Jan 102012
 

Storm on the Island

The poet seeks to reassure and calm niggling doubts via the analogy of a storm-swept island. Beneath the poem’s surface sits a deeper conviction: sound foundation and mental strength enhance a couple’s chances of surviving together whatever extreme ordeals life may throw in their path.

The narrator speaks decisively on behalf of this couple. They have come to their island prepared, knowing the best design for durable construction: houses squat … walls in rock … good slate. The wizened nature of the terrain, suggestive of ruthless attack from elements and erosion, has rendered some building materials useless: no hay… no stacks/ Or stooks that can be lost.

The absence of trees/ Which might prove company when it blows full/ Blast leaves the gale indiscernible to the human ear. Despite the tangible buffeting the house is receiving there is no tragic chorus in a gale/ So that you listen to the thing you fear.

Interpreting the sea as Exploding comfortably down on the cliffs is self-delusion: it is mega-violent: the flung spray hits/ The very windows, spits like a tamed cat turned savage.

The sole way to survive the repeated percussiveness of Nature’s bombardment, where the wind is a fighter plane that dives/ And strafes invisibly and Space is salvo-firing artillery, is to sit tight.

Heaney asserts the confidence he feels: the air, insubstantial and empty is capable of bombarding them yet impossible to grasp; massively powerful and scary though it may seem it is no threat against the solidity of their relationship: Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.

  • 19 ten-syllable lines in a single stanza; loose rhyme is confined to first and last couplets;
  • Heaney uses ingenious poetic ploys to describe the sounds of threatening turbulence: the varying power of the elements is rendered not by precise assonance but by use of grouped allophonic (variant) sounds of the same vowel: [o] stooks/ lost/ proper/ company/ blows/ know/ exploding comfortably down/ on/ no; [i] hits/ spits/ sit tight while wind dives/ invisibly; [a] space/ salvo; [a/ are/ bombarded/ air;
  • similar practice groups adjacent consonant sound [t], [θ] and [ð]: listen to the thing/ Forgetting that it/ there/ trees/ natural shelter;
  • some additional examples of alliteration: rock and roof; stacks Or stooks … spits like a tame cat/ Turned; assonance: [i:] me/ leaves; [ai]  tight/ dives; [ei] strafes/ space and so on
  • juxtaposed opposites: the violence of Exploding alongside non-hostile comfortably;
  • strength of first phrase and last: We are prepared; we will not be cowed: a huge nothing that we fear;
  • doubts are refuted via negatives no/ never/ nor: togetherness confirmed by we/ we/ us;