A moment during a family holiday reveals a misnomer: thanks to the stultifying heat of the sun no movement is possible; siesta is the order of the day.

Even the heavy-duty animals used to the climate are struggling to stay upright: Oxen supporting their heads/ into the afternoon sun. Only hot-climate fruit clearly visible on the opposing slopes benefits from the molten sunlight: melons studding the hill like brass.

Human life has come to a standstill and anyone capable of mental activity (who reads into distances) is way, way ahead of the poet, his wife (us), their sleeping children and the tangible signs of desert conditions: the dust settling in scorched grass.

  • oxen: bovines used to drag heavy loads;
  • stud: circles of metal piercing a surface for decoration;
  • brass: a copper-zinc alloy, yellow in colour;
  • scorched: dried out by the sun and appearing lifeless;
  • 2 triplets in a single sentence; line length 7-8 syllables; loose rhyme scheme abc abc;
  • Mediterranean ‘sun’: the stultifying link between twin focuses: ‘oxen’ and ‘melons’; all-powerful: ‘scorched’ / ‘sleeping children’ ‘dust settling’; bringing life and nature to a halt;
  • metaphor: melons with metallic colouring (‘studded … brass’;
  • microcosm/ macrocosm: finite Man within infinite universe; ‘distances … beyond; shared situation: ‘us, our’;
  • almost Biblical (‘He who seeks, finds’) promulgation of thinking: ‘(He/she) who reads distances’; implication: a cognitive process not open to all humanity;
  • 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: eight 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 piece interweaves clusters of plosives (alveolar[t][d], bilabial [p] [b] velar [k] [g]) interspersed with nasal [n] and [m] and alveolar [r] [l];
  • 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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