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.

A further stage in the process of untangling the twine-ball of old existence; the search for self-definition continues.

The speaker’s conditional If ponders a complete clearing of the decks (the everything of l.8). The total unwinding of the twine to the very end will reveal from beneath the fingernails signs of ‘baggage’ brought with them from the past. The first stuff is from a childhood bedroom picked off whitewash at the bedside; the second an aural memory of parental voices overheard before sleep overtook the child: parochial moss-talk; conversations with taboo subjects: sex-pruned; ‘all said and done’: unfurtherable;hatched by adults downstairs: incubated under lamplight. These things are things stuff .. .to be unlearnedand replaced by a new learning.

The final triplet mimics the disentangling process and its paradox: whilst it unwinds backwards into history yet it points the way ahead: twine unwinds and loosely widens/ backward through areas that forwarded/ understandings of the challenges that lie ahead: all I would undertake.

  • stuff: originally to do with textiles the word has come to refer to materials of all sorts
  • whitewash: a traditional lime-based white liquid applied to internal and external walls and other building surfaces; fibres and oils might be added to the formula for different effects; it is now largely superseded by modern paint technology;
  • sex-pruned: pruning in horticultural entails cutting off parts of a plant or tree, the suggestion here is that mention of sex was prohibited in the home;
  • incubated: early association with the hatching of eggs using the warmth of the parent’s body is extended to the provision of optimum conditions in which, in this case, views develop, become entrenched, remain orthodox;
  • twine metaphor is carried through; a studied attempt to dry out the soakage;
  • the hybrid persona reflects upon the historical twine baggage he brings with him (stuff gathering under my fingernail);
  • The final sentence is deliberately tangled like a length of twine; a historian might deconstruct a historical figure but does not attempt to bring him back to life; the poet resuscitates Sweeney and benefits from him as a support system.
  • 4 triplets in a 3 sentence construct; line length variable between 6 and 10 syllables;
  • considerable use of enjambment makes for uninterrupted flow; no rhyme scheme;
  • the initial stage mimics logical reasoning in a conditional clause: ‘if … then’: so, ‘if’ you accept the extended metaphor then it unwinds back over time;
  • the sounds of adults talking are given a laboratory setting that forces (like vegetables under glass) ‘them’ in size and importance;
  • the final triplet combines the idea of unravelled string and making mental preparation for change;
  • the music of the poem: twelve 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.
  • In S(entence)1 listen for bilabial sounds: voiceless [w]; labio-dental fricatives [f] [v], then velar [g] and bilabial plosives [b] [p];

  • S2 provides sibilant [s] and increasing use of alveolar [l], stabs of [k] and bilabial [p] [b]; S3 is rich in bilabial [w] and a final cluster of alveolar plosive [d]

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