Academics on tour and an overnight coach journey turn into personal ordeal. The marathon has reached a new Dawn and brought with it the urge to escape. Allegory is never far away: Heaney in 1969 is entering his ‘wintering out’ phase, biding his time and waiting for other things to come along.
A travelling companion lets in the growing daylight: Somebody lets up a blind to reveal a shrub at the window, bright (Glitters), profuse and fresh (a mint of green leaves), buffeted (Pitched and tossed) by the currents of air.
Progress through a town is halted by a traffic control (we stopped for lights/ In the centre). The narrative picks out the detail: pigeon-call (clucking); pigeons down /On the street, its surface a random scatter of cobbles.
Clues suggest a Mediterranean location (Pompeian); fatigue and growing irritation dominate: progress is too slow (We went at five miles an hour); his companions are by nature censorious (tut-tutting); everything is formality (colloquy … in session); even the absence of sound is deafening: scholars/ Arguing through until morning/ In a Pompeian silence.
Active participants are being watched by a passive, mocking audience: dummies ( ) from the window/ Displays.
Escape from the madding crowd (I got away out by myself) opened the narrator’s eyes to the discarded shells of the sea-shore (scurf of winkles and cockles) and awakened his protective environmental conscience: found myself suddenly/ Unable to move for fear of trampling and crunching/ Acres of their crisp delicate turrets.
- blind: window screen with roller or slats;
- shrub: a large bush, smaller than a tree;
- mint: aromatic plant used as a herb; also mint-condition, a suggestion of freshness, newness as of Spring foliage/ new day;
- pitch and toss: verbs of up-and-down, back-and-forth motion; in conjunction a gambling game using coins;
- lights: traffic signals;
- scatter of cobbles: random distribution of rounded stones that form the road surface;
- cluck: staccato, low sound made by chickens;
- tut-tut: expression of disagreement, disapproval;
- colloquy: formal conversation of a serious gathering;
- in session: assembled to proceed with formal business
- Pompeian: relating to Pompeii, ancient city close to Naples buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD, extinguishing all life but leaving its ruins intact beneath the layer of volcanic dust; few birds sing on the site;
- dummies: replicas of human beings useful for clothes shops and fashion designers;
- scurf: flakes of old skin visible (as dandruff) on the surface;
- winkles: common edible mollusc with a spiral shell found commonly on the sea-shore;
- cockles: common edible mollusc with a strong, ribbed shell found commonly on the sea-shore;
- found myself: either discovered (in a new place) or came back to normal state of mind;
- acre: unit of land area preferred to metric since the poet is looking for velar [k] sounds;
- crunch … crisp: crushing sounds;
- turret: small, castle-like tower;
- ‘DOD: ‘ Can you still remember the week in May I969 when – as you reported in earlier interviews – you wrote ‘about forty poems ‘? Were they just ‘trial pieces’ or did some of them survive into published collections?’ SH: ‘Several of them (including Dawn) appeared in Wintering Out ... But a lot more saw the light of day just once, in spreads in The Listener’ (DOD147);
- the title opens more than one line of interest: dawn, dawning, realization;
- 5 quartets in 7 sentences; line length of 5-8 syllables; unrhymed; the balance between enjambed lines and punctuation regulates the flow of oral delivery, particularly the staccato/ stop-go rhythm of a 7 sentence structure;
- verb tenses: initial present gives way to simple past tenses of moments recalled;
- people: anonymous and increasingly tiresome: ‘somebody … colloquy … scholars;
- personal pronouns: initial joint ‘we’ becomes the ‘I’ of one escaping academic claustrophobia;
- prepositions: ‘up’ of blind on a spring; ‘down’ of pigeons landing;
- trying pace of donnish life: ‘five miles an hour … tut-tutting … arguing until morning’;
- humorous irony compares academics drawing breath with the oppressive silence of and ancient site;
- escape of a man more poet than academic: ‘got away’; immediate increase in level of consciousness and sensitivity; paradox: freedom to escape wearisome company/ ignore protocols leads to inhibition: ‘unable to move’ because unwilling to commit a crime against the natural environment;
- ‘scurf’ a personification that paints the random spread of discarded shells on the seashore;
- 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: twelve 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 soothings or hissings or frictions of consonant sound to modify the assonant melodies;
- the first lines, for example, bring together alveolar [l] and a cluster of plosives: alveolar [t] [d], bilabial [b] [p] interspersed with sibilant sounds [s];
- it is well worth teasing out the sound clusters for yourself to admire the poet’s sonic engineering:
- Consonants (with their phonetic symbols) can be classed according to where in the mouth they occur
- Front-of-mouth sounds voiceless bi-labial plosive [p] voiced bi-labial plosive [b]; voiceless labio-dental fricative [f] voiced labio-dental fricative [v]; bi-labial nasal [m]; bilabial continuant [w]
- Behind-the-teeth sounds voiceless alveolar plosive [t] voiced alveolar plosive [d]; voiceless alveolar fricative as in church match [tʃ]; voiced alveolar fricative as in judge age [dʒ]; voiceless dental fricative [θ] as in thin path; voiced dental fricative as in this other [ð]; voiceless alveolar fricative [s] voiced alveolar fricative [z]; continuant [h] alveolar nasal [n] alveolar approximant [l]; alveolar trill [r]; dental ‘y’ [j] as in yet
- Rear-of-mouth sounds voiceless velar plosive [k] voiced velar plosive [g]; voiceless post-alveolar fricative [ʃ] as in ship sure, voiced post- alveolar fricative [ʒ] as in pleasure; palatal nasal [ŋ] as in ring/ anger.