The Milk Factory

On the face of it boy-Heaney, roaming the Castledawson locality with his pals, becomes fascinated by the milky effluent draining into the Moyola from the Nestlé factory, as if a newly discovered feature of the landscape. Linking the milky concoction that discoloured the river waters and its mysterious source releases Heaney’s imagination. Both factory and youngsters who looked on become actors in a kind of sci-fi narrative.

Playmates on a riverside walk are drawn to the lumpy, bubbly liquid (scuts of froth) eddying into the river Moyola (swirled), visual evidence of directed leakage from the Nestlé factory (drainage pipe).

The cocktail brew (milky water) generates in the poet’s imagination a Crucifixion image of sullied goodness (the pierced side of milk itself), an overflow (crock of its substance) disfiguring a science-fiction site (white limbo floors) where operatives (shift-workers) splashed their way about (waded) in ceaseless production (round the clock) on an inaccessible site (factory kept its distance). Boy Heaney’s imagination refigures the distant processing plant as a galactic space vehicle from his latest comic or film (bright-decked star-ship).

His friends and he, young animals roaming Nature freely (soft-eyed calves of the dew), impressed by what they saw (astonished) appear now as a radiant light-memory in the sky (assumed into fluorescence).

  • scut: short stubby tail of hare or rabbit
  • froth: mass of bubbles caused by agitation;
  • swirl: eddy, revolve;
  • discharge: release, leak;
  • pierce: puncture, spike;
  • crock: earthenware pot, ewer, jug
  • limbo: non- existent, neither heaven nor hell
  • shift: work period based on eight hours, so 3 in 24 hours;
  • wade: trudge through liquid:
  • round the clock: 24 hours per day:
  • keep one’s distance: avoid getting too close to; be aloof;
  • star-ship: sci-fi fictional intergalactic space vehicle;
  • soft-eyed: connotations of gentle, tender;
  • calf: young cow in its first year;
  • assumed considerations: taken for granted without proof, fictitious, in the mind; non religious version of the Assumption – reception of the Virgin Mary bodily into heaven;
  • fluorescence: gleam of radiation e.g. the charged particles of the Northern Lights visible in the night sky;
  • international company Nestlé opened a factory in Castledawson in the 1940s principally to produce sweetened, condensed milk, processing cow’s milk from a wide catchment of farms; it ceased production in the late 1970s;
  • milk and water effluent drained directly into the Moyola; between the publication of ‘The Milk Factory’ and ‘Moyulla’ from District and Circle (2006) a number of scientific papers and news reports identifiedf milk as a pollutant in that it used up oxygen in the water to the detriment of river life and affected the milk of riverain cattle;


  • 9 lines (7+2) in 3 sentences; line length 9-11 syllables; unrhymed;
  • rhythm and flow governed by rich use of enjambed lines;
  • use of compound nouns and adjectives to meet rhythm and flow;
  • vocabulary contrasting real events with sci-fi or otherworldly alternatives; couched in use of simile;
  • assonant effects: [ʌ] scuts…other…run…substance; [ɒ] froth…from…halted…watched…of…across… clock; [i:] we…milky…factory; [i] discharge…milky……milk itself…split…its distance…ship; [æ] astonished and assumed; [ai] pipe…side…white…soft-eyed; [u:] dew…assumed…fluorescence; [e] kept…decked…there…fluorescence;
  • alliterative chains: front of mouth [l] [w][h]; reprises of alveolar [t/d], bilabial [p/b], velar [k/g] nasals [m/n], sibilants [s/z/sh], labio-dental [f/v];


  • Heaney is a meticulous craftsman using combinations of vowel and consonant to form a poem that is something to be listened to.
  • the music of the poem: twelve 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;
  • syllables without highlight are largely the unstressed sound as in common, little [ə]

  • alliterative effects allow pulses or beats, soothings or hissings or frictions of consonant sound to modify the assonant melodies; this is sonic engineering of the first order;
  • a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;

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