Jan 102012


Heaney uses a parable-style format that sets out the crucial need for a sound structure in human relationships. The tone is a touch sermon-like! However, in his attempt to reassure them both, the speaker demonstrates great sincerity and also, it would seem, a touch of insecurity in himself.
Other spheres of human activity require a firm framework: to achieve properly constructed buildings: Masons build stage by stage, falling back on a sound understanding of safety issues: they test out the scaffolding, ensure that planks won’t slip at busy points/ Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints. They get the basics right from the outset. A temporary structure, perhaps, the scaffolding is vital to the building of walls of sure and solid stone.

If, therefore, there are occasional threats to the solidity of their relationship, Old bridges breaking, Heaney‘s answer is reassuring: my dear … never fear. Any such moments overlook what their scaffolding has achieved: we have built our wall.

  • In later poems (for example Album in Human Chain) Heaney is frank about his clumsiness in expressing male emotions; this poem also has a touch of teacher’s ‘lesson-plan’ about it;
  • the Biblical parable of the ‘house built on sand’ comes to mind;
  • 4 rhyming couplets based on 10 syllable lines; rhyme scheme aa bb etc.;
  • vocabulary of building regulation, test/ make sure/ secure/ tighten ensures safety: confident;
  • ends of line rhyme find internal echoes: seem/ be/  between/ me; assonance: sure/ secure;
  • a chain of sibilant sounds from the title onwards culminates in sure and solid stone; alliteration: bridges/ breaking between; sometimes seem;
  • We/ our: the lesson is for them both;
  • a successful marriage is worth celebrating, even boasting about; both are implicit in showing off;
  • Heaney seems deliberately to spell out the lesson using monosyllables in the Nota Bene of line 5.