An Architect

Portrait of an unnamed architect at work and play. Close observation of the man’s demeanour and environment suggests acquaintance but betrays no sense of what Heaney felt about the man.

The architect is successful in life judging by the traits he demonstrates: willpower (He fasted); talent (gift); high expectations (Exacting more); individual taste (in his case for Japanese style): minding the boulder/ And the raked zen gravel. He is a go-getter(no slouch either) generous Whenever it came to whiskey, whether drinking by himself or in company: Lash into it or just to lash it out.

Never less than civilised (Courtly always), a good listener (rapt), the architect was unafraid to cause shock: astonishing and totally uninhibited Like the day on the beach when he stepped out of his clothes And waded along beside us, naked (in his pelt), taking his leisure without batting an eyelid (Speculating, intelligent and lanky) like a classical hero in his insouciance: Taking things in his Elysian stride.

He would hold forth about places he had designed or matters pertaining to his profession: Talking his way back into sites and truths/ The art required.

What his life came down to is revealed in references to garden design (Blue slate and whitewash) or draughtsmanship (shadow-lines, projections) or effects designed to deceive the eye (Things at once apparent and transparent), or drawing technique (see below): lines Clean-edged, fine-drawn, drawn-out, redrawn, remembered…

Exit the architect (dressed now in tweeds for image purposes), head of a large drawing-office, walking away down an aisle between/ Drawing boards as far as the eye can see to the distant point that, amusingly, would require an architect’s drawing to find it: To where it can’t until he sketches where.

  • fasted: went without food, starved himself; reference to zen suggests Buddhism which in turn suggests the Buddhist practice of eating less;
  • exacting: making demands;
  • zen gravel: a Zen garden is an enclosed shallow sandpit containing sand, gravel, rocks, and occasionally grass; within this formula the sea is symbolized not by water but by sand raked in patterns that suggest rippling;
  • lash into… lash it out (play on words): in the first case ‘partake without constraint’; secondly ‘offer generous helpings of’;
  • courtly:  polite or refined, as would befit a royal court;
  • rapt:  fascinated, absorbed;
  • in his pelt: naked;
  • lanky: ungracefully thin and tall;
  • taking in his stride: dealing calmly with monumentally difficult or challenging things;
  • Elysian: reference to Elysium the mythological place to which certain favoured heroes were conveyed by the gods after death, known to Heaney through his classical and post-classical studies (Homer’s Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid , Dante’s Divine Comedy)
  • came down to: (the factors) that figured in his professional life;
  • shadow lines: interplay of linear light and shadow effects projected onto different surfaces (e.g. a staircase onto a wall)
  • projections: presentations of an image on a surface;
  • clean-edged: sharply delineated;
  • fine drawn: with thin, sharp lines;
  • drawn out: lasting or seeming to last (longer than is necessary);
  • tweeds: clothing tailored in rough-surfaced woollen cloth, typically of mixed flecked colours, originally produced in Scotland, worn perhaps to create a personal image;
  • drawing boards: large adjustable surfaces on which paper may be spread for artists or designers;
  • to where it can’t: at the point in space where perspective lines converge;
  • 6 triplets; line length based on 10 syllables; unrhymed;
  • constructed in 4 sentences; the third contains an enumeration introduced by colon;
  • good balance between punctuation and enjambed lines
  • adjectives with varying properties come in threes: courtly/rapt/ astonishing; speculating/ intelligent/ lanky;
  • vocabulary pertinent to design and drawing, at first in pairs (slate/ whitewash; apparent/ transparent); then 5 together;
  • architect plays a stage-role: exit;
  • final chuckle;
  • the music of the poem: eleven 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:
  • the title and first triplet, for example gather together velar plosives [k] [g] and alveolar plosives [t] [d];
  • it is well worth teasing out the sound clusters for yourself to admire the poet’s sonic engineering:
  • Consonants (with their phonetic symbols) can be classed according to where in the mouth they occur
  • Front-of-mouth sounds voiceless bi-labial plosive [p] voiced bi-labial plosive [b]; voiceless labio-dental fricative [f] voiced labio-dental fricative [v]; bi-labial nasal [m]; bilabial continuant [w]
  • Behind-the-teeth sound voiceless alveolar plosive [t] voiced alveolar plosive [d]; voiceless alveolar fricative as in church match [tʃ]; voiced alveolar fricative as in judge age [dʒ]; voiceless dental fricative [θ] as in thin path; voiced dental fricative as in this other [ð]; voiceless alveolar fricative [s] voiced alveolar fricative [z]; continuant [h] alveolar nasal [n] alveolar approximant [l]; alveolar trill [r]; dental ‘y’ [j] as in yet
  • Rear-of-mouth sounds voiceless velar plosive [k] voiced velar plosive [g]; voiceless post-alveolar fricative [ʃ] as in ship sure, voiced post- alveolar fricative [ʒ] as in pleasure; palatal nasal [ŋ] as in ring/ anger.

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