Finding the blend.

The most successful poets share much in common with the best chefs; the latters’ knowledge of the finest products supplemented by a talent that adds the individual flavours of spices, herbs and myriad ingredients in just the right amounts at just the right moment produces the unique, mouth-watering experiences capable of delighting and inspiring those who savour the result. The ‘knowledge’ is gleaned from experience and requires hard work; the ‘talent’ is a gift granted only to very few.

In these respects Heaney is a craftsman pursuing a similar goal. In Spirit Level he is the ‘master-chef’.

Whatever the initial stages in the process, the moment a poem ‘comes on’ or ideas with a poetic charge emerge, the stages by which these are translated into poetic form involve a deliberate and sometimes lengthy process of composition and revision, selection and rejection that determines the ultimate structure, vocabulary, verse-form, imagery and potential for success of each poem.

At one stage or another the poet will settle on: the length of the poem and its internal structure; the nature of the verse (free or rhymed); the choice of individual words or phrases most fitting to carry ideas through, thanks to their meaning, implication or sound, and so on. Whilst this is a far from exhaustive list of considerations it does indicate that inspiration is not automatic and that spontaneity can only gain from being worked upon.

In addition to the depth and richness of his personal ‘word hoard’, his personal store of material, gleaned from scholarship and interest, plus a sensitivity and a discrimination born of wide reading of literature, Heaney has access to a rich vein of poetic devices accessible to and used by all poets; he will select from the list deliberately, adapting them to his own intentions, perhaps because he wants them to add something, or ring a change, or carry an image through, or provide an echo; his aim in brief: to turn ordinary language into something special, a recipe of ingredients into a culinary feast for the senses. There is an alphabetical list of such stylistic devices at the end of this volume; knowing them by name is useful but ‘spotting’ one is less valuable, perhaps, than appreciating what it brings to the poem.

The blending of these ingredients can be roughly translated as ‘style’, that is, the ‘mix’ favoured by Heaney in each poem to carry his message forward (v. footnotes that comment on this aspect).

Not least in these considerations is the question of resonance; the richness and variation of consonant and vowel sounds provide the poet with a musicality over and above the bare narrative. Heaney knows this and rings the changes within his poems. Broadly (though not uniquely) the two aspects that best resonate are assonance and alliteration. For questions of oral delivery, intonation and cadence see the relevant section below.

Providing a music pleasing to the ear.

Singing scored music brings an awareness of a code of letters, abbreviations and signs that can be placed above or below the notes to indicate or modify the ways in which a piece is performed. When the human voice becomes an instrument, then in terms of volume: f tells us to sing the next phrase loudly; ff to sing it very loudly; p softly; mp a little less softly; cresc (crescendo) tells us to sing the phrase increasingly loudly, and so on. Other words interpret the tempo: rallentando says gradually slow down the phrase’. Other signs tell us to emphasise a word or to pause for an instant. Others advise on the sound: sad or harsh, light or sweet or slowly dying away. Without expression marks the piece would be monotonous and boring.

The same code should be applied to a poem by its reader. After all, poems are songs that, when read aloud, cry out for individual dynamics. Heaney actually uses specific musical terms in The Rain Stick published in The Spirit Level collection of 1996 (diminuendo, scales [un]diminished) but, of course, he does not provide coded recommendations alongside the text. Musicians do this but, apart from ictus accents and some aspects of sprung-verse, poets do not.

It is the words and phrases themselves and the way they are punctuated that invite variations of timbre, modulation and cadence and by reciting them with dynamics in mind, the reader can turn each poem into a linguistic ‘event’! Heaney is a composer who uses words instead of notes.

Using assonance.

In North, the collection Heaney experiments with a variety of poetic forms and rhyme schemes; these are summarised below. Beyond these end-of-line rhymes he indulges in internal echoes of vowel sounds.

The poet places a rich variety of assonances in ostensibly random but in fact quite deliberate order, now juxtaposed, now separated by other figures. He is seeking to compose perfectly tuned phrases and wants his developing skill of playing with musicality of language and word order to generate beautifully turned passages. His thought processes and instinctive use of rhythm seem to go hand in hand, whether in phrases of bare simplicity or more complex ideas and emotions.

The English language with its complex spelling system offers assonant effects by creating words that sound remarkably similar even though their spelling is radically different: e.g. wood/ would

Equally, offering no assonant effect, some words with similar spelling sound very different: ought/ though/ through/ cough.

The present document uses standard Phonetic symbols alongside assonant sounds; theses are tabled below.

Standard English sounds and their phonetic symbols


[ɪ] pit/ did

[e] press/ bed/ said

[æ] clap/ bad

[ɒ] tot /odd

[ʌ] cut/ love / must

[ʊ] foot /good/ pull

[i:] fleece/ please

[ei]  face/ cake/ break

[ai] price/ try/ trial

[ɔɪ] voice/ toy

[uː]  loose/ lose/ two

[əʊ]  moat/ show

[au] south /now

[ɪə] hear/ here

[eə] square/ pair

[ɑː] start/ rather

[ɔː] bought/ law

[ʊə] poor /jury

[ɜː] curse / flirt

[ə] about common

[i] happy radiate

[u]  you situation


Using alliteration.

Consonants differ according to where in the mouth they are formed: between the lips [p] [b] ; behind the teeth [t] [d]; velar or alveolar [[dʒ] [k]. Some, identically produced, are voiced [b], some are voiceless [p]. Some ‘plode’ in a single sound, others can be continuous, floating on air being exhaled [s] [w], some are nasal [m], [n], [ŋ] (as in ‘ring’ some involve friction [f], others are frictionless [w].

The poem can benefit from all of these ‘musical’ alternatives and Heaney knows it. He sprinkles his composition with alliterated consonants judged best suited to mood or melody. No poem seems bereft of this possibility, some are loaded; they may feature an interweave of sounds made in the same area of the mouth e.g. [s] [sh] [k] [tʃ] [dʒ] such that the resonance echoes and re-echoes with the tiniest of variations.

Heaney’s alliterations arrive in pairs or larger groupings. Alliteration and assonance can be used in tandem to create a different effect: The permutations are endless and Heaney rings the changes as each individual poem reveals on close examination.

Standard English sounds and their phonetic symbols


[p] voiceless bi-labial plosive

[b] voiced bi-labial plosive

[t] voiceless alveolar plosive

[d] voiced alveolar plosive

[k] voiceless velar plosive

[g] voiced velar plosive

[tʃ] voiceless alveolar fricative as in church match

[dʒ] voiced alveolar fricative as in judge age

[f] voiceless labio-dental fricative

[v] voiced labio-dental fricative

[θ] voiceless dental fricative as in thin path

[ð] voiced dental fricative as in this other

[s] voiceless alveolar fricative

[z] voiced alveolar fricative


[ʃ] voiceless post-alveolar fricative as in ship sure

[ʒ] voiced post- alveolar fricative as in pleasure

[h] continuant

[m] bi-labial nasal

[n] alveolar nasal

[ŋ] palatal nasal as in ring/ anger

[l] alveolar approximant

[r] alveolar trill

[j] dental ‘y’ as in yet


  • Front-of-mouth sounds and their phonetic symbols:

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.

Subjects and Settings

The Rain Stick

  • The poet is listening and responding to the sounds made by a rain stick; it has a spiritual as well as a musical effect on him. He possesses a rain stick so the poem is set either in his home in Dublin or in the home of the couple who gave it to him in North Carolina or in his mind’s eye.

To a Dutch Potter in Ireland

  • tribute to an actual Dutch Potter and Dutch poet; references to the process of making pots; also the effect of oppression on the human spirit and the jubilation of freedom; reminders of the situation in Ulster; set in an idealised pottery storeroom, in Heaney’s Irish landscape, on the wartime Dutch west coast, in an unspecified Dutch scene as the sounds of WWII begin to dwindle

A Brigid’s Girdle

  • The poet communicates with a friend he has known from Harvard days offering her a gift whose magical and emblematic properties, he hopes, may help cure a condition that is threatening her; the poem’s increasing elegiac tone is ominous. Two parts, the memory section set in South Carolina the rest in Glanmore.


  • Heaney takes sides with a herb that, despite neglect, graced the family’s Sunday lunch table. He admires its survival instinct. In what sets out as a benign lyric celebrating a lowly plant Heaney comes to reflect on the danger of underestimating those who might see themselves as victims of disrespect. Set initially around the family farm the poem broadens to become a pointed reflection upon the human affairs.

A Sofa in the Forties

  • autobiographical: children’s games; family solidarity; ‘history and ignorance’ as starting points for growing up; childhood mentality described in retrospect; ethnic cleansing in WWII; Mossbawn farmstead setting rich in interior description.

Keeping Going

  • A tribute to a much cherished family member; childhood games; the journey out of ignorance: social division; mixed messages; political assassination; the effects of time passing. Set in and around Mossbawn and Bellaghy in Co Derry;

Two Lorries

  • Elegy for a dead mother, for a local town blown to smithereens by an IRA bomb and most importantly, in a collection featuring ‘history and ignorance’, for an innocence long since undermined by unpleasant experiences. The piece combines pictures of both 1940’s and 1990’s vintage located in places within a short distance from his childhood home. The poem takes place on a kind of film-set.


  • three-poem sequence about memories of people, circumstances and associations triggered involuntarily, perhaps by the homely smell of damsons being simmered to make jam; the poem weaves in childhood memory of bricklaying and injury, unpleasant experiences, reflecting on what has been sacrificed by victims of assassination: set on a 1940s building site with a nightmare sequence attached.

Weighing In

  • describing entrenched opinion on both sides of an intractable argument; scepticism as regards any message that claims that human nature can only be good; challenging one’s own passive nature; urging direct action. Heaney has an image or object in his mind’s eye; it sets off linkages; he is listening to a Christmas message, possibly at home; the arguments are interiorized; portrayal of a debate in an indeterminate place.

St Kevin and the Blackbird

  • legend of a medieval saint showing enormous commitment and fortitude; mind stronger than matter: mental capacity dominating physical exhaustion; symbol that the poet seeks to clarify; setting based on observation of an image.

The Flight Path

  • In this sequence the planned course of an aircraft acts as a metaphor for time passing linking Heaney’s early life with an academic career that took him on journeys to and from the USA, his exodus from Ulster to the Irish Republic in 1972, an unpleasant confrontation with a nationalist figure in 1979 and an equally disagreeable happening involving the Unionist protestant forces of order. The title suggests: movement in space, movement in time; guided movement; movement determined by outside factors whether air-traffic control or gravity. The metaphorical implications of ‘taking flight’ are also represented, not least the spiritual uplift expressed in the final line. The settings follow the subject-matter.

An Invocation

  • In this three-poem sequence Heaney invokes hard-line Scottish poet and communist Hugh MacDiarmid to respect his own choice of a more supple, more conciliatory writing; he recognises a kindred conscience (with the difference that MacDiarmid reacted much more radically in his own Scottish nationalist way against the perceived injustices of government from Whitehall). The tributes are written in memoriam.

Mycenae Lookout

  • based on an Aeschylus play: the arrival home and murder of a king; elements of Trojan War; story of Cassandra depicted as a punk figure; central character and Heaney a kind of hybrid: the whole sequence must be read against Northern Irish backdrop and the whirl of anxieties, guilt experienced by those who look on; thinly veiled political references to opponent groups in NI; in the final piece a symbol of hope and renewal emerges that confronts the eternal cycle of murder and revenge; set on the rooftop of a palace but the story moves across Greek and Turkish landscape; finally a well in Heaney’s familiar Irish environment.

The First Words

  • thinly disguised non-aggressive displeasure issued by a poet operating in a repressive system; wry humour; set in a Romanian landscape by a poet of peasant origins. Version of a poem by a Rumanian poet.

The Gravel Walks

  • an elegy to things irrecoverable: “The Gravel Walks,” ( ) is about heavy work—wheeling barrows of gravel—but also the paradoxical sense of lightness when you’re lifting heavy things. I like the in-between-ness of up and down, of being on the earth and of the heavens. Heaney in the Harvard Crimson of Oct 2008


  • poem set in a rural Derry farmyard in a long-lost time; an example of excellent rural practice associated with a 7th century English poet/yardman; portrait painted in words that picks out the essential qualities of the perfect tradesman.

The Thimble

  • The sequence’s time line extends from the first century AD in Pompeii, via a medieval legend to modern times of party mood then youthful turbulence finally pointing towards the future; variations on the theme of the humble seamstress’ thimble.

The Butter-Print

  • Heaney returns to the lost domain of childhood, his memory awakened by the sight of an archaic rural device used to decorate butter (the latter produced on the Heaneys’ family farm); an autobiographical tale of naivety severely punished.

Remembered Columns

  • The poem, set inside the poet’s creative mind introduces the word ‘translation’ to echo one of its specific original meanings: ‘the removal of a saint’s or highly revered holy person’s bones or relics to another place’. At a moment of vulnerability the wordsmith recalls a religious story, however improbable he may find claims of miracles, that helps restore his sense of security; the poem has to do with continuity whether written word or religious legend, with keeping going in testing circumstances.

‘Poet’s Chair’

  • The pieces are set in different locations: a Dublin street, an art gallery; a field in Co Londonderry; the poet is ‘present’ though elsewhere; the poems pick out things bequeathed by their creators to posterity: a sculptress her chair, a painter his canvas, a poet his poetry.

The Swing

  • A sequence of 5 poems evoking a time, a place, a family and an activity: the 1940s; a large open shed in the rural Heaney farmyard in Northern Ireland; a group of siblings (the ‘herd life’ Heaney talks about in ‘Sofa in the Forties’) and their mother; using the swing erected in the family barn. The sequence moves back and forth between the extraordinary and the commonplace, between the heavenly and the earthbound, between idealized artistic representations and reality. The challenges of learning to swing become a metaphor for learning to live.

The Poplar

  • The poem’s deeper intent is generated by Heaney’s close observation of nature that makes him quick to perceive natural changes that find an echo in human affairs themselves reshaped by powerful forces.

Two Stick Drawings

  • People and scenes recalled from childhood set in rural Ulster; the comparative behaviour of his playmates on expeditions; a local simpleton and the compassion he received.

A Call

  • A phone line with Heaney on one end and his family home on the other. A poem tinged with regret in which Heaney recalls a moment of contact with his parents (by now deceased) in particular his father. His desire to keep in contact with his parents remains strong. Heaney alludes to the difficulty he and his father experienced in expressing their affection for each other, not uncommon perhaps between men.

The Errand

  • Set in the Heaney’s farmyard at Mossbawn; autobiographical; Heaney’s memories of those early days still echo loud and clear. The child Heaney shows an early flash of the intelligence he will demonstrate abundantly as schoolboy and scholar refusing to be hoodwinked by a fool’s errand, that is, an errand that will make him look a fool.

A Dog Was Crying Tonight in Wicklow AIso

  • At a moment when the poet is lamenting the loss of a Nigerian friend back in the 1950s, his Irish environment (Wicklow Also) provides the nocturnal sounds of a dog howling that encapsulate his view of humanity’s sad condition; he sets out the finality of death in an Igbo fable from Nigeria.


  • The title is a single letter monogram for a Russian poet, essayist, and iconic figure, whom Heaney very much admires, Osip Mandelstam.The poet sets out allegorical form his conviction that with men of Mandelstam’s stature the truth will always come out whatever tyrannical drawbacks are thrust in the way.

An Architect

  • The portrait of an anonymous architect, very probably an American acquaintance/friend; vignettes set in his garden, on the beach, at his office. Heaney exposes his physical make-up, persona, tastes and professional activity.. The man’s sense of humour is a possible reading of the final triplet; no real intimation of what Heaney felt about him.

The Sharping Stone

  • a set of five elegiac poems triggered by the discovery of a sharping stone honouring people who have passed away; set largely in Heaney’s Irish environment; indoors and out; to do with the way people led their lives, how they are memorialized; how they are represented in the plastic arts; includes personal memories of treasured moments; introduces imagined fairylike dimensions.

The Strand

  • Heaney’s ageing father leaves a signature on a Dublin beach that will never be obliterated by the incoming tide

The Walk

  • twin sonnets; poems about love. The first set around the banks of the river Moyulla reflects on parental influence; the second ‘longshot’ focussed around the home contemplates Heaney’s married relationship with Marie (née Devlin) that has lasted more than three decades. The first ‘photo’ has been developed, the second is a black and white negative.

At the Wellhead

  • Stories of people from childhood set around the family neighbourhood; music; two sonnets that transport Heaney back in time to roots (family, neighbours, playmates) at the interface between innocence and art. He seems to be under some form of heartache.

At Banagher

  • From his travels around his Ulster neighbourhood Heaney recalls watching an itinerant tradesman emblematic of old Ireland; he has perceived similarities between himself and the wandering tailor. The tailor has a way with clothes; the poet has a way with words. They both spend their time unpicking something to put it back together.


  • Heaney dates this poem to the period immediately following the IRA cease-fire of August 1994; the latter reflects the change of political circumstances and the rebirth of cautious hope. The poet and his wife are in Jutland, Denmark, close to the spot where the first of a series of ‘bog bodies’ was excavated in 1950. The piece reflects on things similar (places) and things different (time progress); it finishes on a note of cautious hope.


  • Heaney signs off The Spirit Level in celebration of a perfect moment of joyous exaltation. The piece is set on a coastal stretch of the west of Ireland; the poet sets out the factors that can generate the range of feelings he wishes to pass on to the reader via his lyrics; his 5 senses are heavily involved in the inter-reaction.

Forms and Rhymes

Heaney is a meticulous craftsman using combinations of vowel and consonant to form a poem that is something to be listened to; assonant and alliterative effects are attached to each poem in addition to the notes below.

The Rain Stick

  • six triplets constructed as nine sentences; line length mainly ten syllables, otherwise eight; unrhymed;
  • frequent use of enjambed lines helps determine the ‘musical score’ of oral delivery;
  • poem pitched in the present tense, ‘as it happens’;
  • use of imperatives;
  • rather than the if you of conditional clauses: ’upend’ to mimic user-manual; amounts to the same thing;
  • multiple use of musical terms; vocabulary of liquidity, both open ‘flow’, concealed in Latin borrowings: ‘transpire’;
  • Biblical reference reworked to add a spiritual but non-religious dimension: ‘eye of a needle’ becomes ‘ear of a raindrop’;
  • simile using ‘like’; personification ‘almost-breaths of air’;
  • synesthaesia juxtaposes sight and touch to add the light effect of the compound ‘glitter-drizzle’;

To a Dutch Potter in Ireland

  • the epigraph comprises two tercets in a single sentence; 1 has eleven tercets of 15 sentences; 2i comprises four quatrains in three sentences and 2.ii two quatrains in four sentences;
  • Heaney’s epigraph and his poem are based around a line length of ten syllables; the poem follows a rhyme scheme, at first regular axa/ byb/ czc etc but varied in the last six lines;
  • the Bloem versions have a much more irregular flow between five and twelve syllable alexandrines; there are no rhymes.
  • punctuation: the frequent use of enjambed lines in verse that pauses in mid line or includes questions offers rhythmical pointers for oral delivery;
  • the elements: the Heaney poetry is placed predominantly on or under the ground, close to or in water; Bloem’s favoured element is air; fire is provided by the subtext of firing pots in the kiln
  • the vocabulary of 1 reflects Heaney’s knowledge of technical botanical and geological issues plus insights into the chemicals and substances associated with glazing and firing pots; reference to light (phosphor, luminous) adds to the mythologized, otherworldly picture of the young potter;
  • a distant chiasmus: imagination creates a mythology surrounding a goddess Ceramica and her kingdom; the lines reverse the order (grass, glass, ash (a+b+c in line 20) ash-pits, shards and chlorophyll s (c+b+a in line 39)
  • Bloem’s versions are to do with natural light and enlightenment the first set in a narrower historical and geographical window (2i); 2ii expands into much wider spheres: tides, omnipresent and so on
  • epigraph and 1 are anchored in the past; Bloem is reporting a series of present moments and the implications emanating from them;
  • addition of suffix y creates adjectives from nouns on 4 occasion;
  • there is use of simile and personification but imagery is broadly theme-bound;

A Brigid’s Girdle

  • the poem is written in 5 quatrains, a four-sentence construct with a loose rhyme scheme abab cdcd;
  • line length is based on 10 syllables;
  • the rich use of enjambed lines makes each sentence all but a continuum;
  • the two separate scenes are distinct in time (Last time … Now); past and present tenses are used appropriately;
  • imagery associated with a sea-going vessel; later vocabulary seeks to stress the mythical side of old Ireland including dialect usages;
  • in the final line words mimic the making process itself;
  • simile using ‘like’ ,alongside comparison as … as
  • use of onomatopoeia in ‘plinkings’ is also synesthetic using sounds to describing words as sounds;
  • potential pun on ‘face the music’;


A Sofa in the Forties

  • 4 poems each of four triplets, in the first, line-length based on 11 or 12 syllables; in the second 9 syllables; thereafter 10 syllables; all pieces are unrhymed;
  • The use of punctuation and enjambed lines varies as do therefore the rhythms of individual piece;
  • (1), a two sentence construct, contains vocabulary of variable momentum ‘pistons’ to ‘giddy’ reflected in an accelerando ultimately slowing to near stop; period railway usage from ‘shunted’ to ‘punched’; use of simile; use of itlalicised onomatopoeia;
  • (2), a four sentence construct with 2 short questions, seeking answers the fourth a long reflection on the sofa’s different roles contains Venetian references that images of gondolas will vouch for; vocabulary associated with three elements (only fire missing); use of oxymoron ‘ornate gauntness’; word order changed to form a chiasmus (l.11)
  • (3), a five sentence construct, contains vocabulary associated with period radio programmes and its power ‘absolute’ ‘ruled tyrannically’; use of simile; coined vocabulary to do with the physics of sound: ‘furtherings’, ‘curve’; combination of objective observation and more abstract responses; mainly air and earth;
  • (4), a four sentence construct; children’s game with mature interjections; ; military comparison ‘gauntlet’; use of simile; pun on ‘transported’;

Keeping Going

  • (1) 8 lines in a single sentence; slightly irregular line length based on 10 syllables but copious use of enjambed lines creates a slow continuo much like the bagpipe’s drone note; unrhymed;
  • everyday language usage appropriate to age-group;
  • Celtic wind instrument vocabulary; visual then sound effects;
  • (2)extended sonnet-like form; volta after 9 lines moves the piece from objective to reflection, from farmstead to community, from everyday unthreatened to ominous;
  • six-sentence construct; line length based on 10 syllables’ enjambed lines support mid line punctuation to create rhythmic flow;
  • all sense involved in the narrative: now energetic, now reflective; smells introduce unpleasantness; vocabulary of liquidity
  • personification: the brush wears a skirt and bides its time;
  • use of simile;
  • (3) sonnet form in 7 sentences; lines based on 10 syllables; unrhymed; staccato beginning with successive full stops; the second half with successive enjambed lines much smoother in delivery;
  • darkness reflected in the choice of vocabulary; superlative of ‘only’; deliberate juxtaposition of pleasant and unpleasant ‘Buttermilk and urine’; lexis that reflects confusion and superstition;
  • transfer of epithet: bedrooms do not listen, parents do;
  • (4) twelve lines composed in 5 sentences; based on 10 syllables; unrhymed;
  • use of direct speech and interrogatives;
  • vocabulary reflecting mental confusion within an unreal swirling atmosphere; ominous warnings of one kind and another;
  • cinematic use of light effects;
  • (5)sixteen lines constructed in 5 sentences, each based on 10 syllables; unrhymed;
  • the balance between punctuated and enjambed lines reflects the unhasty ordinariness of the build-up; increased use of commas in the final sentence reflects the contortions of the shot man;
  • everyday language with very local colour except for the Latinism ‘subsumed’ chosen by an etymologist/poet to suggest the thirstiness of wall plaster;
  • unusual use of concessive clause ‘although’;
  • a living ‘gutter’ requires food;
  • an unfolding dramatic, cinematographic scene reminiscent of ‘A Constable Calls ‘ in North;
  • (6) sixteen lines constructed in eight sentences: based on 10 syllables; unrhymed
  • Judicious balance between punctuation and enjambment: initial flurry of shortish sentences lengthens into the cadence;
  • everyday language reflecting ordinary life; old and new metaphor (no roads actually under construction); contrast new, unchanged: ‘milking-parlour’, ‘smell of dung’; reworking of Catholic prayer, here without religious intent and more a reflection of things unchanged; euphemistic reference to epilepsy: ‘turn’; figurative use of ‘tether’;

Two Lorries

  • the sestina structure is set;
  • line length is not regular; generally between 10 and 12 syllables
  • a 17-sentence structure: insertion of reported speech mimicking speech patterns of a mother tickled by cheek of the coalman’s approach breaks up rhythms; enjambed lines help to counter-balance mid-line punctuation and create more sustained flow;
  • all 5 senses figure in the first 4 lines;
  • synesthaesia of ‘sweet-talking’, taste + sound; ‘silk-white’ touch + sight; further ample use of compounds as nouns and adjectives;
  • everyday language and situation in the first half; interesting use of use of ‘now’ as a pause word rather than reference to a specific moment;
  • nebulous characters and references to otherworldliness; frequent reference to dust and ash;
  • vocabulary of opposites: black v white; the appeal of city life to naive countrywoman; the tools required for period chores (emery) v modernisms: (fastforward, shot, payload);
  • use of puns: load/lode, filmed; ‘set’: triggered by a timer;
  • local place names;


  • (1) is of 12 lines with 2 split lines; 4 sentences of 10 syllables;
  • he balance between punctuation and enjambed lines sets rhythm and flow of recitation;
  • no formal scheme but a number of irregularly placed rhymes;
  • individual word is heraldic; the vocabulary of liquidity opens the possibility of metaphor; everyday tradesman’s language is objective;
  • use of simile: ‘like the damson stain’; ‘Damson as omen’;
  • pun ‘weeping’;
  • occasional music: the trumpets of ‘King of the Castle’ change to a sustained violin note after ‘weeping’;
  • (2)12 lines composed as 5 sentences; the presence of many enjambed lines;
  • Slightly irregular 9/10 syllable lines; some rhyming early in the piece;
  • Nouns and verbs in cluster following the sequences of the bricklaying process using everyday tradesman’s language ‘point and skim and float’; sound the dominant sense alongside sight
  • Vocabulary contrasting light and dark, cheerful and gloomy; paradox of ‘brightening’/ ’mucking’;
  • (3) sonnet form in 4 sentences; volta after ‘sacrificial lamb’; line length – stricter 10 syllables; occasional irregular rhymes;
  • an air of the hellish corner a Renaissance Creation canvas; vocabulary exudes unpleasantness;
  • use of imperatives : ‘drive’;
  • an echo word: ‘trench’ with its nasty smell of social division;
  • massive change of mood music: the opulent welcome of home after a series of revolting scenes;

Weighing In

  • (1) four triplets; a 4 sentence construct; line length between 4 and 11 syllables; 2 incidental rhymes but no scheme; judicious balance between punctuation and enjambed lines;
  • need to use the word ‘pound’ rather than the Latin abbreviation;
  • concrete vocabulary in the description of the weight (difficult for Heaney to find alternative names for the object when he also wishes to play on the word ‘weight’);
  • several example of compounds used adjectively; the final ‘well-adjusted’ is effectively a pun: if a ‘well-adjusted’ is required then the people weighbridge to people involved are not judged to be mentally and emotionally stable;
  • vocabulary of wrestling ‘squat’; aviation: black box;
  • unusual use of adverb/tome phrase introduced by ‘until’;
  • (2) four triplets; a three sentence construct; irregular line length;
  • use of prepositions (small words useful for varying meaning especially when juxtaposed with the same verb): ‘for’ ‘into’ ‘against’
  • Christmas messages with deliberate puns added: ‘strain’, ‘pitch‘;
  • (3) four triplets; a 7 sentence construct; this structures accompanies number of short sharp references and a quotation; faced with potential staccato Heaney uses enjambed lines to smooth the flow;
  • Irregular line length; unrhymed;
  • direct question addressed to the reader;
  • use of verbs in the infinitive form in positive and negative pairings
  • In a sentence focusing on ‘hurt’, Heaney selects ‘ingrown’ that might remind of a painful toe;
  • unusual: conjunction clause: ‘although’; use of adverb ‘still’;
  • colloquial idiom expressing disbelief: ‘do me a favour!’;
  • (4) four triplets in 6 sentences; line length based on 10 syllables; unrhymed
  • vocabulary of competition: wrestling, boxing, fencing;
  • repetition in response to a tired cliché: ‘ yes, yes, yes’
  • Latin mea culpa helps Heaney in need of 4 syllables;

St Kevin and the Blackbird

  • (1) 3 sentences in 4 triplets; irregular line length; unrhymed;
  • balance between punctuation and enjambed lines creates a smooth flow;
  • initial description of the observed image is uncomplicated;
  • modern vocabulary of linkage: network juxtaposes the quotidian and the everlasting; link also between warm eggs and existence; a natural cycle a opposed to eternal life;
  • modal auxiliary of obligation;
  • the initial ‘and then’ suggests that the poet is looking at a series of representations in book or gallery;
  • comparison: arm and building joist;
  • (2) four triplets in eight sentences explained by the flurry of questions;
  • Rich variety of words describing muscular discomfort leading to numbness; from ethereal spirituality in (1)to earth below;
  • Imagery links love with water; the elements are well represented; the only fire is muscular pain represented as agony;

The Flight Path

  • 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 flurry 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 unmitigated 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;

An Invocation

Mycenae Lookout

  • (1,i) 22 lines in a single verse; regular 10 syllable lines; rhymed abab/cdcd etc save the emphatic final couplet that is unrhymed;
  • four-sentence construct; copious use of enjambed lines makes for a smooth flow;
  • unusual verbal use of up’, more often adverb or preposition;
  • use of simile; three compound nouns linking reality and non-reality: life-warp, killing-fest;
  • metaphor of webs/ nets will recur;
  • lexis referring to liquid substances is introduced and will recur: blood, ford, raining sailed;
  • deliberate anacoluthon: ‘queens’ forget, ‘commands’ have no memory;
  • ox’ metaphor repeated from epigraph;
  • farmyard mayhem brings huge contrast in vocabulary and mood;
  • invention of ‘verbal’ adjectives ending in ‘y’;
  • (1,ii): 23 lines in a single strophe; irregular line length 9-11 syllables;
  • rhyme becomes sporadic; 5-sentence construct; many enjambed lines;
  • use of simile, like/ as;
  • repetitious nature of life echoed in time references: year after year; Day-in, day-out; biding time; foreseen/ pre-planned future: fate/ destiny;
  • synesthetic effect: sound thrown of ‘yell … hurled;
  • conditional clause ‘if’;
  • comparisons:: light/cereal; watchman/arctic landscape; mirror/gaze; weather feature/ soft tissue; victory/ molten lava;
  • cluster of present participles
  • (2) 21 triplets + 1 concluding line; irregular line length between 1 and 5 syllables; unrhymed; 9 sentence structure;
  • vivid description of punk stereotype; monosyllables dominate;
  • use of coarse, demotic language: direct as in ‘fuck’; less obvious: ‘cock’, ‘do it to her’, ‘gene hammer’ ‘roused’; Old English ‘reaver;
  • comparisons: posture/ injured bird, girl/ lamb to slaughter; man/ male animal buck;
  • pun: ‘rent’; emphatic presentation of the sexual drive in men;
  • inventions: ‘char-eyed’, ‘famine gawk’
  • multiple use of compounds adjectival, verbal, nicknames, as nouns;
  • (3) eight triplets in 9 sentences; regular 10 syllable lines; fair balance between punctuation and enjambed lines;
  • initial aaa/bbb/ccc rhyme scheme loosens later; only the final emphatic line does not rhyme;
  • the activities of lobbyists expressed in present participles ‘ing’;
  • synesthetic effect ‘mouth athletes’ heard and watched; ‘grievous distance’ emotion/ space
  • adjectival compound ‘pre-articulate’, noun omitted; others juxtapose contrasting notions, for example to create personification ‘wind-swept’;
  • shocking irony ‘Amorously, it seemed;
  • (4) six sections (4×9; 1×12; 1×1); line length typically 6-8 syllables; unrhymed;
  • sixteen sentence construct; copious use of enjambed lines;
  • simile roof/ eardrum; sexual allusions, cuckold wearing horns; watchman’s mind/ in a cell
  • pun: on his shoulders Earth/ burden of responsibility;
  • compounds used to mental, emotional physical effects: cross-purposed; self-loathing, ox-bowed;
  • comparisons: ox preventing speech/ classical columns decorated with heads; domestic space/ Olympian abode of classical gods and goddesses;
  • compromising one’s values: recurring allusion to the competition between intense passion and beacon fires;
  • return of ‘net’ motif;
  • irony: peace breaking out;
  • (5) twelve unrhymed triplets in 5 sentences; irregular line length between 5-11 syllables; ample use made of enjambed lines;
  • last three triplets set in Heaney’s familiar Irish landscape;
  • references to water take different forms: water, surging, splashing etc; similarly the contamination of clean water by ‘soiled’ man;
  • dying’ pun: people perish, sounds fade
  • unusual juxtaposition ‘nearly smell’;
  • use of simile ‘as if’ ‘like’; cluster of present participles ‘-ing’; compound phrases are a neat and economical way of weaving ideas together: blood-plastered, free-standing; personification and apotheosis: pumps have mouths and are generous;
  • metaphors associated with ‘ladder’ and its component parts; history, time past and present, war and peace, Irish well-digging;

The First Words

  • Heaney is a meticulous craftsman using combinations of vowel and consonant to form a poem that is something to be listened to.

The Gravel Walks

  • four quatrains; 10 syllable lines; loose rhyme scheme begins to emerge and will become more formal abab/cdcd in the second piece;
  • five sentence construct; rich use of enjambed lines contrasts with the cluster of verbs/ activities on the building-site
  • use of engines as a generic word for machines; also ‘schooled’;
  • old Testament reference (in the beginning) to the Creation Genesis1i; second theological reference in ‘absolution’; personification of trees in reverence: ‘dipped down’; ‘eternity’
  • use of simile;
  • otherworldliness: ghost, shades;
  • concentration of many different elements (dimensions, refracted light, shades of colour) in a single phrase ; sparkle of shallow, hurrying barley-sugar water;
  • comparisons: motorbike and medieval knight; water colour of a sweetmeat; builders/ underworld figures; personification: a machine that lives


  • Sixteen lines in a single verse, constructed in 5 sentences; based on 10 syllable lines (sometimes 11 + 9) ; the 2 tributes can temporarily halt the flow of narrative (ll.6 & 16);
  • No rhyme scheme; plentiful use of enjambed lines especially in sentences 3 & 4;
  • Lexis suggestive of liquidity: full, (un)absorbed, euphemistic ‘water’ for urine;
  • Introduction of mildly parodic pseudo-religious vocabulary: sacred subjects, hand joined, eyes to heaven; angel (the latter confirming spiritual limitation by the juxtaposition of ‘stint’ that stresses spiritual short-fall);
  • Use of ‘as if’ clauses suggests improbability; vocabulary of completeness: perfect, perfectly, real thing
  • Poetic licence: verb ‘poeting’ from noun; ‘bogging’ also;
  • Simile: hard as nails, confirming the contrast between the gentle approach of the animal carer and his responses once his wards seek to exercise their own free will;
  • The last emphasis is more colloquial, a phrase used by Heaney to describe his total personal approval

The Thimble

  • 1. Three lines in a single unpunctuated sentence; lines of 8 and 10 syllables;
  • sexually suggestive vocabulary: Carnal, touched, lips, bite-marks
  • use of arty words with double intention ‘touch’;
  • freshest’: both most ‘recent’ and ‘best preserved’
  • 2. 17 lines in a single stanza; 4-sentence construct; lines from 5 to 10 syllables; unrhymed;
  • Plentiful use of enjambment – see for example sentence 4 that flows uninterrupted;
  • Use of ‘until’ suggests continuum of historical time rather than a splitting point implicit in, say, ‘before’;
  • The vocabulary of sickness extends to the light effects that can build up around molten metal: fiery delirium’;
  • Use of conjunction ‘so’ to impart the idea of spiritual cause and effect;
  • Archaic usage: ‘at that hour’ as opposed to ‘at the same moment’ extends the Holy Bible-like lexis; time references: Until> afterwards> so> henceforth
  • 3. A single question based on 10 syllable lines; final echo of the human voice;
  • Vocabulary of pleasure;
  • Lyrical compound of thirst-brush offers a parallel though very different sensual thrill to vignette 1;
  • Use of ‘flee’ to indicate that bodily responses to the thrill are beyond Heaney’s control;
  • 4. 4 lines of variable length in a single, unpunctuated sentence; the unfazed poet takes a rebellious societal phenomenon in his stride with no resort to exclamation marks;

The Butter-Print

  • 5 sentences composed in 3 quatrains; line length based on 10 syllables; unrhymed with one exception; balance between punctuation and use of enjambment;
  • Double questions mimic a sense of outrage at the contrast between soft butter and sharp edged pattern inscribed on it; ‘bear: double meaning ‘carry’, ‘ suffer’;
  • as if’ confirms the contrary-to-what-you-would-believe dimension;
  • butter personified ‘breast;
  • the swallow itself is matter-of fact; the language of after effect explodes, generating heat: vocabulary of sharpness; repetition of ‘coughed’ setting out the effort required to dislodge the blockage
  • emphatic placing of ‘up’ permits the after-flow of relief: vocabulary of soothing coldness;
  • thanking his lucky stars (cosmic space is mostly cold) introduces his common link with a holy victim;

Remembered Columns

  • a parable in 2 quatrains; line length based on 10 syllables
  • 3 sentences, the first hinting at a confused mental state, the second, conspicuous for the use of enjambment, a visual film-like animation, the third, a couplet, setting out a kind of spiritual lesson;
  • vocabulary describing contrast: things ‘airy’ and ‘light-headed’ as opposed to things ‘solid’: ‘marble’, ‘blocked’, ‘rocks’;
  • vocabulary of spiritual elevation: ‘heights’, ‘columns’, ‘rose’, ‘hilltop’, ‘lift’;
  • simile preceded by ‘like’;
  • words with religious connotation: ‘lift my eyes’, ‘credo’;
  • an existing holy site is included;

‘Poet’s Chair’

  • the epigraph is a single italicized quatrain in 2 sentences; line length based upon 10 syllables; a very loose rhyme scheme abab; 3 lines of 4 enjambed;
  • the ‘solar’ citation attributed to Leonardo influences the lexis; light/shade; planets orbiting stars as artists walk around their work;
  • contrast: ‘shifting’ changes of position, ‘fixed’ set emotional commitment;
  • poem 1: 15 lines in 8 sentences; variable line length of 10+ syllables; unrhymed; plentiful use of enjambed lines;
  • the sun and changing light effects remain centre-stage; linear shapes; slightly sinister reference: ’stalked’;
  • poet addresses his sculptress;
  • an inanimate object personified (the chair has a mind on the qui-vive); organic references to growth (sprouts, graft);
  • vocabulary of furniture design;
  • warm picture painted of inner-city wanderers; hints of magical powers
  • comparisons: air ha swings; a branch can seize hold of a passer-by;
  • final question is down-to-earth; use of mild expletive of common street usage;
  • poem 2: 19 lines based on 10 syllables; unrhymed (1 exception);
  • 10 sentence structure; short sentences crowd the middle section alongside the repetition of negatives;
  • Next thing’ suggests the speed with which a creative mind switches focus and the poet’s inability to control the direction his imagination takes him in;
  • elements reminiscent of the original chair present in the decoration of ships involved in the religious event (verdant, wreathed, creepered);
  • philosophical terminology (discoursing, proved the soul immortal) contrasts the obsessive pursuit of Socrates’ rhetoric with the impassive explanation of the death process already under way;
  • continuum of past participles in the final line explore the mental stages involved;
  • Poem 3: the third with an odd number of lines (11); line length based around 10 syllables; unrhymed;
  • 5 sentence structure; sparse punctuation and abundant use of enjambed lines;
  • the time the ploughing takes ticks away in the enumeration of the numbers; in later comparison the future seems eternal: ‘for good’
  • the superstitious/ magical elements from the previous poems in the sequence is reintroduced (never cut, chair in leaf, fairy thorn);
  • ever modest about his own gifts Heaney suggests here that he possesses a visionary dimension (all-seeing, all foreknowledge, future);repetition of ‘all’;
  • comparison (poem/ ploughshare) compare the ‘pen/ dig’ of his very first poem ‘Digging’;

The Swing

  • 1. 2 couplets divided by hemistiches; full lines based on 10 syllables; 2 sentence structure; unrhymed;
  • frequency of present participles –ing supports the idea of on-going process;
  • contrast small/big: fingertips/ big push;
  • swinging movement reflected in lexis;
  • shared experience: you/ we;
  • the process of learning will be echoed in the final piece of the sequence as applying to life as a whole so that process leads to progress, leads to success;
  • 2. 10 lines in a single verse; 4-sentence structure; line length based on 10 syllables; unrhymed;
  • sentence 3 enjambed in to a single flow;
  • vocabulary brings spiritual, lyrical warmth to a fondly remembered scene;
  • vocabulary of painting: -ground;
  • contrast between idealized paintings and spiritual scenes (nativity) with the ramshackle nature of the swing;
  • comparison: dangling rope/ fishing-line to raise human expectations;
  • 3. 21 lines in a single stanza; lines of 10 syllables; unrhymed;
  • 7 sentence structure; copious use of enjambed lines;
  • search to compare figures of elevated and common status;
  • contrast between privileged and burdensome existences: majestic/ metal basin; attendants/ elastic stocking;
  • vocabulary from different sources: Scottish ‘plout’; slightly archaic words when referring to classical pictures: ‘ministrations’
  • comparison: stocking/ life;
  • even so’: despite what was set out previously; ‘whatever’ used adjectively;
  • 4. a single sextet lines based on 10 syllables; unrhymed, heavy in enjambed lines;
  • shared experience: you; your;
  • stages accompanied by past participles; like a user manual in the past tense;
  • verbs move from quiet beginnings to an explosion of thrust;
  • small’ links dual ideas: a bodily spot; they were small children;
  • Adverbial subordinate: as… as;
  • 5. quintet and triplet linked by 2 hemistiches; complete lines based on 10 syllables; unrhymed;
  • sky high’: metaphorical extension of the highest point reached when swinging used now to suggest aspiration and achievement;
  • made light of’ (twin intent): the atomic explosion made light work of bones by vaporizing them;
  • comparison: plane/ bird: ‘neb’, ‘migrated’;
  • hang back’: the youngsters showing reluctance were literally hanging from the swing;
  • vocabulary of excelling expectation: beyond, over, above;

The Poplar

  • a single quatrain in three sentences (2 questions); length based on 10 syllables;
  • rhyme abab;

Two Stick Drawings

  • 1. 9 lines in a single verse; 3 sentences; line length based on 10 syllables; unrhymed;
  • use of enjambed lines determines the narrative flow in oral delivery;
  • use of superlatives: highest, ripest; Irishism: halfpenny seat;
  • portrait of carefree Tom-boy figure;
  • comparison: railway man/ classical epic gladiatorial figure; vocabulary of train/chariot speed, and male aggression;
  • 2. 21 lines in a single verse; three sentence structure, the second characterized by repeated use of semi-colon as a full-stop substitute; early 11 syllable lines superseded by standard 10 syllables; copious use of enjambed lines
  • Unrhymed;
  • Comparison: car interior/ shop window; image extended by Jim’s appearance;
  • Weather described by its components: rain or (sun)shine; similarly wet or fine;
  • transferred epithet: Jim his desperate not his rounds; they demonstrate his desperation;
  • use of preposition to avoid lengthy alternative: Jim of the hanging jaw;
  • lexis alluding to physical deformity and mental impediment, extending to various senses: sight, sound;
  • 2 film-like clips: Jim brandishing a stick; Jim following a strange dance with a stick; element of ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ animation where the instruments take control over the user;
  • oxymoronic juxtaposition suggesting Invisible mass: unhindered air
  • Jim’s jubilation accompanied by an acceleration of hectic activity only slowing as hope and energy decline;

A Call

  • 16 lines of poetry including 2 hemistiches in 5 verse of differing length;
  • line length based around 10 syllables for full lines; unrhymed;
  • the use of dots indicate an ellipsis, not of words rather time-lapse;
  • present participles used to add presentness to a series of actions;
  • use of descriptive words: clock sounds exaggerated by electronic amplification; adjective suggesting both solemnity associated with the family home and anticipating less happy times when there will be no-one to listen or reply: grave, unattended; light effects in the hall;
  • powerful adverb: nearly (but not quite);

The Errand

  • two quatrains with lines of variable length; loose rhymes scheme abab cddc ;
  • first quatrain direct speech in 2 sentences with enjambed lines; second quatrain in a single sentence;
  • imagery and vocabulary of card play;

A Dog Was Crying Tonight in Wick low AIso

  • a poem in 9 sections of varying length (10, 4, 5, 9 lines); line length largely10 syllables, some longer; unrhymed;
  • V1 is a 5 sentence structure; good balance between punctuation and enjambed lines;
  • comparison: living world/’house’; vocabulary of cremation;
  • comparison (dead souls/ birds) generates avian references applying to different senses (sight, sound);
  • first light’ poetic alternative for ‘dawn’;
  • Ellipsis: ‘ meant to’ (but did not);
  • simile ‘like a night spent in a wood’: death seen as a short-lived condition before life restored
  • V2 quatrain; vocabulary of distraction: ‘trotted’, ‘just’ ‘barking back’;
  • V3’how’ provides the explanation of sudden turnaround;
  • Use of direst speech;
  • V4 simile: birds/ black specks; ‘off’ interplay of dark colour contrast against warm background;
  • colour used to denote mood: ‘reddened and darkened’
  • synesthesia: obliterated (physical) light (visual);
  • figurative use of ‘house’: h-of life; corpse house;


An Architect

  • 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 Sharping Stone

  • 1. sextet; line length based on 10 syllables; unrhymed; 3 sentences; good balance between punctuation and enjambed lines;
  • vocabulary appropriate to large dimensioned, old fashioned monolithic furniture;
  • comparison too/athletic baton;
  • 2. 19 lines in a single verse; 9-sentence structure; balance between punctuation and enjambed lines; unrhymed;
  • all the same: used idiomatically, sense of anyway, let me move on;
  • parallel: will recur in the next piece as ‘side by side’;
  • comparison: short logs and rollers; long logs rockets;
  • use of short sentences in mid poem to create a suspense preceding fairy-story animation;
  • reference to children’s stories: babes in the wood;
  • personification: flood-face of the sky;
  • military instruction repeated: ‘eyes front’;
  • repetition of preposition ‘out’;
  • 3. 15 lines in 6 sentences; line length based on 10 syllables; unrhymed;
  • use of anatomical and ceramic references;
  • vocabulary reflective of extrovert male and preoccupied female: all eyes, ‘all brow and dream’
  • pathos: the relatively banal but much treasured postcard ‘found among his things’;
  • 4 16 lines in a single verse; 8 sentences; the enumeration of the man’ activities (initially a list punctuated by commas) eventually provides an independent sentence for each as they become more extravagant;
  • line length based on 10 syllables; unrhymed; abundant use of enjambed lines;
  • direct speech, the first attributed to the grandson; the second, unattributed, possibly the words of an incredulous daughter!
  • Idiomatic phrases: walk on water, on air;
  • gerunds used figuratively to express victory: breasting; clearing
  • unusual suffix ‘some’ added to denote relative degree as ‘ish’;
  • play on words: at eighty; broke; stride; also ’career’ carries a: sense of both ‘what he did before’ and ‘living life in the fast lane’;
  • 5. 1 sextet in a single sentence; lines based on 10 syllables; unrhymed; good balance between punctuation and enjambed lines;
  • conjunction ‘so’ serves several purposes: as a next step, as a final step, for this reason, when all is said and done; because there is little more to be said; the monosyllable also slows the pace for a much calmer ending;
  • comparisons; (scherzo) the sound of music, the sound of stone against metal; man sharpening a scythe, musician playing the Irish harp;

The Strand

The Walk

  • sonnet form, volta after line 10; 3 sentences; line length based on 10 syllables; unrhymed;
  • much use made of enjambed lines to create the legato flow of the first section;
  • personal pronouns hide (unmistakeable) identities;
  • botanical enumeration; colour implied rather than named;
  • stepped out’ contains connotations of pride;
  • triplet of adjectives ending in –y (‘-ish’);
  • comparison: the limited area of childhood will one day offer huge potential: ‘world rim’;;
  • personification of love synonymous with parents;

At the Wellhead

  • Sonnet; line length based on 10 syllables; no formal scheme but some rhymes;
  • 8 sentences offer natural pauses in the narrative ‘score’; some enjambment;
  • Simile: sweet neighbour like things that shine; braille books/ pattern books
  • Contrast: ordinary/ extraordinary;
  • vocabulary of touch prominent;
  • Similarities between the 2 musicians carried through;
  • Indirect references to blindness: night water;
  • open darkness’ combination of ideas: her eyes show she is blind; they also reflect her outgoing warmth; similarly euphemism: watery shine combining the off-putting discharge round the eyes; the inspiring personality behind them;
  • Volta in l.10: from reporting episodes to consideration of significance;

Simile: the lift Rosie brought him resembling some unspoken grief alleviated;

At Banagher

  • 4 triplets in 6 sentences including 2 questions about deeper issues; no rhyme scheme but some loose rhymes; line length between 10 and 12 syllables; balance between punctuated and enjambed lines;
  • so’ used as a conjunction: ‘for all these reasons’;
  • words derived from the same Latin root: scrutiny/ inscrutable;
  • seams’ suggestion of triple intention;
  • musical reference adds to the varying resonance of sense data: plucking the cotton/ plucking a guitar string; the man is tuning the cotton;
  • Heaney uses interrogatives owing to the tailor’s reticence; they are rhetorical;
  • lexis of the tailor’s trade sits alongside description of feelings betrayed on the surface ‘ill at ease’;
  • paradox: tailor ‘unopen’; the way ahead ‘opener’;


  • 6 quartets in 11 sentences; short ones follow the shifts of the observer’s gaze; the final 7-line sentence records reasons for optimism;
  • line length based on 10 syllables;
  • rhyme scheme abba cddc maintained throughout;
  • use of dialectal vocabulary to increase Irishness (‘moss’ ‘swart’); rhyming neologisms (’grags’, ‘quags’);
  • under wraps’, play on words: wrapped up, veiled in secrecy;
  • paradox ’outback’ normally associated with the Australian wilderness but user-friendly
  • good husbandry in Jutland: ‘swept and gated’;
  • opposites: ‘dream’/ ‘outside contention’; scarecrow/ satellite dish;
  • Danish identity: futhark/ Runic/ Danish;
  • irony: ‘Things had moved on’;
  • the final 3 lines expressing hope build to the emphatic ‘not bad’;


  • 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 on white’ to suggest slight variants of ‘ colour’;
  • the final line, in its comparison of emotional flood and safe-breaking provides a powerful coda to the collection as a whole.

Stylistic devices

Translating ideas, notions, themes, that ‘something’ from the inner recess of the mind, into words involves first selection: words and phrases, the ‘mot juste’ and so on, then the weaving of these lexical items into the fabric of the piece. This weaving process is a means to multiple ends: flow, sound, rhythm, echo, emphasis and so on; part of the ‘fun’ is drafting and redrafting text to achieve maximum impact in the finished product.

Published poetry, though not perhaps written for the reader, is there for the enjoyment and can be an intellectual challenge as well as a pleasure. Part of that enjoyment can legitimately include analysis of the style of the piece. What follows is a list of devices open to writers as part of their technique.

Whilst there might be no intrinsic value in spotting a particular device and knowing it by name, nevertheless it is good training. It helps the reader to be inquisitive and begs the question as to why the writer chose that particular device and to what end. We cannot always tease out the poet’s real intention but it is well worth trying!

a figure of speech is a way of talking or writing by which you say what you don’t mean and yet mean what you say. For example, ‘He blows his own trumpet’. You don’t mean he has a trumpet but you do mean that he blows it. HUNT, Fresh Howlers (1930)

antithesis: an arrangement of contrasted words in corresponding places in contiguous phrases, to express a contrast of ideas;

chiasmus: the arrangement in parallel clauses of related terms in a reversed order, so AB BA as opposed to parallel order AB AB;

cliché: A phrase whose wording has become fixed, or almost fixed, as usage has given it a fixed meaning. Cliches commonly use a recognised literary device which eventually uses its power;

comparison: A statement that there is a likeness between things which can in fact be likened;

dual meaning: This when a word or phrase is used so as to be understood in two different meanings, both of which fit the sentence (e.g. a literal and a symbolic meaning), and in order that the two meanings may be related with each other;

enjambment: The continuation of a sentence, in verse, into the following line. Traditionally an enjambement is permissible if the break is at the normal break in the syntax or at a normal break between breath groups. This happens more routinely outside those conditions in free verse;

enumeration: The arrangement of terms in succession, e.g. nouns in apposition, adverbs or adverbial phrases; economy of words is achieved. As a literary device enumerations can be used to add implications and rhythm to the subject matter, by grouping or gradation or even intentional iincoherency;

euphemism: replacement of a distasteful by a more pleasant term, to refer to the same thing;

free indirect speech: the expression of what is spoken or thought without introductory words such as He said, ‘…’ or He said that.. In narrative FIS may be signalised by use of vocabulary appropriate to the character rather than the words of the author. Continuous FIS becomes ‘interior monologue;

hyperbole: the intentional use of an exaggerated term in place of the one more properly applicable, adding implications to the subject matter;

inversion: The reversal of the normal order of the members of a sentence, perhaps to avoid ambiguity or to bring certain words into stressed or key position or to modify the rhythm;

irony: The use of words containing a sufficient and apparently serious meaning in themselves, but conveying also, intentionally, to a more initiated person a further, generally opposed meaning; frequently the first meaning is laudatory or untenable;

litotes: intentional understatement inviting the reader to rectify. Frequently a negative expression;

metaphor: an expression which refers to a thing or action by means of a term for a quite different thing or action, related to it, not by any likeness in fact but by an imagined analogy which the context allows;

A simile uses words like ‘like’ or ‘as…as’. Metaphors and similes have 2 terms: the thing meant and the thing ‘imported’ as a means of expressing, by analogy, what is meant.Personifications are only 1 sort of metaphor.

This substitution of words has wide uses: ornament, implication, overtone. Its use may be regarded as a special means of revealing hidden truth.

Apart from enriching the thought by a device of form and enhancing the reader’s contact with the author, metaphors and similes may be significant or characteristic because of their reiterated suggestion of a writer’s preoccupations or his processes of thought.

metonymy: the use of a word in place of another with which it is associated in meaning;

objective-subjective: ‘objective’ – expressing reality as it is or attempting to do so; the reality of events or things is regarded as ‘external’. The reality may mental or emotional experience, examined rather than evoked. ‘Subjective’- expressing a version of reality in which it is modified by emotion or preconceived belief; or expressing conscious or subconscious experiences of states of mind;

oxymoron: the juxtaposition of contradictory or incongruous terms, understood as a paradox;

paradox: a statement or implication expressed so as to appear inconsistent with accepted belief, or absurd, or exaggerated, but intended to be realised by the reader as an acceptable or important truth, in some respect; often placed as a conclusion; in a paradox there is often a word which cries out for redefinition;

pathetic fallacy: ascribing human traits or feelings to inanimate nature, corresponding with those being experienced by a character or ‘voice’;

periphrasis: the expression of a meaning by more words than are strictly necessary or expected, so that additional implications are brought in;

porte-manteau word: a deliberate mixture of 2 words into one retaining both meanings: ‘’a bestpectable gentleman’, respectable guy wearing glasses!

preciosity: aiming at or affecting refinement or distinction in expression; avoiding vulgar phrases; visibly introducing greater care in expression; using this precision, formal arrangement of words, difficult combinations of ideas, allusions and puns in the hope of revealing truths not to be expressed in plain and simple terms; exaggerating this so that, for example an ‘armchair’ might become a ‘commodity for conversation’!

repetition: expressing a meaning or an attitude by implication, through the deliberate use of a word or phrase a second time;

symbol: a term for an object representing, conventionally or traditionally, an abstraction;

synecdoche: the use of a word denoting a ‘part’ in place of the word for the whole, so ‘100 sails’ meaning ‘100 ships’;

synesthesia: the representation of a sensation or image belonging to one of the five senses by words proper to another (‘loud tie’; Disney’s ‘Fantasia’);

zeugma: providing syntactical economy of words by using one word with dual possibility so that two meanings are taken separately – ‘he took his hat and his leave’.


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