The Strand

A poem of love and loss – Heaney’s ageing father once left signature markings on a Dublin beach; inevitably washed away by the next incoming tide they will never be obliterated from the poet’s memory.

As they took the air together once on Sandymount Strand the point of Patrick Heaney’s stick left a trail (the dotted line my father’s ashplant made). As long as Heaney lives nothing the all-powerful sea can do will succeed in effacing that visual memory:  something else the tide won’t wash away.

  • dotted line: literally the line of marks imprinted by the stick on soft sand; metaphorically the space left on a form or letter upon which a person leaves his signature;
  • Strand: a Dublin beach called Sandymount Strand;
  • ashplant: the walking-stick that the elderly Patrick Heaney used to get about;
  • My thanks to Martin Gemmell  who contacted me to suggest two interesting links generated by ‘The Strand’. Firstly, the ashplant that Patrick Heaney routinely carried as part of his working life with cattle and later to help with his balance recalled Stephen Dedalus (a character in two of James Joyce’s works) who, in ‘Ulysses’, tapped with his ashplant as a blind men does to see where he is going. Secondly, Martin draws attention to a piece from Edmund Spenser’s 16th century sonnet cycle ‘One day I wrote her name upon the strand’ (‘Amoretti’ LXXV) that adopts a similar metaphor for life, death, love and memory. As with both poems specific memory is now eternalized in print.
  • tide … wash away: messages or sandcastles left on the sand do not survive the incoming tide;
  • the music of the poem: in this three-line piece five 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, soothings or hissings or frictions of consonant sound to modify the assonant melodies:
  • for example, the first lines are dominated by front-of-mouth sounds: voiceless labio-dental fricative [f] bi-labial nasal [m]; bilabial continuant [w] bi-labial plosives [p] and [b]
  • 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


3 thoughts on “The Strand

    1. Hi James, thank you for your kind words; why not a nod? Patrick Heaney always carried his walking stick when out and about. I seem to remember that when SH offered his Desert Island Discs to Sue Lawley in the early seventies he chose ‘Ulysses’ as his desert island book-to-be-marooned-with.
      This snippet of memory may be inaccurate but you can check it online!!

  1. Stephen Dedalus’s ashplant yes and also Edmund Spenser’s One day I wrote her name upon the strand?

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