumption, the ‘taking up into heaven’, perhaps here the idea of ‘took into themselves’, ‘took us over’;
  • monstrance: a vessel used in the Roman Catholic church to exhibit sacred objects including the consecrated Host;
  • rubric: those parts of the service-book written in red that gave directions to the congregation e.g. ‘all stand’ etc.;
  • incredible: it is worth noting thatthe word (currently ‘unbelievable’, so ‘extraordinary’ once held the sense of ‘unbelieving’, ‘incredulous’ now discontinued;
  • credit: to do with belief, trust in something;
  • A ingenious poem describing a ‘then’ and a ‘now’; the first section plays cleverly on the power and influence of parts of speech in the religious process and the inculcation of faith;the Latin words are those which introduce the reading of the gospel in the Latin mass;
  • ‘In Illo Tempore represents a consideration of the grammar and politics of the Mass

(MP p208);

  • the poem attempts to show how persistently the influences of a Catholic upbringing still get in the way, even though they are ‘of their time’ Imagining Catholicism as a language one loses the ability to speakabout the loss of religious faith ( ) a sadly resigned poem (unatt)
  • ‘In Illo Tempore’ portrays loss of religious faith seemingly in Heaney’s own voice, though by now clearly schooled into a Sweeney scepticism and mistrust ( ) the Sweeney mask allows Heaney to take a tangental, dubious, sideways-on inspection ( ) Heaney reviews his life and reputation in a newly suspicious perspective (NC p130);
  • 5 triplets arranged in 7 sentences; line length between 6 and 11 syllables; unrhymed;
  • the enjambed lines of the final sentence work to express the poet’s relative disbelief and his relief; the staccato sentences of the middle section might easily reflect the now discredited automated movements of worship;
  • T1 is rich in adjectives of colour and touch; it has no main verb; T2/3 express human responses via grammatical terms and devotional objects via time and nature images;
  • only the final bloodshot combines colour with a sense of infection;
  • a T4 comparison: seabirds/ troubled souls; look for vocabulary hinting that the speaker is pinching himself in disbelief;
  • the music of the poem: thirteen assonant strands are woven into the text; Heaney places them grouped within specific areas to create internal rhyme , or reprises them at intervals or threads them through the text:

  • 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.
  • listen to the recurrent 3 consonant sounds of the title (alveolars [l] and [t], bilabial nasal [m]); T(riplet)1 is rich with nasal sounds; the alliterative [w] watery white will be carried into the following 6 lines; T2 picks up alveolar [t] from white alongside inreasing use of alveolar fricative [s]; nasal [n] is prominent in T3 and its [r] trill picked up in T4 with paired velar [k]; the final triplet offers a range of plosives, the end dominated by taps of of alveolar [t];

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