Foreword (Wintering Out)

Heaney – selective biography

Heaney in 1972

The call of ‘pastures new’

Ulster before Berkeley – Heaney biding his time

The Berkeley experience – Heaney on the move

Post Berkeley – Heaney burning bridges

Tipping point

Wintering Out’- publication and reactions

Wintering Out’ – the title

Style … ‘inward broody’

The ‘languagey’ poems

The religious divide of Heaney’s upbringing

Sectarianism – the difficulties of remaining neutral

place and rôle of the poet in times of social distress

Finding ‘common ground’ the Glob effect

Irish ‘underlay’ – identities and territory, history, tongue

Historical links: pre-Christian > colonial > post-colonial> contemporary

symbols , spirits , parables, the elements

Wintering Out the poems: individual commentaries and notes


Finding the blend; the poet’s compositional skills

The poem as a ‘music pleasing to the ear’

Summary of settings, themes, pathways and moods

Stylistic devices: labels and definitions


Wintering Out, published by Faber and Faber in 1972, is Seamus Heaney’s third collection. The poet is in his early thirties. The totality of Heaney’s collections over more than forty years between his first collection Death of a Naturalist (1966) and Human Chain (2010) earned him a Nobel Prize for Literature and a place at the very top of the premier league of twentieth century poets writing in English.

Heaney died on the 30th August 2013 after a short illness; he was 74.

Heaney was a translator, broadcaster and prose writer of distinction, but his poetry was his most remarkable achievement, for its range, its consistent quality and its impact on readers: love poems, epic poems, poems about memory and the past, poems about conflict and civil strife, poems about the natural world, poems addressed to friends, poems that found significance in the everyday or delighted in the possibilities of the English language’ (BBC Obituary of 30th August 2013).

The textual commentaries that follow seek to tease out what Heaney’s poems are intimating in Wintering Out. Of course, the poet’s ‘message’ will have started life as an essentially personal one, not intended primarily for his reader and there are moments when some serious unravelling is required.

Thanks to the depth of Heaney’s knowledge, scholarship and the sincerity of his personal feelings his poetry is rich in content. Digging into background-materials is both essential and edifying. In the case of a poet as accomplished, complex and focused as Heaney, the rewards for persevering are at once enriching, fortifying and hugely pleasurable. In a very real sense Heaney both entertains and educates.

There are issues, too, beyond ‘the text, the whole text and nothing but the text’: there is the question of ‘style’, that is, the combination of language and poetic devices deliberately selected by the poet to carry his narrative forward. Then there is the matter of Heaney’s appeal to the ear, the poem intended as a song to be heard and enjoyed or, to the mind’s eye, a picture to be ‘seen’ and felt. These issues are explored in individual commentaries and summarised at the end.

The commentaries are enriched from the sources below; textual surveys and footnotes are largely personal. The approach is not calculated to promote any particular viewpoint.

Main sources

Seamus Heaney: ‘Wintering Out’, Faber and Faber, 1972

Michael Parker ‘Seamus Heaney, The Making of the Poet’ published by Macmillan 1993 (MP)

Helen Vendler: ‘Seamus Heaney’ published by Harvard University Press 1998 (HV)

Neil Corcoran: ‘The Poetry of Seamus Heaney’ published by Faber 1998 (NC)

Dennis O’Driscoll: ‘Stepping Stones, Interviews with Seamus Heaney’ published by Faber 2008 (DOD)

Heaney – selective biography

  • 1965 Heaney marries Marie Devlin;
  • 1966 Death of a Naturalist published by Faber and Faber; wins Eric Gregory Award; birth of first child, Michael. On the departure of Philip Hobsbaum, Heaney is appointed to the faculty of Queen’s University Belfast as a lecturer in English;
  • 1967 lectures briefly In Dublin at a Summer School in Trinity College; meets Ted Hughes at a conference in Hereford; receives the Cholmondeley Award for Death of a Naturalist;
  • 1968 birth of second son, Christopher; takes part in some of the first protest marches and meetings following the RUC baton-charging of the Civil Rights march in Derry on 5 October; reports on the new political mood in ‘Old Derry Walls’ in The Listener; receives Somerset Maugham Award and Geoffrey Faber Memorial Award for Death of a Naturalist;

Civil unrest breaks out in several places around the world: in USA following the assassination of Martin Luther King; Paris student riots;

  • 1969 Door into the Dark published. First visit to the United States, to read to a literary group in Richmond, Virginia. Heaney spends the Summer abroad with his family, in fulfillment of a condition of the Somerset Maugham Award: first in Bas-Pyrénées region of France, subsequently in Madrid with Marie Heaney’s sister; this section included regular visits to the Prado, trips to Avila and Toledo; Heaney attended a bullfight though not as a supporter of blood-sports;
  • 1970-1 Heaney enjoys a sabbatical year with his family in California, where he is visiting lecturer at University of California, Berkeley; he is befriended by Thomas Flanagan; attends poetry readings by Gary Snyder and Robert Bly; returns home during the week in which internment without trial was introduced in Northern Ireland;
  • 1972 Wintering Out published. By the time the book appears the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry and Bloody Friday bombings in Belfast have taken place, Heaney has resigned his lectureship in QUB and moved with his family to Glanmore Cottage in Co. Wicklow in the Republic of Ireland, which initially he rents from American scholar Ann Saddlemyer.

Heaney in 1972

The man

  • by this stage the poet is in his early thirties;
  • he and his wife have 2 sons under 5 with all the demands that young children make of parents over and above daily professional routines;
  • he is living in Belfast with the financial demands of a home: monthly payments for accommodation; income tax; services; transport; daily subsistence;
  • he has a modestly paid lecturer’s post at Queen’s University Belfast; his wife’s teaching career is on hold;
  • Belfast is not a comfortable place in which to live given the deterioration of political and sectarian relations; he is Wintering Out and ready to make changes in the direction of life;
  • Heaney believes his apprenticeship is complete: ‘The publication of a third collection meant that I had passed the stage where just. ‘writing poems’ was enough. I had passed the stage of probation and felt confident of vocation But to continue with the religious idiom, it was time to lose the nine-to-five life and to try to find a poetic life.’ (DOD127);

The poet

  • reflecting on Heaney’s work, the respected American scholar and the poet’s friend Helen Vendler points out that in common with every other creative spirit Heaney is an adult ( ) of a particular place in a particular time (HV14), indicating later in the same chapter the identities that this particular man’s heart and mind had to grapple with in the search for his unique voice: (group = Northern Irish, Catholic, farmer etc; child name = ‘Seamus’; family name = ‘the Heaneys’; school name = Heaney) and the writerly challenges thrown up: the question arises as to how he should write : as someone who is culturally Irish, attached to a historical and anthropological identity that predates, in its beginnings, the Christianization of the country? Or as ‘a ‘Catholic’, a spokesperson for an ‘ ethnic group sharing a certain culture of which one strand is the childhood practice of Catholicism that may well be abandoned, in adult life? As an English speaker, reader and writer? Or as a transmitter of an Irish literary tradition? Perhaps as a European, or even (like Yeats in his latter years as a world poet);
  • Heaney will later confirm HV’s analysis, referring to himself asa poet born into a violent Irish moment in relation to the writing I was doing or not doing at the time: the conflict between detachment and solidarity, between being an activist and an artist a poet and/or a propagandist, all that (DOD142);
  • To Neil Corcoran the poems themselves were the proof of ‘that peculiar charge and vibrancy which is the essential signature of a poet of distinction coming for the first time, into possession of his unique identity. In Wintering Out, Seamus Heaney, taking com­mand of his proper material, seems hardly able to keep up with himself; it is a volume in which the promise of future work is almost as satisfying as the recognition of present achievement(NC28);
  • Michael Parker sums up Heaney’s development from the early 1960s period in which Death of a Naturalist was in the making until 1975 and the publication of North: ‘the seven years from 1961-68 were years of plenty for Seamus Heaney in both his personal and his literary life. The next seven would prove to be years of pain and adjustment to pain, years in which the ‘larger drama of our politics’ would preoccupy the private imagination … Although ‘the politics of polarisation’ and the ‘agony and injustice’ of events, increasingly compelled him towards adopting a Catholic stance, he struggled for a long time to restrain his feelings of ‘race and resentment’ (MP89);

The call of ‘pastures new’

  • the poems of Wintering Out were composed largely in the period following the publication of Door into the Dark (1969), during his sabbatical in California (1970-71) and in the months following his return to Belfast to resume normal service;
  • during this period a malaise set in – certain aspects of ‘normal service’ failed increasingly to bring personal satisfaction: his teaching job, his circle of fellow poets and academics, social deterioration induced a crisis of location and professional and cultural direction;
  • Wintering Out is a vehicle via which Heaney exposes these feelings, not least his wish to devote more time to his poetry, and prepare the ground for the radical changes that will follow;

Ulster before Berkeley – Heaney biding his time

  • Heaney writes, in Wintering Out, a poetry everywhere bruised by Northern politics even though rarely confronting them directly’ (NC 30);
  • in dialogue with James Simmons in the The Honest Ulsterman, June 1968 at a moment when student protests were ringing out in Europe, not least in Paris, Heaney counters Corcoran’ view, revealing that his conscience was tugged in both directions: ‘What excites me about these student protest movements in so many countries is the energy and courage, the determination to act on ideas, to learn from foreign examples; but I dread the violence, the willingness to be moved by slogans no better than those they are opposing, the solidarity based on hate’ (cit. MP 89);
  • Heaney clung to the idealistic hope that ‘common ground’ could be estab­lished ‘between Catholic and Protestant even though the Provisional Army Council of the I.R.A., which was formed in December 1969, established a powerful position amongst the frightened Catholics of the North during the next twelve months, presenting themselves as champions who would defend them from Protestant mobs and the British army’ (MP 91);
  • April (1969) had seen ugly fighting in Derry and bombings in Belfast – the latter the work of Protestant paramilitaries – but also the dramatic resignation of Captain O’Neill as Prime Minister. Even on holiday in Spain that summer, for Heaney there was no respite from home thoughts. Television there brought him news of ‘death counts’ … and feelings of guilt and helplessness pursued him even when he attempted to ‘retreat’ into Art and ‘the cool of the Prado’(MP 90);
  • The cumulative effect on the poet of riots, bombs, sectarian killings, and the deployment in August 1969 of British troops in Derry and Belfast can be seen in his review of Thomas Pakenham’s The Year of Liberty. Heaney is again struck by historical analogies, on this occasion between 1798 and the situation in 1969:

The fight was between a ruling class used to power and the exercise of power, who spoke a language of control and assumed their right to govern, and a submerged population activated by a sense of injustice and led by its more politically sophisticated representatives. At this confrontation the moderate retreats from politics, affirming the need for co-operation between all men of good will and rejecting the destructiveness of civil war as a means to however desirable an end.’ (cit. MP 90-91)’;

  • Heaney describes the prevailing atmosphere in 1970: I did a TV programme … called ‘Heaney in Limboland’ and it had footage of the B-Special Constabulary being passed out, but also of B-Specials at a firing range. As part of my voice-over commentary, I spoke one of those poems written in the poem-surge of I969 that had a strong anti-B-Special animus. The evening the programme was shown there was a threatening phone call; it was actually taken by my mother-in-law and, for that reason, I suppose it was easier for me to play it down. Easy too, because in those days threatening phone calls were all the rage, if you know what I mean. Any half-visible Catholic was liable to be rung up. The paragraph in Paisley’s paper appeared after we had left Ashley Avenue and gone to Wicklow. It called me a well-known Papist propagandist and implied that I was corrupting the minds of the Ulster’s Unionist youth and that I was a good riddance, having gone to my spiritual home in the Popish Republic (DOD149);
  • The situation in the North had deteriorated during 1970. The Westminster election in June had brought to power a Conservative administration which showed itself far less sensitive to Catholic sensibilities than its Labour predecessor. As a result of the decision by the British Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling, allowing the Army to search the Catholic ghettoes, a large quantity of weapons and ammunition were found. Their ‘success’ however, and the manner with which they sometimes conducted themselves, intensified antagonism towards the troops in the Nationalist community, thereby increasing support for the Provisional l.R.A.’ (MP 92);
  • Heaney’s output gave him increased confidence that he could make it as a full-time poet: he commented on a particularly productive week in May I969 when he composed ‘about forty poems’: ‘This, you felt, was ‘it’. You had been initiated into the order of the inspired. Even though most of the poems didn’t stand the critical test later on, the experience itself was crucial. From that point on I felt different as a writer (DOD147);

The Berkeley experience: Heaney on the move

  • whatever was bubbling away inside him Heaney acknowledges that the Berkeley effect only confirmed that for various reasons I needed a change (DOD150);
  • Heaney saw a further confidence-building option at Berkeley should other possibilities fail to materialize: Nothing permanent was ever on the cards, although at the end of the year the chairman gave me an open invitation to come back some other time … a kind of safety net when I made the move from Queen’s to Wicklow (in 1972)… (DOD136-7);
  • Heaney’s American experiences at Berkeley were formative and influential: I had no qualms about Wintering Out. I felt I was on the move, that I’d found a way in… By I972, after all, I had roamed a bit, both geographically and poetically; travelled in the realms not only of Kavanagh and Hughes, but of Olson and Williams, Snyde and Bly. I was freed up and aware that, if I was going to take an individual step now was the time (DOD126);
  • Heaney welcomed his sabbatical both as a confirmation of his literary impact and ‘an opportunity to give himself and his young family a ‘breather’… The major legacy of his Berkeley experience was his conviction that poetry could become ‘a force, almost a mode of power, certainly a mode of resistance’ (MP92);
  • for the Heaneys Berkeley was a breath of fresh air: Something changed all right. It was the first time we’d lived for any length of time outside Northern Ireland. The first time we lived in the sun. The first time when the pay was enough for us not to be always thinking about money. I was taller and freer in myself at the end of the year than at the beginning (DOD136-7);
  • Berkeley brought a change of image if not a fundamental about-turn: I couldn’t altogether expel the Irish Catholic in me but he became a bit less uptight, and came home with a leather hat on his head and a short William Carlos Williamsy line in his ear (DOD137);
  • student opposition to American foreign policy in 1970 chimed with Heaney’s support of the Civil Rights movement in Northern Ireland;
  • Heaney speaks highly of his friendship with American academic, Tom Flanagan, that enabled him to share concerns for the situation in Ireland ‘not in the abstract, mind you, but in relation to the writing I was doing or not doing at the time: the conflict between detachment and solidarity, between being an activist and an artist, a poet and/or a propagandist, all that …’ (DOD142);
  • Heaney reveals how Flanagan changed his mind-set: ‘I was somebody who knew a certain amount of Irish literature and Irish history, but my head was still basically wired up to English-Literature terminals. I was still a creature of my undergraduate degree. When I left, thanks mostly to Tom’s bril­liantly sardonic Hibernocentric thinking, I was in the process of establishing new coordinates and had a far more conscious, far more charged-up sense of Yeats and Joyce, for example, and of the whole Irish consequence. I was starting to see my own situation as a ‘Northern poet’ more in relation to the wound and the work of Ireland as a whole’ (DOD143);
  • Rather than providing him with a period of ‘escape’, therefore, his time in California enabled him to connect the circuits between the Old World and the New (MP93);
  • What the Californian distance did was to lead me back into the Irish memory bank(DOD142);
  • There were set-backs: Marie Heaney was mugged in the street (DOD139);
  • Heaney’s return to Belfast in September 1971 brought him very sharply back to earth ‘in the month after the introduction of internment without trial in Northern Ireland’ (MP93);
  • Heaney had a safety-net if his more radical plans misfired: ‘I realized I had options – partly because of the open invitation I’d received from the department chairman at Berkeley to return some day, partly because of a feeling that the work being done was gaining purchase not just on myself but on the moment we were living through. I’d breathed and walked free in California, so when I got back I envied people here who’d managed to go it alone on the home ground’ (DOD148);

Heaney post Berkeley – burning bridges

  • The major legacy of his Berkeley experience was his conviction that poetry could become ‘a force, almost a mode of power, certainly a mode of resistance ‘. Political developments at home had forced him to re-evaluate and reinterpret his formative years in the poems that were to form ‘Wintering Out’ (MP93);
  • by the time Wintering Out hits the shelves Heaney has resigned his University post, left Belfast and his social and professional life in Northern Ireland behind him and moved to the Irish Republic; henceforth he replaces ‘lecturer’ by ‘poet’ as his profession on his sons’ school entry forms; his ‘wintering out’ will be replaced by new challenges, worries and soul-searching;
  • (DOD) ‘There was no element of fear or intimidation involved in your impulse to move? (SH) ‘None, even though Belfast in the early seventies was a pretty unpleasant place to be. But then, it had never been altogether beloved. It had been familiar, yes, but the Berkeley experience meant that I was seeing it – and the university – with new eyes’ (DOD 148-9);
  • Heaney responds to DOD: By the time Wintering Out appeared, you had moved from Belfast to County Wicklow, whereas the book itself is deeply engaged with Ulster places and issues. Had you any hesitations about moving south? What clinched it for you? (SH) ‘This story has been told before, but only because it’s true. When we came back to Belfast from Berkeley, I had a different relation with the place. You can see a new devil-may-careness … My confidence in my chances as a writer had firmed up – and I’m referring as much to chances of making a living as to the chance of writing decent poems’ (DOD148);
  • Heaney sums up motives and comments on the new quality of life not immediately obvious to outsiders or those who reacted badly to the move: ‘we weren’t going off in search of a different lifestyle. In fact it was largely a case of more of the same except that now there was no University job … It’s not as if we had joined a commune… Horace says: vivitur parvo bene. You can live well on little, our rent was a token rent and our outgoings were small. We did have a car and we needed food and drink and heat and light; but believe it or not, we had an appetite for the frugality. We’d both grown up in the country, so for us there was something rich and unstrange about bathing the kids by firelight, having them play around in the farmyard next door, giving them an experience of the dark country nights. It was more than nostalgic. It seemed right to supply them with memories of hedgebacks and hayfields and an open fire. We had worries, right enough, about how the arrangement would work when they came to secondary school age (DOD151);
  • family decision made: What clinched it finally was Ann Saddlemyer’s offer of Glanmore Cottage early in 1972… when she heard that we were a bit footloose and looking for a place outside Belfast, she wrote to say that we could rent this gate lodge in Wicklow (and rent, I assure you, meant nominal rent}. Down we went then en famille, at Easter and loved the place, and when we came back I resigned my job (DOD149);

Tipping point

  • unwilling to bear the brunt any longer Heaney weaves the simmering disillusion, frustration, resentment, impenitence and anxiety into the poems of Wintering Out;
  • the dedicatory poem (repeated later in the ‘North’ collection) to David Hammond and Michael Longley introduces the themes (disorientation, place, history, and the collective fate), routes (the drive from present to past, past to present, future to past), and moods (resignation/ resolution identification/ separa­tion) which will dominate the volume (and emphasizes) the state of siege in post-internment Ireland, with its physical, psychological and spiritual ramifications (MP 94);

Wintering Out – publication and reactions

  • When it appeared in 1972, Wintering Out received a number of rather indifferent reviews. Some lamented its apparent inability to move far beyond the subject matter of the first two books’

(NC 28);

  • Heaney himself was happy with the poetic outcome and the wiser for unanticipated extraneous comments; he had done what he had to do: ‘I wasn’t discommoded by English critics gabbling an about the out-of-dateness of bulls and bogs, but I was caught on the hop when I found those images being read as some kind of endorsement of the Northern status quo. I began to. see what the political spin could be’(DOD121);
  • Heaney reveals an earlier draft: ‘Before I left Berkeley I did assemble a manuscript called Winter Seeds – named for the ones found in the stomach of the Tollund Man – but it was never submitted as a finished book. My reassessment of the contents derived from artistic instincts rather than any response to conditions on the ground’ (DOD121);

Wintering Out’- the title

  • the poet explained his title in ‘The Listener’ of 7th December, 1972: ‘It is a phrase associated with cattle, and with hired boys also. In some ways, it links up with a very resonant line of English verse (the famous opening of Shakespeare’s Richard III) that every schoolboy knows: Now is the winter of our discontent. It is meant to gesture towards the distresses that we are all undergoing in this country at the minute. It is meant to be, I suppose, comfortless enough, but with a notion of survival in it’ (cit. NC 28);
  • (DOD) Did you intend the title of ‘Wintering Out’ to suggest the wintering out of cattle as well as the ‘winter of our discontent’? Does it hint at despair or is there a spring not far behind? (SH) ‘No spring was being promised, but I still didn’t think of the title as despairing. It came, as you recognize, from memories of cattle in winter fields. Beasts standing under a hedge, plastered in wet, look­ing at you with big patient eyes, just taking what came until some­thing else came along. Times were bleak, the political climate was deteriorating. The year the book was published was the year of Bloody Sunday and Bloody Friday’ (DOD 121);
  • Michael Parker reaches much the same conclusion: In Ulster, the verb ‘to winter out’ means to see through and sur­vive a crisis, and is derived from a farming custom which involved taking cattle to a sheltered area, feeding them on a minimum diet throughout the winter, before fattening them in the spring and sum­mer. In his article ‘Mother Ireland’, Heaney suggests the phrase may have been a subconscious ‘borrowing’ from lines by the poet W. F. Marshall, in which a servant boy who has suffered throughout the winter under a bad master ‘looks forward to better times’, telling himself, “I wintered at Wee Robert’s/ I can summer anywhere (MP 89-90);
  • for all its varied sources and angles, ultimately the title is a metaphor describing a human circumstance, a growing disquiet at unpleasant events and revealing the beleaguered optimism required to hope for better times and to garner the strength to take radical personal life-changing decisions;
  • In the poem, the ‘Servant Boy’ ‘kept his patience and his counsel’ while he was wintering out: whatever he said, he said nothing; he knew-the score, bore the brunt and bided his time … by the time of the Civil Rights marches his stoop had begun to be straightened’ (DOD130);

Style ‘inward, broody’

  • What Heaney witnessed around him was enough to prompt the ‘more inward, broody style of Wintering Out’ (DOD 124);
  • both parts (of Wintering Out) share exemplary or emblematic figures of suffering or endurance, those of Part Two having a genuine role in establishing the chilly, disconso­late mood of the book’ (NC50);
  • Heaney has often quoted Robert Frost’s dictum that, ‘like a piece of ice on a hot stove, the poem must ride on its own melting and one of the characteristic effects of the new quatrain form he is inventing in these poems is of the melting, merging, dissolving of line into line and image into image, the poem perilously and precariously maintaining a grip on its own speedy unraveling’ (NC 33)
  • In these poems of Wintering Out, this effect of the quatrain is reinforced by the beginnings of that use of the personal pronoun which is a vital element in the character of the poems of Part 1 of North: the poet’s ‘I’ is detached from or­dinary social circumstance, withdrawn to solipsistic meditation, ruminatively entranced, the hero of its own imaginative constructions and elaborations’ (NC 33);
  • (Heaney’s) encounters with American poets, such as Gary Snyder and Robert Bly, must have strengthened his belief that words could – in some beneficial way – affect events. … His reading of the work of these poets – and that of William Carlos Williams, in particular – resulted in a stylistic shift towards ‘a more relaxed movement’ in his verse, and his adoption of the ‘little quatrain shapes ‘ which figure so prominently in Wintering Out and North’ (MP93);
  • Referring specifically to ‘Summer Home, relationship problems’ are formally dramatized there by the heavy en­jambments and caesurae which restrain the forward thrust of syntax: the future that the lines cry out to be released into is dis­rupted and postponed. The nervous irresolution of the half­ rhymes completes the effect; and they reach their painful diminuendo in the sadly dissonant chime of ‘fork’ against ‘dark’, which complements the well-judged placing and full rhyming across stanzas of ‘night’ and ‘light’. The poem’s perfect pitch and control are fulfilled in its final simile. The little human noise resonating in the old dark of personal unhappiness and of overwhelming natural forces, as it has earlier resonated in the old dark of Irish historical and political experience, is the true tone: of Wintering Out: comfortless enough, but with a notion a survival in it too. NC52);
  • The ghost of rhyme is present in these harsh narrow-lined poems (‘Limbo’, Bye Child’), but often Heaney is willing to allow several lines to go by with nothing but the occasional alliteration to bind his stanzas together pho­netically. By turning his gaze from the abundances and con­firming rituals of family life to a dark and cruel underside of the culture he was bred in, and by directing his gaze away from artisanry and agriculture to illegitimacy and intimi­dated women, Heaney admitted – in a characteristic enquiry into facets of his culture that were taken for granted – long­ standing anonymities that were other than benevolent’ (HV33);

The religious divide of Heaney’s upbringing

  • DOD questions the sectarian mix of Heaney’s neighbourhood: Were you much different in that regard from other families? (SH) Maybe not all that different, except, as I’ve said more than once already, my father had a kind of trans-sectarian licence to roam, through being in the cattle trade. Then too there were old friend­ ships going back between neighbours’ families for generations. And, if I may say so, there was a kind of natural grace in the Heaney and McCann connections. Our house was happily open and, until our last Protestant neighbour Billy Steele died, the visiting continued without prejudice. It even feels slightly demeaning for me to be talking in these terms… The Steeles and Junkins and McIntyres and Mulhollands – who were both beside us and on the other side – these were well-disposed and capable people. They had more than enough inner freedom and confidence to retain friendships and dignity, no matter what kind of overall tension and hurt everybody had to endure (DOD132);
  • DOD asks how Heaney responded as a Catholic child to moments when Protestantism was openly paraded: I remember going out to the end of the lane at Mossbawn to watch an Orange band march and to wave at people we knew – including Alan and George Evans dressed up in their sashes. There was no problem at that personal level: if you were friends with the people you conceded their right to their affiliations (DOD133);
  • Heaney explains the attitudes of Catholic organisations vis-à-vis the much more aggressive Unionist/ Protestant groups: I suppose there was a certain melancholy attaching to the whole Hibernian ‘phenomenon. They belonged to a Victorian ethos, and the movement had no great ideological force or passion to it (DOD134);
  • for all her grace Heaney’s mother would not bring herself to curtsey to sectarian privilege: My mother’s attitude was not at all expressed by the (IRA propaganda phrase) phrase ‘whatever you say, say nothing’ – nor, I should say, was mine. Her use of it and my use of it put it very much in inverted commas. The phrase was a knowing acknowledgement of the power structure, a Catholic nod in answer to the Protestant wink that got the jobs and the houses. It was ironical rather than instructional, It was fundamentally an expression of anger rather than of acquiescence (DOD134);
  • Heaney brushed aside any suggestions that she had republican affiliations: (DOD) What about rebel songs? (SH) My mother loved ‘Boolavogue’ and ‘Who Fears to Speak of ‘ 98 ’? She was no singer, but she always made a shot at singing those ones. Mostly she went in for the old school songs, things like ‘Loch Lomond’, and others she remembered from barn dances in her younger days – ‘Coming through the Rye’, for example (DOD135);
  • DOD questioned him about his father’s Republican sympathies:The only politically charged material I remember was acquired when my father went to Dublin for an All-Ireland football final … Two books appeared: Guerrilla Days in Ireland by Tom Barry the IRA man who led a flying column in Cork during the War of Independence, and a compendium of historical and Republican lore called The Wolfe Tone Annual … a photograph in Barry’s book ( ) was of a farmer’s family who had been shot in reprisals by the Black and Tans, left lying on their backs beside their open door’ (DOD135);
  • The Other Side’ alludes to the legacy of the strict (at times irksome ‘when the rosary was dragging’) Catholic upbringing Heaney received at home (and in church): ‘Clearly Catholicism permeates ( ) his poetic consciousness, with its weighty emphasis on ritual supplication, on awe, grace, guilt, humility, responsibility, discipline, and its burdened and burdening vocabulary’ (MP115);
  • MP goes on to suggest that his ‘fondness for the pieties of his Mossbawn childhood has survived both the impact of his secular ‘British’ education’ and the psychological-spiritual trauma of the Troubles, and has not been diminished’ (MP115);
  • to balance this view, ‘The Other Side’ reveals that the poet-to-be is happy to seize the opportunity to escape kitchen-worship ‘when the rosary was dragging’; furthermore Anahorish Primary School, though following the English model was inclusive and St Columb’s College, a selective Secondary school that provided him with a sound Classical education like its English counterparts, was a Catholic foundation;

Sectarianism – the difficulties of remaining neutral

  • once the child’s early perceptions of readily accommodated ‘differences’ between neighbours was superseded by a growing consciousness of deep-seated sectarian divisions, his centre of gravity changed;
  • Heaney compares the timidity of the Catholic Ancient Order of Hibernians on St Patrick’s Day with its Unionist equivalent: ‘At the same time, you resented the overall shape of things because you also knew that the Orange arches erected in the vil­lages and at various crossroads were what the Romans might have recognized as a form of jugum or yoke, and when you went under the arches you went sub jugum, you were being subjugated, being taught who was boss, being reminded that the old slogan, ‘a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people’, now had real con­stitutional force. So, (ref ‘Servant Boy’) ‘resentful and impenitent, you carried the warm eggs of your smile to your marching neighbour and walked tall in defiance of the jugum’ (DOD133);
  • Heaney recog­nizes how on his and on the other side, centuries of indoctrination
    have bequeathed a legacy of intolerance and fear, and fostered the tribal mentality which now expresses itself in bombings, shootings and arson. These ‘adult’ activities are the source of the ‘unhallowed light’ that hangs over both Protestant and Catholic alike
    (MP 104);
  • The possibility of rapprochement is the subject of ‘The Other Side’ (which) illustrates how centuries of conflict and distrust cannot be easily brushed aside. Much of the poem’s strength stems from Heaney’s successful characterisation of the Protestant farmer, who is treated throughout with a warm and not unsympathetic irony (MP100);
  • The possibility of rapprochement is the subject of ‘The Other Side’, a poem which does not duck the difficulties of improving cross-community links, but rather faces them squarely with wry good humour. It begins and ends with encounters between Heaney and a Protestant neighbour

(MP 101);

  • Internment, sectarian killings and deteriorating relations between the British Army and the Catholic community inevitably made him “side with his own side”. On one occasion around this time when Heaney was travelling to a Civil Rights march with Michael Longley, his companion asked him what they should do and say if they were stopped by a sectarian murder squad. He replied simply, “l think we should sink or swim by what we are.” (MP115);

Place and rôle of the poet in times of social distress

  • (DOD) Was there any discussion with fellow poets like Michael Longley and Derek Mahon about how you should negotiate the artistic and political cross-currents of the Troubles? Was there a conscious sense among you of the poet as spokesman? (SH) ‘The role was available and to a certain extent inevitable, but the question was – and remains – to what extent the role of spokesman can or should be exercised in poetry … we were certainly conscious that we were witnessing a decisive histor­ical moment’(DOD122);
  • All of us, Protestant poets, Catholic poets – and don’t those terms fairly put the wind up you? – all of us probably had some notion that a good poem was ‘a paradigm of good politics’, a site of ener­gy and tension and possibility, a truth-telling arena but not a killing field … I believe what was envisaged and almost set up by the Good Friday Agreement was prefigured in what I called our subtleties and tolerances – allowances for different traditions and affiliations, in culture, religion and politics. It all seems simple enough. But here and now I sound far more civic and clarified than I ever was at the time’ (DOD123);
  • (DOD) Tom Flanagan seems to have been an important friend. Is it true that McCarthy – the poet character in The Year of the French is partly based on you? (SH) ‘Tom said he was, at any rate. It’s not that McCarthy’s character or personality are anything like mine, just that he is a poet born into a violent Irish moment and shares concerns that Tom and I often talked about … in relation to the writing I was doing or not doing at the time: the conflict between detachment and solidarity, between being an activist and an artist a poet and/or a propagandist, all that’ (DOD144);
  • ‘In ‘A Northern Hoard , Heaney actu­ally asks himself the question about poetry more directly: ‘What do I say if they wheel out their dead? / I’m cauterized, a black stump of home.’ ‘Cauterized’: scarred or seared into insensibil­ity, incapable of feeling or responding, having nothing to ‘say’. Wintering Out attempts to find a voice for this abjection, and to find images of suffering, endurance and resistance which will not seem already seen’ NC 29;

Finding ‘common ground’

  • The comments of the Minister of Community Relations in Northern Ireland (on an unspecified occasion) confirmed, if Heaney needed confirmation of his growing celebrity and influence: ‘much of my work was immediately accessible to everybody In Northern Ireland whatever their religious or political affiliations (demonstrating) how much common ground we shared and so on…. But it rang a warning bell in me. I wasn’t discommoded by English critics gabbling an about the out-of-dateness of bulls and bogs (reference to the indifferent reviews that ‘Wintering Out received), but I was caught on the hop when I found those images being read as some kind of endorsement of the Northern status quo. I began to. see what the political ‘spin could be. So. from that came a new readiness to print something like Whatever You Say Say Nothing’, and later on to have a go at a sequence like ‘Singing School’ (DOD128);
  • I had one good notion, however, that went unrealized, which was to create some kind of dance drama that would involve mumming and tra­ditional music and would be set at a cockfight on the border between the North and the South. It was to show the violence and gambling and the factional element in cockfighting and would constitute a parallel universe, as it were, to the border country itself, ripped apart by the factions of the IRA and the UDA. Cockfighting and mumming, by the way, cut across the sectarian divide. All sides attended the fights. And because the fights were illegal, a special bond was created among the aficionados’ (DOD131);
  • The Moyola seen as a unifying symbol: the final climactic image of Moyola, generates the pious wish that his cherishing of home terri­tory, the interlocking Catholic and Protestant farmsteads of South Derry, might in turn encourage others to find common ground in a landscape jointly inherited’ (MP101);

the Glob effect

  • Earlier on, in 1969 and 1970 … the first fruits of my P. V. Glob reading arrived … I did ‘The Tollund Man’ in Ballydavid in Kerry at Easter in 1970’ (DOD124);
  • Where Heaney did discover ‘common ground’ in 1969 was in an archaeological study of Iron Age Jutland, P. V. Glob’s The Bog People. ‘The minute I saw the photograph (of the Tollund Man) and the reviews I sent for it’, he writes. The book embraced the majority of his deepest concerns – landscape, religion, sexuality, violence, history, myth – a ‘knot of obsessions’ which would preoccupy him in his next two volumes. It provided an historical perspec­tive enabling him to ‘cope with’ and confront the contemporary Troubles’, and created a sense of continuity, kinship, affirmation at a time of social and political disintegration’ (MP91);
  • Heaney’s empathy for these ancient victims of tribal superstition and ignorance quickly acquired a religious intensity. In describing how he came to create the first of his ‘bog’ poems, instinctively he resorts to metaphors consonant with marriage and vocation. When I wrote that poem I had a sense of crossing a line really, that my whole being was involved in the sense – the root sense – of religion, being bonded to something. I felt it a vow; I felt my whole being caught in this. And that was a moment of commitment not in the political sense but in the deeper sense of your life, committing yourself to something. I think that brought me to a new possibility of seriousness in the poetic enterprise’ (cit. MP 91);
  • P. V. Glob’s The Bog People (describing the retrieval of bodies of murder victims from the Iron Age pre­served in peat bogs in Denmark) had an immedi­ate and riveting effect on Heaney: ‘The unforgettable photographs of these victims blended in my mind with photographs of atrocities, past and present, in the long rites of Irish political and religious struggles’ (Preoccupations57-8). This provoked in him ‘a vow to go on pilgrimage’ to see the body known as ‘the Tollund Man’ (HV34);
  • Heaney turned to the bog bodies as images of slaughter rising to view after centuries of secrecy. Their anonymity gave him an imaginative scope he would have been. unwilling to assume in a literal retelling of local assassinations. The bog bodies also persuaded him that ritual killing had been a feature of Northern tribal culture in a wide geographical swath: that immediate history alone did not begin to explain the recrudescence of violence in Northern Ireland (HV34 );

Irish underlayidentities & territory, history, tongue

  • Although ‘the politics of polarisation’, and the ‘agony and injustice’ of events, increasingly compelled him towards adopting a Catholic stance, he struggled for a long time to restrain his feelings of ‘race and resentment’. Rather than focussing directly on incidents from the present, he concentrated primarily on the origins and hinterland of the conflict in Wintering Out, through elegiac poems celebrating the identity, history, territory and tongue of his people, the Northern Catholic Irish’ (MP 89);
  • Many of the finest poems in Wintering Out are ( ) concerned with ‘bedding the locale’, establishing Mossbawn as a frame of reference from which he can map the Catholic past and present. For the poet in his early thirties – married, with two children, and with a voice increasingly listened to in Ireland, Britain and America – the concept of ‘home’ now required a wider definition, and involved more than the close family characters depicted in his first volumes. It is now a place and a people stretching back into time, into various periods of Irish history, an underworld which can be visited in relative safety, from which the poet-hero can return bearing relics and trove(MP 94-5);
  • Heaney ‘breaks the pane’ and the pain immersing the land by his imaginative fording and wording. In the disturbed mirror – the water, memory, Ireland – a metaphor of beauty surfaces, only to be immediately displaced. The simile of the cut ‘swaying its red spoors through a basin’, helps the reader to visualise the troubled water, but also reminds one how in Irish history and myth, words like ‘land’ and ‘blood’ are kin (MP 100);
  • ‘ … both parts share exemplary or emblematic figures of suffering or endurance, those of Part Two having a genuine role in establishing the chilly, disconso­late mood of the book. These latter, who are predominantly women, move out of prehistory, history and literature into the contemporary world, although they acquire something of an almost mythical or legendary quality too’ (NC50);
  • Like Heaney (his Last Mummer) is ‘trammelled in the taboos of the country’, simultaneously central and tangential to the community he serves … he too is forced to ‘pick a nice way’ through the ritual dramas of blood and feuding which make up the national repertoire (MP 97);

Women in distress

  • Although at first sight’ Limbo’ and’ Bye-Child’ would appear to be concerned with private cruelties and guilt, these chilling tales can also be read as parables for the present state of Ireland and its moral paralysis. Tribal taboos and laws can so easily outweigh ‘civilised’ humane values’(MP 112);
  • Earlier on, in 1969 and 1970, I’d written the group of poems about women in distress – ‘Shore Woman’, ‘Maighdean Mara’, ‘A Winter’s Tale’, ‘Limbo’ (DOD124);
  • In a rather self-conscious early poem (from Door into the Dark) called ‘Undine’ (Heaney) writes in the voice of the water-nymph as she recollects her liberation from the earth … the poem announces Heaney’s inter­est in assuming (as in ‘The Wife’s Tale’, ‘Mother’, ‘Limbo’, ‘Shore Woman’ and elsewhere) a special type of anonymity: what it might mean to imagine oneself inside a woman’s experience. In this regard, Heaney makes use of folktale as well, summoning up the legend of the capture of a mermaid (‘Maighdean Mara’) to account for a woman’s suicide’ (HV22);
  • After having endured decades of defeatism and submis­siveness, many Catholics in the late 1960s and early 1970s turned first to the Civil Rights Movement, and then later regrettably, to the Provisional LR.A. to assert their sense of racial identity. As an ‘aggravated young Catholic male’ he too resented having to tum the other cheek, and while he would not condone the violence … he understood the legitimacy of the rage which gave rise to it. Increasingly during this period of aroused tribal consciousness, the poet defined himself as a Catholic writer, though he tended to stress the cultural, rather than the religious load implicit in that term’ (MP115);
  • Reticent, or uncertain about how this new song might ever come to be sung in the world of real politics as opposed to the world of the poem, ‘A New Song has its origins in the optimistic Civil Rights Period in Northern Ireland. (NC43);

Historical links : pre-Christian > colonial > post-colonial> contemporary

  • Iron Age links: ‘Nerthus … implicitly translates the goddess out of Iron Age Jutland into modern Northern Ireland when the landscape she stands in is defined in Northern dialect terms: ‘kesh’, a causeway, and ‘loaning’, an uncultivated space between fields…This compacting in Heaney’s imagination of Jutland and Ireland was impelled, he tells us in ‘Feeling into Words’, by his sensing a kinship between these ancient sacrificial killings and ‘the tradition of Irish political martyrdom for that cause whose icon is Kathleen ni Houlihan’; for, that is, the cause of Irish Republicanism. The implications of this recognition are fully pursued in North; but in ‘The Tollund Man’ it gives Heaney his first opportunity to bring into relation the Iron Age victim and the victims of recent Irish sectarian atrocity’ (NC34-5);
  • Celtic imagery In ‘New Song’That compellingly quasi-surreal Medusa image probably owes something to the Medusa heads of Celtic Britain and Ireland … The poem there­fore establishes a condition of primeval intimacy between poet and terrain’ (NC46);
  • The ‘absence’ which the poet’s ear picks up (in ‘Gifts of Rain’) is that of the older native ‘lore’ of pre-colonial Gaelic civilization (‘antedilu­vian’*, presumably, because prior to the flood of colonization). It is the lore of native history and tradition which those soft voices of the dead’ might speak; ‘soft’, no doubt, because they are speaking ‘guttural’ Irish, as well as because they are ghosts. The parenthesis represents the poem’s ethical urgency: listening in to this lore is necessary to any more equitable future’ (NC41);
  • I wrote a poem in Berkeley called ‘Gifts of Rain’. A strange water-logged thing that went back to conversations I’d overheard as a youngster about the time in the 1920s when the Moyola overflowed and flooded some of the houses in Broagh. Older people would occasionally remember events and date them by asking ‘Was that before or after the flood?’ So ‘Gifts of Rain’ came out of this sense of belonging to an antediluvian* world’ (DOD125);
  • Ref ‘Limbo’: ‘The relatively ‘recent’ incursion of Christianity into the Celtic psyche, the poem implies, has not displaced the ancient religion which prizes tribal loyalties and considers human life cheap’ (MP113);
  • a symbol of strength and endurance that has outlasted generations of the ‘moustached/ dead’ whom once it served. Eulogy becomes elegy, as Heaney lingers among these Celtic ancestors, whose lives are conditioned by ‘their hopeless wisdom’, their resignation to defeat and dispossession’ (MP95);
  • Elizabethan occupation: ‘a colonial history in which the great poet of Elizabethan England, Edmund Spenser, is heavily implicated. As well as being the author of The Faerie Queene, that lengthy poetic celebration of Elizabethan mon­archy, Spenser was one of the ‘undertakers’ in Ireland for the settlement of Munster; and in this capacity, in about 1598, he wrote his prose account of the Irish ‘problem’, A View of the Present State of Ireland, from which ‘Bog Oak quotes, a phrase , on the starving Irish peasantry. Heaney’s poem registers a sympathy for these historically dispossessed and maltreated … As a poet writing in the English language, Heaney inevitably part of the poetic tradition which contains The Faerie Queene; but ‘Bog Oak’ suggests how tangentially and suspiciously related to it he is when it reminds us that such literary perfections as that great Renaissance poem – written by Spenser’dreaming sunlight’ in Kilcolman Castle, his planter’s estate in Co. Cork – were the flower of a culture whose roots lay in the brutal political realities described in the State of-Ireland’ (NC31-2);
  • Ref ‘Bog Oak ’: ‘His pursuit of the past finally brings him face to face not with a druid priest or Gaelic bard, but rather with an English poet and colonial civil servant, Edmund Spenser. The advent of the Troubles had heightened Heaney’s ambivalent feelings towards the rich traditions of English literature, and while he is conscious of its role in ‘founding’ him as a poet, he is acutely aware that its cultural triumph has been at the expense of other cultures. ( ) he initially depicts the author of The Faerie Queene ‘dreaming sunlight’ – composing at Kilcolman Castle in Co Cork, one of many lucrative estates he had ‘acquired’ in Ireland for services to the Crown’ (MP95);
  • Heaney quotes from Spenser’s description of the famine in Munster which followed the crushing of the rebellion. Its victims exhibited such wretchedness, as that any stony heart would have rued the same. Out of every corner of the woods and glens they came creeping forth upon their hands, for their legs could not bear them. They looked anatomies of death, they spake like ghosts crying out of their graves. But Spenser adds, lest he be accused of pity for the ‘rebels’, that the extremity of the famine was something ‘they themselves wrought”. For Heaney, however, there is no ambiguity of response towards them. They too are ‘geniuses’, and it is their land and their liberty which is again being ‘encroached upon’ … the English, who regarded (and, some would argue, still regard) the Irish as barbarous savages incapable of self-imposed ‘discipline’ and ‘control’. In fact the predominant Irish response to colonisation was to work hard, and to keep ‘patience’ and ‘counsel’, attitudes which Heaney’s parents fostered in him’ (MP96);
  • (Traditions) is centrally preoccupied with Shakespeare. … ‘The Backward Look’. In the lines in which the initial act of rape is followed by acceptance of ‘custom, that “most / sovereign mistress” who ‘beds us down into / the British Isles’, Heaney is drawing on Othello I.iii, where the Duke calls opinion ‘a sovereign mistress of effects’, … The first section of ‘Traditions’ therefore adapts Shakespeare to create a linguistic-sexual metaphor for Ireland’s traumatic colonial history, a history whose crucial moment – the ‘Eiza­bethan conquest and the Plantation of Ulster – occurred during Shakespeare’s lifetime’ (NC38);
  • It is in ‘Tinder’ that Heaney achieves most success and coherence, for here he confines himself to a relatively simple analogy between pre-history and the present. Rooted by another memory from childhood, the poem begins with what seems an innocuous pastime, some boys collecting tiny pieces of flint, trying to make fire. Within a few lines these flints are transformed into ‘Cold beads of history and home’, a rosary consisting of the martyrs and disasters in Nationalist mythology recited in Catholic households along with the Our Fathers and Hail Marys’ (MP104);
  • the flooding of a staked demesne seems much more an act of aggres­sion; curiously remote, in fact, from a ‘vowelling embrace’.” The politically loaded words ‘rise’ (as in ‘Easter Rising’?) and ‘planted’ (acquired by an act of dispossession during the Planta­tion of Ulster), and the military ‘enlist’, hold the lines back from any easily unitary vision’ (NC42);
  • Reference the Dedicatory poem: ‘The oppression of the present – invoked by such ‘concrete’ images as the ‘camp’, the bomb crater, ‘machine-gun posts’, and the fresh wounds in the clay – is acknowledged, but not diminished when viewed within the wider context of Gaelic and Catholic history, which sees suffering as continuous’(MP93);

the ‘languagey’ poems

  • Heaney writes, in Wintering Out, a poetry everywhere bruised by Northern politics … the poems … feel tentatively along the lines that bind an individual to his people and a people to their history. (NC30); the Irish language, its dialects and Ulsterisms are one such line;
  • Heaney’s linguistic scholarship places him in a unique position to exploit language as one aspect of Irish ‘underlay’ eroded by history: in Wintering Out he introduces an ingenious way of linking a culture with its location and its history: ten poems which delve at various depths into Gaelic, the Irish language;
  • three of them present phonetic associations with local places very familiar to Heaney; others explore wider linguistic inheritance; others refer to dialectal localisms;
  • Heaney dates the three place-name poems: ‘Anahorish’, ‘Toome’ and ‘Broagh’ were all post-Berkeley, as far as I remember’(DOD124);
  • You have sometimes spoken of the first four collections as forming a single movement in your work. It seems to me, however, that Wintering Out represented a significant shift in direction. The very notion of the phonetic as subject matter… (DOD 124);
  • (SH responding to DOD) the slight oddity and obsessiveness of the word-rutting in the book is what makes it interesting (DOD 126);
  • (DOD) ‘you wrote in the Guardian in I972 that the secret of being a poet lies in the summoning and meshing of the subconscious and semantic energies of words’? (SH) Exactly. I was trying to prepare anybody who had ears to hear for the Wintering Out poems’ (DOD141);
  • ever sensitive to the irony that he writes about Ireland using the English language, Heaney said of the ‘languagey’ content of ‘Wintering Out’: ‘I had a great sense of release as they were being written, a joy and devil-may-careness, and that convinced me that one could be faithful to the nature of the English language – for in some senses these poems are erotic mouth-music by and out of the anglo-saxon tongue – and, at the same time, be faithful to one’s own non-English origin, for me that is County Derry’ (NC44);
  • DOD asked about ‘readers who would have felt excluded (by the poet’s use of Ulster dialect).There’s a line in ‘Nerthus’, for example: ‘Where kesh and loaning finger out to heather’. Did you expect non-Ulster readers to engage in some research or was it your hope that context and-cadence would provide sufficient illumination of the meaning? (SH) I didn’t think at all of the reader’s problem when I wrote the line. The joy was in salving my own writer’s need’ (DOD 126);
  • Heaney exposes his deeper motives in response to a DOD comment: The place poems came from a different source, etymological day­ dreams of sorts, playing with the fit between place and name, responses to having been born in what John Montague called the ‘primal Gaeltacht’. They harked back to the Irish language underlay and were laying claim to a hidden Ulster the Uladh of Doire Cholmcille rather than the Londonderry of the Plantation and the Siege (DOD124);
  • The ‘language’ poems connect with other major themes in the collection: sectarian reconciliation by means of a shared linguistic inheritance; Gaelic past and colonial and post-colonial wounds linked with the poet’s hopes for a better Irish future;
  • Heaney’s preoccupation with the tongue, in this book which subtly registers the contours of a divided culture, derives from the fact that the tongue, or language, he speaks, and uses as a poet – English – is not native or original to the land he comes from – Ireland – or straightforwardly iden­tifiable with the feelings or aspirations of the community from which he derives’ (NC35-6);
  • English is, at least in the traditional national­ist reading of the case, the imposition of the colonial oppressor, dispossessing the native Irish of their own first ‘tongue’? The historical and political themes of Wintering Out, therefore, are necessarily implicit in the actual tongue spoken in Northern Ireland; and the book includes many poems about language itself ‘(NC38);
  • tongue’ is a word that reverberates through the volume, and the saying of other names – ‘Anahorish’, ‘Toome’, ‘Broagh’, for instance – is a common activity in the book . Not knowing the ‘tongue’ of the country you travel in is the deepest kind of estrangement; and Heaney’s preoccupation with the tongue, in this book which subtly registers the contours of a divided culture, derives from the fact that the tongue, or language, he speaks, and uses as a poet – English – is not native or original to the land he comes from – Ireland – or straightforwardly iden­tifiable with the feelings or aspirations of the community from which he derives’ (NC38);
  • ‘Tra­ditions’ opens depicting the ‘rape’ of the Irish language, … a ‘forced mating’ … As a result of acts of violence and deceit over the centuries, the Irish lost their language and identity, along with their territory. The Gaelic tongue (… ) until this century survived principally in the West, and in fragments such as family names and place­ names. Ulster dialect retains ‘strikingly Elizabethan’ words and turns-of-phrase, but Heaney again shows his ambivalent attitude towards these ‘cherished archaisms’, his English inheritance. ‘Cor­rect Shakespearean’ they may be, but they remind him of defeat, like the name of his birthplace, which brings together Moss from the Scots of the Planters, and baum, an English colonist’s fortified farmstead (MP98);
  • For Heaney, the poet remains a diviner, a kind of Magus ‘summoning and meshing … the subconscious and semantic energies of words’, and by drawing upon the Gaelic place-names which encircled his Mossbawn home, he attempts to re-connect the ‘energies of generation coursing through Man, land and language, to restore continuity while acknowledging change … ‘Anahorish’, ‘Broagh’, and ‘Toome’ renew an ancient genre of Irish poetry called dinnseanchas, which are ‘poems and tales which relate the original meanings of place names and constitute a form of mythological etymology . The very act of naming the names conjures ‘a kind of magic reality’. (MP98); Heaney sees it slightly differently: ‘Dinnseanchas was a corroborating tradition, let’s say, rather than an immediate influence’ (DOD129);
  • The place-poems are envisaged, then as sudden swooping retrievals of reconciliatory ‘vocables’ from within the etymology of the warmly cherished place-names of Heaney’s home, and they may have been sanctioned by the Gaelic tradition of dinnseanchas which Heaney defines in ‘The Sense of Place’ in Preoccupations as ‘poems and tales which relate the original meanings of place names and constitute a form of mythological etymology’ (NC44);
  • the ‘new song’ of the poem’s title (…) will be sung in ‘vocables’ which include not only the Irish words ‘rath’ (a hill-fort) and ‘bullaun’ (a hollowed stone mortar, found on archaeological sites), but also the names of such places as Castledawson and Upperlands, now captured and transformed by the poet’s ima­gination and put in the same class as these terms which emanate affection and attachment’ (NC43);
  • ‘ … Another major legacy of colonialism … is the linguistic dispossession of the Irish people. Though on one level these poems mourn the ‘Vanished music’ (‘A New Song’) of Gaelic, on another they deny silence and loss. Acknowl­edging the debt contemporary Irish writers owe to Joyce, Heaney has commented that thanks to him, English is by now not so much an imperial humiliation as a native weapon’ (MP97);
  • (DOD) ‘Would you be reluctant to use dialect words which you know only from dictionaries?’ (SH) ‘I would. Other poets broach the dictionary hoard, and get great energy and exhibition from doing so, but for me the point about dialect or hearth language is its complete propriety to the speaker and his or her voice and place’ (DOD129);
  • Ref ‘Anahorish’: it evokes the Eden of his childhood, ‘the first hill in the world’. Soon, however, this personal vision is expanded to include Ireland before the colonial Fall… Like the ‘lamps swung through the yards/ on winter evenings’, names cast shadows, and before long the poet is wading back into a remote Celtic past, its humble images of fertility, ‘wells and dunghills’, set against the violence of the present’ (MP99);
  • Ref ‘Anahorish’ : ‘Heaney endeavours ‘ to found an Irish future (‘for my children’s sake’) through communion with the Gaelic past (‘Soft voices of the dead’), and to place present failures (‘crops rotted’) into perspective’ (MP101);
  • Heaney’s sincere hope is that his use of place names of both Irish and non-Irish derivation and their sounds will foster feelings of common inheritance. In his essay’1972′ in Preoccupations discussing his begin­nings as a poet, Heaney wrote, ‘I think of the personal and Irish pieties as vowels, and the literary awarenesses nourished by English as consonants . .My hope is that the poems will be voc­ables adequate to my whole experience’(NC42);
  • ‘Broagh’ (… ) acts as the linguistic paradigm for a reconciliation beyond sectarian division. Its point is that conflictual histories have resulted in a community whose individual members, whatever their political or religious affinity, now all speak the same language, whether derived from Irish or English or Scots roots. … The poem is a celebration of exclusiveness, we might say, in the interests of local inclusiveness … Discuss­ing the poem in the pamphlet Among Scboolchildren, Heaney says that the word ‘Broagh’ is ‘a sound native to Ireland, common to Unionist and Nationalist, but unavailable to an English person’ (NC47-8);

symbols , spirits , parables, the 4 elements

  • In ‘A Northern Hoard’, Heaney remembers trying to strike fire from flints when he was a child. Developing the memory ‘into a symbolically resonant reaction to the present he imagines these flints as ‘Cold beads of history and home’ which he ‘fingered’. This memorial rosary may act as an image for the poem in Wintering Out too. which fondle memories, objects names and words from Heaney’s original place, in order to evoke it now in its historical political and linguistic complexity in fingering such ‘cold beads of history and home'(NC30);
  • Wintering Out’s ‘figures of suffering or endurance … ‘who are predominantly women, move out of prehistory, history and literature into the contemporary world, although they acquire something of an almost mythical or legendary quality too. This is created largely by the imagery of moonlight and sea in which they are bathed, and which they share with ‘Roots’, the opening section of ‘A Northern Hoard’ in Part One. … These lunar associations suggest that Heaney is making the figure of the poet emblematic in this poem’ (NC50);
  • Anahorish – derived from Anach fhior uisce, the ‘place of clear water’ – ‘Heaney
    rediscovers a sense of harmony, and founds himself by means of myth. The whole poem moves with a joyous energy, embodied in its rhythms by means of
    enjambement, expressing a delight in the creativity of water and memory. Reconciling dark and light, solid and fluid, concrete and symbolic detail, it evokes the Eden of his childhood, ‘the first hill in the world’ (NC99);
  • Heaney pays a final homage to the Moyola, transformed by his myth-making into a river goddess, an accessible deity to whom he can appeal for imaginative guidance and strength. Like the dancer in Yeats’s ‘Among School Children’, she symbolises creative unity, the inseparability of composer and ‘score’, nature and art, history and contemporaneity, physical and spiritual being’ (NC101);
  • The most accomplished poem resulting from Heaney’s search during the early 1970s “for images and symbols adequate to our predicament” is without doubt ‘The Tollund Man’. A potent combination of historical analogy and myth. and intense emotion, it exhibits the depth of Heaney’s religious nature. He speaks of it as ‘an offering’. In it he articulates a “perception not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence”, “a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together”’ (NC105);
  • Although at first sight’ Limbo’ and’ Bye-Child’ would appear to be concerned with private cruelties and guilt, these chilling tales can also be read as parables for the present state of Ireland and its moral paralysis. Tribal taboos and laws can so easily outweigh ‘civilised’ humane values’ (NC112);
  • The moon serves as the presiding symbol in the final poem of Wintering Out, ‘Westering’, which garners together some of the key images of the volume. In his search for common ground, Heaney has explored place, name, history, myth, home, but struggled to find a sense of shelter anywhere on earth, Homesick in California’ (NC113);
  • Heaney’s attitude (in Westering’) is not dissimilar to that of John Donne, in his ‘Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward’, surely a literary forbear of Heaney’s poem. Though ‘carryed towards the West’, Donne’s soul ‘bends toward the East’. He too would like to avoid viewing the harrowing spectacle of Christ on the Cross, “Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not see/ That spectacle of too much weight for mee.”93 Attempting to find relief from the pain of exile, he searches for an appropriate symbol to bridge the distance between Berkeley and Belfast. Looking to the serene, timeless, transcendent moon, however, brings little comfort’ (MP114);
  • NC(p40) christens as ‘Geniuses of Place’ the imagined or recalled human figures who carry the historical and political themes of Wintering Out in Part 1: Edmund Spenser, the ‘moustached dead’ and the ‘geniuses’ of wood and glen in ‘Bog Oak’; the ‘Servant Boy’ of the poem containing the phrase which gives the book its title; ‘the last mummer’; Shakespeare’s MacMorris and Joyce’s Leopold Bloom in ‘Traditions” the ‘girl from Derrygarve’ in ‘A New Song’; Henry Joy McCracken, executed after the 1798 rebellion, alluded to in ‘Linen Town’; ‘the Tollund Man, the labourer of ‘Navvy’. Part 2 introduces a sequence of women: the ‘mother of the groom’; the mad girl of ‘A Winter’s Tale’; the resentful wife of ‘Shore Woman’; the mer­maid/ suicide) of ‘Maighdean Mara’; the mother who drowns her baby in ‘Limbo’; the dumb victim of maternal neglect in ‘Bye­ Child’; the hurt wife, at odds with her husband in ‘Summer Home’. In both parts of the book, many of the evoked figures suffer some kind of human diminishment: isolation, repression, disenchant­ment, exploitation or betrayal. They act as exemplars of suffering and endurance.
  • Heaney makes constant use of the ‘classical elements; these refer to ancient concepts similar to the modern states of matter: earth (solid), water (liquid), air (gas) and fire (plasma); water is the predominant element, source of all life, abundant in Ireland thanks to south-westerly weather systems; permeating the peaty Ulster ground, forming familiar water-courses (e.g. Moyola) with a role in traditional Irish trades now lost, providing maritime associations with myths and drownings, timelessly washing history along, destructively flooding floods yet and agent of harmony; earth is Irish terra firma above or below inundation, source of all growth and natural bounty, receptacle of layered history, no-man’s-land of post-apocalyptic visions; fire: gifted by earliest man for Man’s warmth yet the destructive symbol of social disintegration and transmitter of ’unhallowed light’; air, all-encompassing, atmosphere via which all things outside are viewed.

Wintering Out the poems: commentaries and notes

Dedicatory poem For David Hammond and Michael Longley

The piece is reprinted as part IV of the Whatever You Say, Say Nothing’ sequence in the North collection of 1975.

The observer is behind the wheel of his car on the outskirts of Belfast. The chilly, autumnal feel of the moment is swamped by the looming symbol of repression and imprisonment without trial (the new camp for the internees).

In front of it fresh evidence of a violent response: a bomb had left a crater. Force is being met by force (over in the trees machine-gun posts) sited there to keep one group out and a second group in: a real stockade.

Pained and angry, Heaney conjures up a bleak, wintery déjà-vu scenario (white mist you get on a low ground) remembered from a distant cinema and TV dramatization of a previous conflict, a fiction that anticipates the nightmare reality of the current Irish sectarian predicament: some film made/ Of Stalag 17, a bad dream, beyond words (with no sound).

Feelings of outrage, injustice even despair are not Heaney’s alone; he cites the wry graffito daubed on a wall in Ballymurphy, a biting comment on the paradox of Ulster life during the Troubles (playing on the Christian notion of ‘life after death’): Is there a life before death?

Heaney sees Long Kesh as the latest abuse heaped on the Irish by the forces of oppression. Irish history is a long ‘déjà-vu’, a recurrent fate demanding endurance under suffering (Competence with pain), shared wretchedness (Coherent miseries), and ,yet again, mutual solace as the only hope: We hug our little destinies again. Heaney shares the pain.

The poet’s return in September 1971 from a sabbatical year spent at Berkeley University in California coincided with the imposition of internment without trial, introduced as the political response to what were perceived by the Westminster government as unacceptable levels of ‘terrorist’ activity. The most infamous prison featured in the poem is Long Kesh later known as the Maze.

David Hammond: (1928-2008): singer, song collector, broadcaster born in Belfast (the singer in SH’s poem ‘The Singer’s House’). Participated with SH and Michael Longley in 1968 Arts Council of Northern Ireland tour,

Michael Longley: (I939-): Poet and, from 2007, Ireland Professor of Poetry born in Belfast. Dedicatee of SH’s poem ‘Personal Helicon’.

  • dew: vapour that has condensed overnight on cool surfaces, grass, windows; dewy adjective;
  • internee: person confined as a prisoner for political or military reasons;
  • crater: bowl-shaped hole in the ground caused by explosion or impact;
  • stockade: both a barrier for defence purposes or to confine animals;
  • Stalag: World War II nazi prisoner-of-war camp;
  • déjà-vu (French phrase) (literally ‘already seen): the feeling that one has already experienced what is happening, ‘we’ve been here before’;
  • chalked up: (literally) inscribed on a surface using chalk; (metaphorically) applying to a particular cause;
  • competence: the most compelling late 18th century derivation offers the sense of being ‘sufficient to deal with what is at hand’ is from 1790;
  • coherent: both modern sense of ‘clear’ and Latin derivation from co-haerere (‘together’+ ‘stick’) in the sense of ‘shared’ ‘common to all’;
  • bite: ‘light refreshment’ implying ‘with precious little to eat’;
  • sup: drink in sips implying ‘with precious little to drink’;
  • hug: hold tightly;
  • destiny: future events already deemed controlled by others;
  • Stalag 17: title of a 1953 film that followed the stories of American prisoners-of-war in nazi prison camps in Germany;
  • 3 quartets based on 10 syllables; 5 sentence structure;

  • flow of oral delivery determined by the balance between enjambed lines and mid-line punctuation;

  • rhyme scheme abab bcbc dede ;

  • past tense of sights smacking of unreality replaced by present tense of sardonic reality, wry social comment, black irony with unmistakeable political implication;

  • poet part of his community : I/ we; member of an undermined race: little destiny again; what precedes the final phrase indicates that Irish spirit is still very much alive and kicking;

  • interesting variation of adjectives: dewy motorway/ fresh clay/ real stockade;

  • vocabulary of military confrontation;

  • French borrowing: déjà-vu; pan and zoom of film camera technique

  • contrasting prepositions: chalked up – downtown

  • 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: thirteen 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/ anger.

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