The Flight Path

The Flight Path poems make a considerable contribution to the collection. Heaney selects a title suggestive of set routines that expose countervailing forces – movement across space and time, guided movement, movement determined by outside forces and personal time-lines. The metaphorical implications of ‘taking flight’ are also represented, not least the spiritual uplift expressed in the final line.

In the six-poem sequence the planned course of an aircraft acts as a metaphor for the journey linking his early life with academic positions that took him to and from the USA  linking with a life-journey that also took him from Belfast to the Irish Republic in 1972 into a life of self-employed poet. The clockwork of events led an unpleasant confrontation with a nationalist figure in 1979 and an equally disagreeable happening involving the Protestant forces of order in the pre-Troubles period.

Heaney’s personal flight path also brought moments of sheer exhilaration generated by a father or a picture postcard scene. The sequence is topped and tailed by reference to the dove, symbol of peace, love and tenderness. In Christian iconography the dove symbolises the Holy Ghost often represented in Renaissance paintings of the Trinity or the Annunciation or emerging symbolically from the mouth of Saints. It adds a spiritual resonance to ‘spirit’ of the collection’s title.

The sequence is dedicated to Donald Davie, fellow poet and critic who died in 1995.


A boy, Heaney in childhood, watched his father use origami to transform a blank sheet of paper into a boat. He recalls very clearly the step-by-step process (first fold first more foldovers drawn), the sharp reduction in surface area (tighter and neater every time) and the multiple folds (pleated square).

Accompanied by a drum roll his father’s next hold (by two corners) announced the ‘abracadabra’ moment that could go wrong by accident or design (a promise he had the power to break) but in his case always worked.

Heaney, his boyhood Catholic studies fresh in his mind, recalls a spiritual uplift (dove rose in my breast), brought about by a magician(every time my father’s hands came clean) when the 3-dimensional model emerged (paper boat). The youngster recognized Noah’s Old Testament boat (ark in air), clean-lined and taut (pegged tent), stately (high-sterned)  capable of staying upright (splay-bottomed).

His precocious curiosity regretted (a part of me sank) that the model (little pyramid) with its capacious hold (hollow) in which to retain animal life for humanity was not actually fit for purpose (the whole thing would go soggy once you launched it).

  • pleated: formed of double or multiple folds;
  • dove: Heaney is describing metaphorically the deep emotion that welled up inside him; in Christian art and poetry the Holy Spirit was represented as a dove (John 1:32)
  • came clean: was completely honest; kept nothing hidden
  • ark in air: according to the Bible Noah built a ship to save his family and two of every kind of animal from the Flood; images confirm the likeness between Heaney’s father’s origami and Noah’s floating zoo;
  • splay: Heaney is describing the spread of the keel;
  • soggy: wet and soft;.


A phrase is triggered in Heaney’s mind (equal and opposite) drawn, as it turns out, from Newton’s third law of motion describing the forces that interacting objects inevitably exert on each other. He will pick out and personalize examples of those countervailing forces at play.

Such is this Wicklow moment elevating the poet’s thinking (the part that lifts) towards a line from Thomas Hardy describing the wonder of the firmament (full-starred heavens) so clear at the time of year (that winter sees).  

From the threshold of Glanmore cottage Heaney responds to the line taken (flight path) by a long-haul airplane (late jet out of Dublin) its navigation lights (winking) out of sync with engine sound (ahead of what it hauls away), its thrust (heavy engine noise) and sound residue (abatement) still filling his ears (widening far back down) with a reverberating backwash (wake through starlight). 

The poet is in an emotional Exposure frame-of-mind (from the North collection) in which intimate communication is possible with Nature around (sycamore speaks in sycamore) that he cannot see (from darkness) owing to his backlit view (light behind my shoulder’s cottage lamplight).

The self he observes observing (standing-in in myself)  – and Heaney dips increasingly deeply into his own life story – is a metaphor for all those including himself who ever stood in doorways (the stance perpetuates): be it the unambitious Irish (stay-at-homes) who propped up doorways (leant against the jamb) but did little else (watched and waited); or more immediately family – the parental left-behinds fully appreciated late (ones we learned to love) by offspring  who moved on and away (waving back at) and who came back home (coming towards again) transformed by new experiences (in different clothes) to find parents out of touch (slightly shy) with the sophistication their children had adopted.

’Making Strange’ from ‘Station Island’  makes this very point: Heaney’s father Patrick stands ‘unshorn and bewildered’ between the equal and opposite forces of old world Ireland and an urbane American academic entertained by his son.

Finally, closest to home, a warning that pride (who never once forgot a name or a face) or self-absorption (nor looked down suddenly) comes before a fall: how easily he and Marie missed the landmark (house they’d just passed over) now lost in the past (too far back to see) that was actually their starting point (same house they’d left an hour before) with its deep emotional attachments (still kissing, kissing) on the road to pastures new – a year’s family sabbatical in the USA (as the taxi driver loaded up the cases).

  • Full starred heavens that winter sees: from Afterwards by Thomas Hardy, 1840 – 1928; text follows

‘When the present has latched its postern behind my tremulous stay,/ And the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings,/ Delicate-filmed as new-spun silk, will the neighbours say,/ “He was a man who used to notice such things”?/ If it be in the dusk when, like an eyelid’s soundless blink,/ The dewfall-hawk comes crossing the shades to alight/ Upon the wind-warped upland thorn, a gazer may think,/ “To him this must have been a familiar sight.”/ If I pass during some nocturnal blackness, mothy and warm,/ When the hedgehog travels furtively over the lawn,/ One may say, “He strove that such innocent creatures should/ come to no harm,/ But he could do little for them; and now he is gone.”/ If, when hearing that I have been stilled at last, they stand at the door,/ Watching the full-starred heavens that winter sees,/ Will this thought rise on those who will meet my face no more,/ “He was one who had an eye for such mysteries”?·         HV selects The Afterwards as the title of the chapter she dedicates to the collection given the many poems that feature people caught up in the aftermath of events;

  • abatement: of sound subsiding;
  • wake: visible signs stretching behind a ship ;sycamore: both tree and the ‘language’ it is alleged to speak:
  • stay-at-homes: those who show little ambition or have had little opportunity to venture beyond their own small world be it travel or socializing;
  • jamb: the vertical section of a door-frame


At the first stage in an accelerating personal time-line he and Marie espoused the sense of freedom the flight promised (up and away) – the airport facilities (buzz from duty free), the Irish based cocktails (black velvet) then pre-American shorts (bourbon), pleasurable togetherness (love letters on high), the unreality of central New York City from the air (spacewalk of Manhattan) then landing (re-entry).

From West Coast to East (California) – less formal attitudes than back home (laid-back Tiburon), fast foods (Burgers at Sam’s), outdoor beach furniture (deck-tables), no-expense-spared (champagne). American traits –  agitated stares ( wall-eyed) or signs of being stoned (hard-baked) – only visible in local sea birds (seagull looking on).

The start of a back-and-to for Heaney – Ireland (again re-entry) … relationships confirmed intact (vows revowed) … away again a year later, greater distance generated by a longer run-up (reculer pour sauter) leading to a new definition (less long goodbye than stand-off).

Then in 1972 a seismic change – the Heaneys re-rooted in the Irish Republic (Glanmore. Glamnore. Glanmore. Glanmore) – Heaney in the firing line (at bay) – everyone on board  (at one) – ex University lecturer now self-employed poet (at work) – uncertain how bills would be paid (at risk) but devil-may-care (sure).

Idyllic Glanmore Cottage – a place to hide (covert) and a home (pad) in deep woodland (oak, bay and sycamore).

Following that, a flurry of short term contracts in the USA, long-haul flights to and fro likened to short-term child supervision (jet-sitting)), things ever more frantic (across and across and across, westering, eastering) … the aircraft a study table  for composing university lectures (jumbo a school bus).

A post at Harvard University, its central area (‘The Yard’) reminiscent of his humble Mossbawn beginnings (cross between the farm and campus) and a long list of events waiting like jets in line (holding pattern) increasing his grip on his future career (tautening purchase).

Circumstances found Heaney a kindred spirit, the legendary displaced Irish monarch (Sweeney). They are both exiled from their homeland (astray) and both ultimately a touch dispirited by what life throws at them (home truths) neatly encapsulated in a snatch of wisdom from a Roman lyric poet (out of Horace) to the effect that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, it is still you (Skies change, not cares, for those who cross the seas).

  • duty free: both items exempt from paying duty-tax (especially alcohol, tobacco, jewellery) and the area in an airport where they are on sale;
  • Black velvet: Heaney chooses an Irish cocktailmade from stout beer stout (often Irish Guinness) and white, sparkling wine, traditionally champagne;
  • re-entry: the return of a spacecraft or missile into the earth’s atmosphere
  • laid-back: relaxed, easy-going;
  • Tiburon: a town just north of San Francisco, California
  • wall-eyed: eye streaked with white;
  • hard-baked: Heaney tests the imagination – something that is ‘half-baked’ is ‘empty headed’; for it to be ‘hard baked’ might suggest it looked particularly brainless;
  • reculer pour sauter: an old French sporting metaphor offering a dual possibility: defer a difficult decision, stand back to make a decision possible, generate greater momentum by lengthening the run-up;
  • stand-off: deadlock between two equally matched opponents in a dispute or conflict;
  • at bay: forced to face or confront one’s attackers or pursuers; cornered;
  • covert: a place to take refuge in;
  • pad: informal reference to ‘home’;
  • bay: laurel tree;
  • Yard: pun – name of the University’s grassy central area and reference to farmyards in general;
  • holding pattern: the flight path maintained by an aircraft awaiting permission to land;
  • purchase: firm contact or grip;
  • Sweeney Astray: (Heaney work published in 1983 translated from the Irish) the story traces the fate of a 7th century Irish king turned into a bird following a bishop’s curse and exiled, condemned to a bird’s eye view of home and former life; Sweeney Redevivus of Station Island is a series of poems voiced jointly to Heaney and Sweeney;
  • Skies change: Heaney’s version of Caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt – Horace Epistula XI;
  • home truths: uncomfortable facts about oneself, especially as pointed out by another person (wife perhaps or Classical poet!)


Heaney recounts an encounter with a Sinn Féin official on a train. Caught up in subsequent propagandist press comments critical of him he chooses to set the record straight (in the light of everything before and since).

Heaney sets out the circumstances: the cheerful spring weather (one bright May morning) and the year (nineteen-seventy-nine); an overnight killer flight (just off the red-eye special from New York) then transport home (train for Belfast); the sheer emotional uplift of his return (plain, simple exhilaration at being back) … the coastal landscape (sea at Skerries) … nature sharing the promise of seeing his wife again (nuptial hawthorn bloom). In short, everything hunky-dory (trip north taking sweet hold) and delight on the cards (like a chain on every bodily sprocket).

Rosy prospects suddenly spoilt (enter then) by the shadow of an intimidating intruder (as if he were some film noir border guard) … the stuff of nightmare (last met in a dream), saturnine (grimfaced).

Heaney weaves the man into a dream sequence in which very quickly his own potential involvement (he’d flagged me down at the side of a mountain road) in an IRA attack dawns on him.

Heaney admits to DOD (p258) that he did have a dream in which a school friend who had been interned in Long Kesh … asked me to deliver a proxy bomb.

The mood music becomes increasingly suspenseful: an ostensibly casual approach (leant his elbow on the roof) … a discomfiting close-quarters (explained through the open window) … the request to undertake a simple task (all I’d have to do was drive a van) but do not jolt the payload (carefully) … to proceed to a military border destination (next customs post at Pettigo) … to act naturally (switch off, get out) with a seemingly legitimate pretext (on my way with dockets to the office) … then leave the scene (walk ten yards more down towards the main street). His escape will be orchestrated by someone known to him (another schoolfriend’s name), a brother-in-arms (wink and smile).

It was a fact of Northern Irish life during this prolonged period of sectarian strife that though the affiliations of certain individuals and families in the Castledawson community would have been well known to Heaney he could not always be sure where he stood with individuals he had known over time.

Anyway once the payload was delivered, he was told, he would be driven back to his car. No danger for him (as safe as houses) though clearly plenty for the properties inside the explosion zone!

The dream fades.

Heaney reverts to the original drama on the Belfast train: the Sinn Féin man is confrontational (goes for me head on), does not mince words (when, for fuck’s sake), tries to bully Heaney into putting his name to the Republican cause (write something for us).

He has badly miscalculated manner, moment and man. Heaney makes it clear he composes according to poetic charge (something whatever it is) and to satisfy his own writerly needs (for myself), nothing more and nothing less (’though I might have said it more tersely’, he suggests (words to that effect).

Heaney is in fact sensitive to the repulsive conditions created by the ‘dirty’ protests (gaol walls smeared with shite) of men imprisoned without trial (out of Long Kesh) He likens images of the first Republican incarcerated (red eyes eyes of Ciaran Nugent) to an unfortunate condemned to Hell in the Inferno (something out of Dante’s scurfy hell) the man’s gimlet eyes boring  into the poetic conscience (drilling their way  through the rhymes and images) as Heaney walks, poet himself, in the footsteps of Dante and his honourable companion (the righteous Virgil). 

From a safe distance perhaps (as safe as houses) Heaney expresses indirect sympathy via a snatch of insight from Roman poet Horace describing a political prisoner gnawing at the object of his hatred in an act of endless, angry revenge (his eyes rolled and his teeth, like a dog’s teeth clamping round a bone bit into the skull and again took hold).

  • record: official report of the proceedings e.g. in a court, here a conversation that has been hotly disputed; Heaney desires to set the record straight by giving his version of events;
  • red-eye: a flight whose departure and arrival times leave a passenger with little hope of sleep;
  • plain and simple: just as it was, no jargon, no need to say anything else;
  • Skerries: a seaside town close to Dublin on the journey from the airport;
  • nuptial: relating to marriage (not anniversary; Heaney was married in August 1965);
  • hawthorn bloom: a tree that flowers in May;
  • sprocket: Heaney alludes to projections on the rim of a wheel that engage with the links of a chain as in the previous line
  • film noir: a film genre characterised by a mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace. The term was originally applied to American thriller or detective films made in the years following WWII;
  • flagged down: signalled to me to stop by waving his arms;
  • Pettigo: a small town between Omagh and the Atlantic coast, on the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic; during the Troubles it was well known for Republican activity;
  • dockets: (at this border-point) papers with the appearance of some kind of customs warrant certifying that duty has been paid on goods entering a country;
  • a wink and a smile: non-verbal communication implying acceptance of some unstated message;
  • as safe as houses: completely safe; phrase said to originate in people’s decision to invest, not in high-risk ventures, but in safer alternatives like property;
  • head on: confrontationally;
  • smeared with shite: prisoners daubed their excrement on the walls as part of the ‘dirty’ protest;
  • Long Kesh: (Maze Prison, the Maze, the H Blocks or Long Kesh) a prison in Northern Ireland  that was used to house paramilitary  prisoners during the Troubles from mid-1971 to mid-2000. Prisoners convicted of scheduled offences after 1 March 1976 were housed in the “H-Blocks” that had been constructed. Prisoners without Special Category Status began protesting for its return immediately after they were transferred to the H-Blocks where they lost privileges. Their first act of defiance (they regarded themselves as political prisoners) initiated by Ciaran  Nugent  was to refuse to wear prison uniforms; they wrapped themselves in bedsheets. The British government refused to back down. Deprived of the use of toilets without first putting on uniform the prisoners began to defecate within their own cells, smearing excrement on the walls. This began the ‘dirty protest’
  • Ciaran Nugent: best known as the first IRA ‘blanket man’ in the H-Blocks. Heaney was affronted when convicted Republican prisoners who saw themselves as political prisoners lost their special status and were treated as ordinary criminals. Their response was violent and included blanket protests, no-wash protests and hunger strikes. Ciaran Nugent was the first man to be sentenced to the so-called H-Blocks after loss of status;
  • scurfy: flaky, unhealthy
  • Virgil: an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues, the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid. Dante provides Virgil with a role in the Inferno principally as a ‘guide’ for Dante himself but also as a mentor and father figure;
  • When he had said all this … Heaney opens the link in his mind between intransigent Northern Irish mindsets and the Ugolino episode of Dante’s Inferno XXXIII as he depicts himself accompanying Dante and Virgil. This version of Dante’s tercet also appears in the third section of ‘Ugolino’ in Field Work (1979); Count Ugolino, a treacherous politician doomed to die by starvation with his sons and grandsons in a boarded-up tower.
  • Questioned by DOD about the confrontational incident Heaney explained:

“It was all done pretty discreetly, actually. My interlocutor was the Sinn Féin spokesman, Danny Morrison, whom I didn’t particularly know at the time. He came down from his place in the carriage and sat into the seat in front of me for maybe eight or ten minutes. There was nothing loud or noticeable about it; it was as if two people who discovered themselves on the same train by coincidence were getting reacquainted. I didn’t feel menaced. It was a straightforward face-to-face test of will or steadiness. I simply rebelled at being commanded. If anybody was going to pull rank, it wasn’t going to be a party spokesman. This was in pre-hunger-strike times, during ‘the dirty protest’ by Republican prisoners in the H-Blocks. The whole business was weighing on me greatly already and I had toyed with the idea of dedicating the Ugolino translation to the prisoners. But our friend’s intervention put paid to any such gesture …  After that, I wouldn’t give and wasn’t so much free to refuse as unfree to accept.” (p257)

  • Heaney offered further insights in conversations with Henri Cole: In 1979, for example, on a train, I actually met a Sinn Fein official who upbraided and challenged me on this score. Why was I not writing something on behalf of the republican prisoners who were then on what was called “the dirty protest” in the Maze Prison? These were people striking for the right to be treated as political prisoners. Thatcher was insisting on treating them as what she called ODCs—Ordinary Decent Criminals. The Tories were attempting to define the IRA as murderers without any political status whatsoever, attempting to rob their acts of any aura of political motivation or liberation. There was a big, big agitation going on in the prison. The prisoners were living in deplorable conditions. Enduring in order to maintain a principle and a dignity. I could understand the whole thing and recognized the force of the argument. And force is indeed the word because what I was being asked to do was to lend my name to something that was also an IRA propaganda campaign … He eventually threw (my refusal) up against me somewhere, saying that I had refused to write or speak out against torture. ( ) … Everything changed for writers in Northern Ireland once the Provisional IRA began to inflict their own violence on people. I had been quite propagandistically involved early on in 1968-1970, but it was my own propaganda, so to speak, expressing a minority viewpoint in places like the New Statesman and The Listener. ( Paris Review no 75);
  • Heaney’s writing addressed the conflict ( ) often seeking to put it in a wider historical context. The poet also penned elegies to friends and acquaintances who died in the violence. Describing his reticence to become a “spokesman” for the Troubles, Heaney once said he had “an early warning system telling me to get back inside my own head” from the BBC obituary of 30 August 2013;


Heaney rectifies ‘sectarian’ imbalance: having turned his back on the IRA propaganda machine he refocuses on the Protestant RUC’s equally unacceptable intrusion that placed people’s daily lives on hold … forced stop and interrogation (roadblock) brought an insubordinate response from him (I came from ‘far away’) that irritated the officer (snapped, ‘Where’s that?’) and caused Heaney to back off (half heard what I said the name of some place up the country).

Thinking now Heaney recognizes the truth of that initial response – the ‘far away’ of places was part of an eternal time-line (both where I have been living and where I left) warped by time and space (a distance still to go) … showing scant progress in the greater scheme of things (starlight light years on the go light years arriving).

  • light year: unit of astronomical distance equivalent to the distance that light travels in one year; a huge distance: 6 million million miles;


Since Heaney does not do ‘random’ content his assiduous readers will pursue the connection between this final poem and sequence’s title

When least expected and from the sky above (out of the blue) comes an instant of remembered spiritual uplift (sheer exaltation) generated on the strenuous, sweaty ascent (climbing zig-zag up warm steps) to a secluded spiritual site (hermit’s eyrie above Rocamadour).

From local birds following instinctive flight paths (crows sailing high and close) his descending gaze settles on a heat loving yet shivering creature (lizard pulsing) its stance reminiscent of space flight – of the splayed (front legs set) structure (jointed front struts) of a lunar rover (moon vehicle) carried by a lunar rocket twenty five years earlier.

The moment expands (bigly, softly) into an emotional climax of eternity (breath of life in a breath of air) carried by a frail, noiseless insect (lime-green butterfly) crossingthe sun-drenched flight path to Compostela (the pilgrims’ sunstruck via crucis).

Heaney’s jotted comments recording the instant (eleven in the morning) apply equally to insect and eremite:  the outcrop (‘Rock-lover’ from the Occitan language roc amator),  the reclusive creature (loner), the all-seeing observer from above (sky-sentry) – to each and every one of them ‘ave ’(all hail!’).

The sequence’s final line reprises the sense of wonder felt by the boy who marveled at his father’s paper-folding skills in the very first poem (somewhere the dove rose. And kept on rising).

  • out of the blue: dual intent, both from the cloudless sky above and, figuratively, without warning; unexpectedly
  • zig-zag: ; veering alternately to right and left, by following contours, less taxing than climbing straight upwards
  • eyrie: the nest of an eagle or other bird of prey, built high on a cliff;
  • Rocamadour: a picturesque town in the Lot department of south-western France that has attracted visitors both for its setting (on the heights of a gorge above the Alzou, a tributary of the river below) and its historical monuments; its sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary  has for centuries attracted pilgrims from around the world, among them kings, bishops, and nobles;
  • hermit: according to legend, Rocamadour was the home of an early Christian eremite hermit named Zaccheus of Jericho. It is believed that he died in about 70 AD and had conversed with Jesus At some point after the hermit’s death and burial in Rocamadour, the site became a place of pilgrimage. Some claim the town was named for the hermit, a “lover of rock” (roc amator);
  • pulsing: with visible signs of blood being pumped around the body;
  • struts: rods or bars forming part of a framework;
  • moon vehicle: battery-powered four-wheeled rover used on American Apollo missions; images will confirm the imagination of Heaney’s comparison;
  • the first manned mission to land on the moon was in July 1969; coincidentally that same year Heaney was in the Rocamadour area of southern France fulfilling the conditions of the Somerset Maugham Award for Death of a Naturalist;
  • bigly: an unusual adverb suited to the text
  • via crucis: (Latin ‘Way of the Cross’) describing the various routes followed by pilgrims to demonstrate their preparedness to suffer hardship on a route that will terminate at Compostela in Northern Spain;
  • all hail: warm cry of greeting often extended to nobles and religious figures
  • dove: Heaney has already expressed a similarly deep spiritual and emotional response in Flight Path 1
  • 6 three line verses devoted to hectic globe-trotting in the Space Age, reflected by short often monsyllabic, sharp, often incomplete sentences and sound-bites, incorporating a host of ideas and feelings;
  • (1) sonnet form linked by 2 half-lines; 9/10 syllables unrhymed;
  • constructed in 2 sentences; legato rhythm achieved by copious use of enjambed lines;
  • vocabulary of dressmaking (pleated) to describe the origami;
  • ‘got reduced’ would have received a teacher’s frown!
  • use of simile; symbolic dove will recur at the end;
  • pun: ‘came clean’ might describe a shady character with something to hide;
  • objective/ subjective/metaphor: description of Old Testament Ark generates emotion;
  • (2) 22 lines in unequal sections, linked to (1) via ‘part;
  • 4 sentence construct; largely 10 syllables; unrhymed;
  • vocabulary of thrust and uplift; sight and sound; element of physics (’Widened’);
  • pun: wake; sycamore (tree and invented language);
  • comparative time: early/late; unusual juxtaposition of preposition ‘in’;
  • implied Irish reaction to unfamiliarity ‘shy’;
  • (3) 6 triplets based on 10 syllables; loose rhyme scheme axa, byb; varied in final triplet aab;
  • 22 sentence construct resemble an enumeration of diary entries and short personal asides;
  • repetition accompanied by musical crescendo: Glanmore x 4;
  • repeated preposition ‘at’ to express different aspects; ‘across’ introduces a note of tedious routine; poetic invention of present participles ‘westering’;
  • variation of published work: Sweeney astray;
  • (4) 4 sections of unequal length, three linked by half-lines; 10 sentence construct; unrhymed
  • line length irregular, based around 10 syllables; ample use of enjambed lines particularly the central section of indirect speech ‘voiced’ to the republican;
  • the sharper exchange between poet and intruder reflected in the flutty of short sentences;
  • the filthy reality of the dirty protest juxtaposed with a fictional Dantean world; quotation;
  • (5)2 quatrains of 10 syllable lines; loose rhymes abba;;
  • use of direct speech;
  • objective then subjective reaction; small incident projected into astrophysics;
  • (6) 9 lines then a triplet; irregular line length 10 – 12 syllables; unrhymed; 6 sentences;
  • puns: ‘out of the blue’ both sky and surprise; ‘sheer’ both ‘utter’ and ‘steep’;
  • metaphorical uplift and ascent; repetition of ‘breath now metaphor, now personification;
  • Latin phrase associated with Catholic training: via crucis;
  • use of present participles reporting a past event; vocabulary of recent moon landings;
  • adjectives ending ‘y as a poetic alternative to ‘ish’;’
  • return of the uplifting symbol ‘dove’ in the final line;


  • 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: 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 two lines of (1)for example, brings together labio-dental fricative [f] a cluster of alveolar plosives[t] interspersed with nasal [n] and [m];
  • 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/ ang

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