Heaney is reminded of the last seconds of December 31st, 1999 when local blacksmith, Barney Devlin, already in his eighties, struck twelve hammer-blows on his anvil for the millennium. In an article Heaney described this moment as a ‘strike’ similar to the 9/11 ‘strike’ in that both ‘strikes, the one literal, the other metaphorical, acted as ‘tuning-forks’ for poems.
Heaney reveals he was not actually present at the event yet can celebrate the resonance of the moment: I can still hear it. Indeed, it could be heard 8,000 miles away: modern technology permitted Devlin’s nephew in Canada to share the moment via The cellular phone/ Held high as a horse’s ear!
Heaney italicises the language of medieval poetry to recall the sounds to Church bels beyond the starres. Had he been in the smithy no doubt Barney would have requested a poem to celebrate the event.
What Heaney offers a tribute to blacksmiths throughout time, to those waterburning/ Medieval smiths:/ ‘Huf! Puf! Lus, bus! Col!’ and the collective beauty of their clangour: Such noise/ On nights heard no one never.
The final lines quoted from the previous poem assert that unrelated events can achieve like perfection, ringing sweet as a bell.
- Devlin’s forge was at Hillhead, not far from the Heaney farm;
- 25 lines in 5 quintets; lines based around 5 and 7 syllables; no rhyme scheme; each stanza uses enjambment to follow the unfolding story; use also of colons and italicised quotation;
- the chain of vowel sound [ɪ] as in and echoing Devlin occurs from second to final line;
- emblematic midnight anvil ( the one of Devlin’s two anvils, that emitted ‘a melodic sound’);
- a chain of [e] as in and echoing Devlin is also strongly recurrent: there/ twelve/ millennium ;
- unusual double use of unstressed [ə]: Edmonton; [ai] in key words: midnight/ high/ smiling/ write;
- cluster of [ʌ] in (4): ‘Huf! Puf! Lus, bus! / Such and alliterative nasal [n] of instead/ –burning/ noise/ nights / no one never (example of archaic double negative);