Heaney harks back to his Wedding Day in August 1965 when he married Marie Devlin; they have been married for nearly fifty years when the poet dies in 2013.
Heaney’s day of celebration is filled with anxiety: I am afraid. Silence reigns (Sound has stopped in the day), replaced by a cascade of wedding ‘visuals’ (the images reel over/ And over).
Heaney is puzzled as to why (when the Devlin family had not so much lost a daughter as gained a son) his abiding memory should be of all those tears, as to why his father-in-law’s emotions as betrayed by his countenance (The wild grief on his face /Outside the taxi?) fail to differentiate between a short honeymoon and total severance.
The poet is baffled by the emotionality of wedding guests surrounding the honeymoon taxi. Why sorrow at a moment of celebration: The sap / Of mourning rises/ In our waving guests.
He picks up some important traits of his bride’s character: what she might lose in stature (the tall tiered wedding-cake dwarfs her) she more than makes up for in grit; her independence of will as she sings a solo; her vulnerability, suddenly performing alone, evident to the guests (Like a deserted bride); her obstinate determination to overcome the ordeal she has imposed on herself: Who persists, demented,/ And goes through the ritual.
The poet’s call of nature (When I went to the gents) brings him relief in all senses! He comes face-to-face with a graffito: a heart pierced by a cupid’s arrow (a skewered heart) bearing a dedication (a legend of love). Life beyond wedding day, bring it on!
Finally both of them into the taxi and away from it all … respite, relief, promise of intimate togetherness at last: Let me sleep on your breast to the airport.
Weddings unite families but inevitably bring a sense of apprehension and huge emotional pressure to bear on the main participants who respond in the only way they know how. Sensitive brides and grooms have not only their own uncertainties to face; they also know their parents’ natures. Given the aims and expectations of everyone else present, the eventual escape of the exhausted couple brings only relief;
- reel: part of a film; to be stunned, to stagger;
- legend: inscription, caption;
- ‘At the outset of the second part of Wintering Out, the private world asserts itself, but here too the ‘backward lock’ engenders sorrow … ‘Wedding Day’ and ‘Mother of the Groom’ hark back to his marriage in August 1965, but neither poem dwells upon romance or nostalgia … Polly Devlin’s (the bride’s sister’s) illuminating comments in All of us There (help) to explain why such a funereal atmosphere should prevail at a wedding. There exists “a thin membrane … between grief and joy in Irish celebrations “, she explains. (p84) To illustrate her point, she specifically cites her sister’s wedding day. At the reception, the poet’s wife gave a poignant rendering of the ballad ‘Slieve Gallion Brae’ (the song reaches a mildly nationalist conclusion) … the strain seems insupportable for each participant in ‘Wedding Day’. Re-winding the film, playing back the soundtrack, the narrator initially recalls his own tense state’ (MP109);
- 4 quartets in 7 sentences; variable line length (4-8 syllables; unrhymed;
- the balance enjambed lines and punctuation regulates the breath groups of oral delivery;
- the 7 sentence construction (imitative of a camera being turned on and off) creates distinct breaks between takes, images of the past relived now in the poet’s mind;
- verb tenses reflect the present/ past nature of the recollection: present perfect ‘has stopped’; simple present: ‘rises’, ‘sing’, ‘let me ..’; simple past ‘went’, was‘;
- use of personal pronouns ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘his’: the identity of the protagonists is crystal clear; the memory has no sound track; all is visual;
- double intention, ‘reel’: recorded images were, at the time, reel to reel; memories recalling unsteady moments;
- paradox: moments intended to be enjoyed and to bring together seem to have engendered anguish and separation: groom: ‘afraid’; parents ‘tears’, ‘wild grief’; guests ‘mourning’; bride ‘deserted’, ‘demented’;
- metaphor: growing sadness as the couple reach the point of severance/ ‘sap of mourning’;
- silent goodbyes: ‘waving’;
- seeing things through: ‘persists, ‘ritual’;
- toilet wall graffito appropriate to the circumstances helps the groom to see things through;
- 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: fourteen 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 lines, for example, brings together labio-dental fricatives [f] [v], alveolar plosives[t] [d] interspersed with sibilants [s] [z];
- 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.