Two Quick Notes

Heaney addresses twin obituaries to an anonymous someone who played a fundamental role in his development. Retrospective clues identifying  his father Patrick Heaney will appear in the next collection, Seeing Things:  ’a solid man, a pillar to himself and to his trade …can sprout wings at the ankle …fleet as the god of fair days ‘ (Crossings xxvii) and, reflecting on the house Patrick designed and built at The Wood, plain, big, straight, ordinary…a paradigm of rigour and correction, rebuke to fanciness and shrine to limit (Crossings xxxiii), finally the quoted judge who suffered no fool gladly (The Ash Plant).


Heaney tells of his long-standing closeness (oldfriend) to an uncompromising figure (hard) – someone who at times actively looked for trouble (you sought occasions), was arguably cantankerous for good reason (justified anger), who constantly prodded Heaney (buff me) to be as fair and honest (the soul to ring true and plain) as the farm equipment close at hand (galvanized bucket) – and his temperament could demonstrate what he meant (kick it to test it) or smack it powerfully to rid it of waste (whack it clean like a carpet). A straight, no-nonsense man letting fly at himself (turned on) when faced with his own shortfalls (ferocious).

  • justified: warranted;
  • buff: N Irish farmers’ usage push, nudge;
  • ring true: the image of the pure sound from an uncracked bell recalls 19th century French poet Charles Baudelaire taking stock of himself in La Cloche fêlée declaring ‘mon âme est fêlée‘ (‘my soul is flawed’)
  • plain: direct, frank, blunt;
  • galvanised: with a protective overlay;
  • whack: strike with force;
  • turn on: let fly at;
  • ferocious: fierce, savage;


Heaney’s second missive describes a father who did not mince words (abrupt), whose country clothing and strength of will protected him against what might tear him (thornproofed), distant and uncommunicative (lonely); a forthright defender of rural traditions (raider from the old country), reverent (night prayer), confrontational when he felt something was not morally right (principled challenge).

This was a man who collided with the re-ordering of old rural practices and compromise – barriers removed to his mind, unreasonably (ought still to be there) – to the point of overreaction (overshooting into thin air).

Heaney pays vocative tribute (O) to his father’s persona: his integrity (upright), ‘maimed by self-doubt’ as Heaney will describe him in ‘The Stone Verdict’ (self-wounding), his solid high-minded beliefs (prie-dieu), his Hermes-like invulnerability brought down by age and illness (in shattered free fall).

To him Heaney offers undying respect (hail) and final adieu (farewell).

  • abrupt: curt to the point of rudeness;
  • thornproofed: protected against the spikes and barbs of country hedgerows by clothing (or personality);
  • raider: marauder
  • overshoot: fail to stop in time;
  • thin air: where it is harder to breathe; space, nothingness
  • prie-dieu: piece of furniture providing an arm-rest and a space to kneel whilst praying;
  • shattered: very upset, in pieces;
  • free-fall: uncontrolled descent, unstoppable decline;


  • 2 short pieces each of 3 triplets, each a 4 sentence construct; line length 4-9 syllables; unrhymed;
  • balance between punctuated and enjambed lines in both pieces;
  • assonant effects: [ʌ] justified…buff…bucket…abrupt…uprighr; [u] you…who…true…thornproofed… overshoot…self-wounding; [ai] my…justified…like…galvanized…upright; [əʊ] so…ferocious…lonely…old…over…O; [æ] as a galvanised…crashing at barriers; [i] principled…still… overshooting into thin; [eə:] prayer…air…fair; [i:] free…prie-dieu; [ɔː] thought ought…fall;
  • alliterative chains: front of mouth [h], [l],[w]; reprises of alveolar [t/d], bilabial [p/b], velar [k]nasals [m/n], sibilants [s/z/sh];


  • 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: thirteen 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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