Thinking back translates into the celebration of a moment of joyous exaltation.

The poet addresses his reader: should it take your fancy to follow in my footsteps at your leisure, you, too, could be in for an unexpected moment of heart stopping beauty: some time make the time to drive out west following directions Into County Clare, to a point where the limestone rock of the land enters the sea in a series of rock sheets along the Flaggy Shore.

September or October will provide optimum conditions when the wind/And the light are working off each other, a collusion that leaves the ocean on one side … wild, an inter-reaction of sea-spray and sunlight (foam and glitter) in contrast (inland among stones) to a slate-grey lake its surface charged by a high-voltage flash of light: the earthed lightning of a flock of swans.

The eye-camera zooms in on nuances of texture and colour: the waterbirds’ plumage dishevelled by the wind (feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white); their proud, determined heads (fully grown headstrong-looking) ever active at one level or another (Tucked or cresting or busy underwater).

His warning: do not break the spell or the thrill of the instant will be lost (Useless to think you’ll park and capture it/ More thoroughly) Stay where you are, in between (You are neither here nor there). Allow yourself to savour a fleeting, unfathomable moment (hurry through which known and strange things pass).

The gentle power of the wind (big soft buffetings come at the car sideways) strong enough to be sensed inside the vehicle is all that is needed to trigger uncontrollable emotion: catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

  • Clare: county of the Republic of Ireland, on the west coast in the province of Munster;
  • Flaggy Shore: one of the most northerly parts of County Clare; desolate, windswept stretches of sea and lake and an ideal place to study Ice-Age geology;
  • working off each other: complementing each other, working cooperatively together so that the sum of their combination becomes greater than their individual contributions;
  • earthed lightning: where the huge electrical discharge hits the ground and dissipates;
  • headstrong: wilful, determined;
  • tucked: folded for security;
  • cresting: raising tufted plume of feathers;
  • capture: possess, make … your own;
  • hurry: all too hasty progression;
  • buffetings: strong repeated blows;
  • off guard: unprepared;
  • blow ( ) open: provide an explosive charge sufficient to open the door of the heart where feelings and values are stored;
  • Transportation”, at both the carnal and the spiritual levels, is one of the book’s main themes; and its pages are therefore crowded with vehicles. Among other things, Heaney looks increasingly like one of the great travel writers – the writers, that is, who relish the physical sensations of travel. From the early “Night Drive” to the relatively recent “From the Frontier of Writing”, has anyone else, even Proust, even Kerouac, written as sensually about the ur-modern experience of being in a car? Nicholas Jenkins Walking on Air in the TLS of July 5th 1996


  • a lyric in a single verse; 2 sentences; line length based on 10 syllables; unrhymed;
  • loosely echoes the sonnet structure: 11 descriptive lines followed by 5 lines of reflection.
  • the first sentence balances punctuated and enjambed lines. Perhaps this is to capture that the experience is based on a combination of various elements such as wind, light, colour, sea, swans and landscape. It also shows the variety of events happening at one point of a journey.
  • the shorter second sentence builds to a climax: a moment of pleasure that Heaney wills us to share;
  • Heaney is both painter of a word picture and film director panning from one side of the car to the other and zooming in on the waterbirds ;
  • Contrast: ‘park’/ ‘hurry’ Use of compound adjectives that comparisons: ‘slate-grey’, ‘headstrong-looking’;
  • plentiful natural imagery involving water effects, feathery textures, rocky landscape, light, car movement;
  • metaphor The high voltage impact of bright white on a blue grey landscape;
  • personification: the swans have a human characteristic ‘headstrong-looking’;
  • contrast of mood and movement: as a piece of music the relaxed invitation is replaced by a crescendo of thrilling events  then slowing in pace yet maintaining its emotional intensity;
  • repetition: ‘time’ is repeated in the first line for musical effect, ‘white’to suggest slight variants of the colour;
  • the final line, in its comparison of emotional flood and safe-breaking provides a powerful coda to the collection as a whole;
  • the music of the poem: fourteen 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 first 4 lines, for example stir together sibilant sounds [s] [sh], alveolar plosives [t] [d], velar plosives [k][g] and alveolar approximant [l];
  • 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 sounds 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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