Heaney proposes a lyrical toast to a drink made from sloe berries that drip with taste and sensation and to the woman who produces sloe gin. The poem salutes the creation of an enjoyable tipple.
The process is defined as a late autumn activity performed as the clear weather of juniper/ darkened into winter. The tipple-maker simply added alcoholic sustenance to the berries: fed gin to sloes.
The speaker’s curiosity that led to him opening the sealed jar prematurely sent its bouquet (the tart stillness of a bush) rising through the pantry where it lay marinating.
Sampling brought pleasure to taste and sight: the sharpness of its cutting edge and its cosmic twinkle that flamed/ like Betelgeuse.
The chink of glasses toasts the woman responsible for the transformation celebrating the subtle colourings smoke-mirled, blue-black,/ polished sloes and the solid reliability of fruit hanging from a bush.
- juniper: the distilled liquor ‘gin’ was traditionally flavoured with the berries of the evergreen juniper shrub; its sound resembles that of another calendar month, June;
- sloe is the blue-black fruit of the blackthorn, hanging in clusters;
- pantry: originally ‘bread room’, now slightly outdated reference to ‘room where foodstuffs are stored’;
- Betelgeuse: the largest and brightest star in the Orion constellation;
- smoke-mirled: imagine a made-up word suggesting both dark colour and a water-mark like swirling smoke;
- dependable: Heaney weaves in both the idea of ‘trusty reliability’ and ‘hanging down in bunches’ (from de-pendere of Middle French origin)
- It may be possible to read a moral dimension into the sloe gin’s bitterness and dependability.
- four quatrains; no rhyme scheme; 5 sentence construct; line length variable between 2 and 7 syllables;
- sentences are fully enjambed with the exception of the final one where the use of commas mimics the pauses that occur when a speaker makes a toast;
- the sloes become living entities to be fed like chickens;
- synaesthaesia: ‘smelled’ detects ‘stillness’;
- the music of the poem: ten principal 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 Q1 the unusual alveolar fricative [dz] alongside bilabial [w] and velar [g]; Q3 combines nasal bilabial [m] and voiceless alveolar plosive [t] both echoed in Q3; Q4 is heavy with plosive pairs, alveolar [d][t], bilabial [b][p];