Heaney chooses a title of classical derivation that stresses the idea of final ‘farewell’, ‘adieu’. The young ‘lover’ separated from his ‘lady’ fears her absence might be more than just au revoir. The hold that he confesses she has over him has a touch of medieval ‘courtly love’ about it, that of the male in thrall to his loved one.
The poem is more passionate in its expression than some later ones that reveal the poet’s solemn sense of responsibility, no doubt down to his up-bringing.
The image he retains of his Lady’s departure reflects both her contemporary tastes and her appeal: frilled blouse/ And simple tartan skirt. Her going has left a gap in home, heart and mind: emptiness has hurt/ All thought.
Sea imagery is used to contrast the stability her presence brought (like a vessel that rode easy, anchored/ On a smile) with insecurity born of absence that has Rocked love’s balance and left him adrift: unmoored/ The days, days that buck and bound, pitching and tossing in stormy contrast to the quiet sound/ Of your flower-tender/ Voice.
Heaney uses antithesis to depict an emotional landscape where Need breaks on my strand, where a man reduced to confusion, all at sea, beseeches his Lady to reclaim her hold over him. Until that happens his being will remain in a state of open rebellion: Until you resume command,/ Self is in mutiny.
- The poem bears the hallmarks of a ‘lay’, a short lyrical song;
- 16 hexameters in a single stanza; rhyme scheme abab cdcd etc;
- the poem is addressed to his lady and Heaney uses a formal classical vocative of address: ( Oh) Lady;
- sonic chains are less frequent in a poem that has an extended metaphor at its base: [ʌ] buck and bound/ unmoored; [ɒ] rocked/ love’s;
- his early controlled expressions of love in limbo are couched in enjambed lines; increasing emotion brings stormy, broken phrases with voiced and voiceless bi-labial plosives [b] and [p]: balance/ buck … bound … pitched;
- thought of his lady promotes gentle sibilants: simple/ skirt/ easy/ sound;
- use of simile via a compound adjective: flower-tender voice;
- the poet uses the different moods of the sea to describe happiness togetherness (rode easy/ anchored) then unease of separation (rocked/ unmoored) finally its pain (buck/ bound/ pitched) The depth of his attachment and his fear of loss are defined: he cannot do without her!
- The metaphor extends to his mind-set: as if shipwrecked by the feelings of separation the narrator blurs any male/female distinction: he is male (on my strand) and yet (metaphorically-speaking at least) all at (female) sea;
- the instress of their love communicates itself through sea images and by reference to art and landscape (Michael Parker Seamus Heaney, The Making of a Poet p.72).