Oct 142012
 

Kinship

Kinship describes affinity, fellow feelings and at-oneness. The six-poem sequence explores lines of connection, correspondence and closeness. The pieces sit in a landscape of which Heaney feels himself very much a part. The bog is the unifying factor and Heaney’s close relationship with it takes different forms.

I

the first piece is triggered by simply standing in its midst.

The poet’s ability to read the sacred markings, evidence of the spade marks left where peat has been harvested (hieroglyphic/ peat on a spreadfield) guides him to a kindred spirit beneath the surface: the strangled victim of stone-age ritual sacrifice and the private space, the love-nest in the bracken where she lay preserved.

The bog is known to Heaney since childhood so his presence there is a journey through origins; his familiarity with it is as instinctive as the domesticated animal’s awareness of its non-domesticated beginnings: like a dog turning/ its memories of wilderness/ on the kitchen mat.

As he walks down/ rushes and heather the poet’s senses are awake to the dynamic of the bog: his feet feel the unsteadiness of the ground as the bog floor shakes; his ears recognize what makes it unstable: the water cheeps and lisps.

He holds deep affection for the turf-face with the black incisions behind and beneath which history’s cooped secrets/ of process and ritual are hidden.

He loves the springiness off the ground and the danger to life lurking there for those who lose their balance: each bank a gallow’s drop.

He loves the open bog-pools, each one the unstopped mouth of an urn drinking in the reflection of the moon, each one reputed to be a bottomless pit not to be sounded by the naked eye.

  • -ship: ‘state of being …’, here ‘closely related’;

  • hieroglyphic: its etymology points to ‘sacred carving’ from Egyptian antiquity; the ancient Egyptian writing and numbering system used glyphs, that is, characters in picture form based on common objects, those who discovered them initially deemed them to be indecipherable; compare Viking ‘runes’;

  • cooped: the idea of confinement in a small space;

  • unstopped: open, without a stopper;

  • urn: reference to an antique container underlines the age of bog-land; elsewhere Heaney uses layers of peat to represent layers of history;

  • sound: here from the Old French sonder, ‘to measure the depth of water using a line’;

  • In response to interviewers Heaney revealed how, as a three or four-year-old, he was instructed not to wander from the farm into the bog for fear of tumbling into its ‘bottomless’ pools;

  • 6 quatrains; a 2 sentence structure each broken by semi or full colon;

  • line length varies between 3 and 8 syllable; 10 lines enjambed; no rhyme scheme;

  • first person narrator; autobiographical;

  • in stanzas (1) and (2) Heaney picks up and runs with the assonant [ɪ] of the title:

  • Kinship/ kinned/ hieroglyphic/ victim/ origins/ memories/ wilderness; this is flavoured with [i:] peat/ -field; [e] spread/ nest/ step/ memories/ wilderness; alliterative use is made of voiced [g] (from –glyphic to turning) and voiceless [k] velar plosives (from Kinship to kitchen);

  • (3) offers the onomatopoeia of cheeps and lisps with other sibilant [s] sounds; [ɔː] pairs water and walk; the [ɪ] of lisps carries into (4) this/ its/ incisions/ ritual with emergent [k] sounds: shakes/ walk/ black/ cooped;

  • in (4) and (5) Heaney plays with 5 variant vowel (o) sounds: love; cooped/ pool; process; off/ dropped; ground; pool; gallow’s drop; alliterative ‘pop’ of bilabial plosive [p] from cooped to open pool; assonant [æ] bank a gallow’s

  • the [au] of ground re-echoes in (6): mouth/ sounded and the [uː] of pool in moon;presence of nasal consonants [n] [m];

II

Bog: ‘a word; derivation of a history and a psychology’ (NC).

Heaney considers three synonyms: Quagmire, swampland, morass. None of them do the bog sonic justice Between them they conjure up unpleasant entities: slime kingdoms that repel; unsettling domains of the cold-blooded (whether amphibians that flourish there or corpses murdered in cold blood deposited there); unappealing mud pads; dirtied eggs (that have remained unhatched).

But bog, Heaney plumps for Irish word because of its lyrical associations: meaning soft. Its fall of windless rain provides a gentler resonance; its rich ties with the Baltic sea of Viking myth gives it a pupil of amber (a semi-precious fossilized resin found practically nowhere else).

The bog is a healthy ‘living’ entity with its own unceasing feeding system,

that chews, swallows and stores health-giving nutrients: Ruminant ground, digestion of mollusc and seed-pod, deep pollen-bin.

The bog is a store-house for both vegetable and animal remains, Earth pantry and graveyard: bone vault; it basks in the sun’s warmth: sun-bank; it preserves possessions and/ or victims: an embalmer of votive goods and sabred fugitives. At its most sinister it is as lustful and demanding of sacrifice as the Scandinavian pagan goddess Nerthus, an Insatiable bride; it is a receptacle for weapons (sword-swallower), for valuable belongings (casket) and a natural dung-heap (midden).

The bog has its own story to recount: a watery Floe of history passing through the poet’s imagination: Ground that offers much beyond its dark side; that acts as a nesting ground and feeds the outback of the poet’s mind with newly hatched images.

  • bog: c 1500 from Gaelic and Irish ‘bogach’ (adj.) ‘soft’,’moist;

  • mollusc: soft bodied sea- or fresh-water invertebrates with hard shells e.g. mussels;

  • embalm: originally preserve bodies using spices;

  • votive: 1590s, “dedicated or given in fulfillment of a vow”; perhaps here’ conforming to the practices if the time’;

  • sabre: a sword that slashes/ cuts rather than stabs;

  • sword-swallower: recalling the entertainer who slips the sword-blade down his throat as an circus or street act;

  • outback: originally an Australian term describing its back-country, interior wildernesses;

  • 6 quatrains in a 7 sentence construction; lines between 2 and 7 syllables; fewer enjambed lines reflects the enumeration of bog characteristics;

  • no rhyme scheme but sound sonic structure based on assonant and alliterative effects;

  • in stanzas (1) and (2) [ɒ] is the dominant assonance: Quagmire, swampland, morass:/ domains/ bog/ soft alongside [ʌ] blood-/ mud and [ei] domain/ rain; strong presence of bilabial nasal [m] (8 examples) plus combinations of voiced [b] and voiceless [p] bilabial plosives; gentle sibilant [s] of soft/ windless;

  • Stanzas (3) (4) and (5) ruminant/ fugitives pick up the [u:] of pupil; [i:] seed/ deep; {p/ɒ] combination in pod/ pollen; [əʊ] bone/ votive/ swallower/ floe; alliterative effect of voiceless bilabial plosive [p] pod, deep pollen/ pantry turns voiced [b] bone/ bank/ embalmer/ sabred/ bride later side; paired [ei] sabred/ insatiable; increasingly frequent [ɪ] votive/ insatiable/ midden/ history carried into (6) strip/ its; sibilant [s] effect in (5): Ground/ dark / nesting ground/ outback

  • (6) echoes the [ai] of bride in side/ mind accompanied by alliterative effect of velar plosives [g] [k]:

III

Linkage is revealed in a dramatic and unexpected development ; ‘a twinning … the spade of the peat worker and the oak limb of Nerthus’ (NCp75).

Whilst walking the bog the speaker retrieved an abandoned turf-spade/ hidden under bracken, lost from sight beneath a delicate green fog of growth. Lifting it from its laid flat position disturbed its intimate contact with the ground beneath, such that the soft lips of the growth objected and muttered before releasing what they held. Their split revealed a tawny rut/opening at my feet/ like a shed skin. Anatomical analogies offer a sexual connotation.

Repositioning the spade upright reinforces suggestiveness; it is wettish …beginning to steam in the sun and erect, soon likened to a man-made column of stone.

The narrative shifts from first person to an anonymous plural they, suggesting that later happenings have provided a partner for the phallic spade-shaft: now they have twinned/ that obelisk.

A drama begins to unfold, heightened by tense-change to the present. Disturbing the balance has set off a chain reaction: under a bearded cairn,/ a love-nest is disturbed. What ensues is awesomely powerful: catkin and bog-cotton tremble, The peat cannot resist the upheaval and emergence of the cloven oak-limb. For Heaney’s narrator this is an earth-shattering experience linking living moment with pagan myth: I stand at the edge of centuries/ facing a goddess.

  • tawny: “tan-coloured”, “associated with the brownish-yellow of tanned leather”; for example the tawny owl is so called because of its colour;

  • obelisk: “rectangular stone column, tapering at the top” from L. obeliscus “obelisk, small spit,” from Gk. obeliskos “a spit, pointed pillar, needle.”;

  • bearded: any pubic intention remains in the mind of poet and individual reader;

  • cloven: split, separated; describing the hooves of ruminant (cud-chewing) animals but significantly in this poem associated with the God Pan and the Devil;

  • bog-cotton: a bogland plant so called because the white tufts of its flowers resemble the cotton plant;

  • goddess: Nerthus was a pagan Norse deity allegedly worshipped in a sacred grove on an island in the North Sea or the Baltic Sea by some Germanic tribes; she was associated with fertility, witchcraft, wealth, the sea, and purification; also known as the Earth Mother; the rituals associated with her veneration were said to include human sacrifice, for example the drowning of servants who had completed her bidding; Heaney’s poem suggests that the ghost of Nerthus was present in the bog;

  • 6 quatrains; 3 sentence construction, the third sentence split by 2 colons; no rhyme scheme;

  • variable line length between 3 and 7 syllables; 13 enjambed lines;

  • lines 1-14 the principal assonant/sonic chains are: [ei] spade/ laid/ raised [əʊ] overgrown/ growth/ opened; [i:] green/ feet/ steam/ [ɪ] hidden/ with/ lips/ splitskin/ it/ beginning; [ʌ] under/ muttered/ rut/ upright/ sun; alliterative clusters: labio-dental fricative [f] in found/ turf/ flat/ fog and [gr] of grown/ green; alveolar [t] and sibilants [s] [z] combine in stanza (2) and re-echo in (3) adding [sh] shed/ shaft/ wettish;

  • lines 15-22 the new vowel sound is [ɒ]: obelisk/ bog/ cotton/ goddess accompanying reprises of [ɪ] twinned/ obelisk/is disturbed/ catkin [ʌ] among/ under/ love/ up [əʊ] stones/ cloven oak and [ei] raise/ facing; alveolar plosive [t] provides the main alliterative note from trimmed to stand with a cluster of velar plosives [k] and [g] between obelisk and cloven oak;

  • the final couplet mixes consonant sibilant [s] stand/ centuries/ facing a goddess and vowel [e] edge/ centuries/ goddess;

IV

The piece ‘uses a metaphorical subtext of poetry in dialogue with itself … imagining a bog as a language or poem’ (NCp75). Neil Corcoran suggests an analogy between’ the self-involved processes of the bog and the self-involved processes of poetry’.

Heaney sets up a subtle interplay between the bog’s ‘living’ presence and his own emotions, confirming linkage between his landscape, his origins and his destiny.

The first stanza appears to pick up issues raised by W.B.Yeats in his Second Coming ( text below; its initial metaphor involves the massive global streams of wind and water whose operational efficiency depends on the angle and spin of the Earth and the law of gravity).

Unlike Yeats’ nightmare vision, Heaney’s landscape is not falling apart; the bog’s centre holds and spreads. It retains a lyrical state of timeless turn-over: sump and seedbed,/ a bag of waters/ and a melting grave. It receives and breaks down the fruits of nature deposited there as part of an annual cycle when The mothers of autumn/ sour and sink, when the loss of green pigmentation produces colours of decomposition: ferments of husk and leaf/ deepen their ochres/ … brackens deposit their bronze, when plants peak before declining: Mosses come to a head; when fruit is distributed: heather unseeds.

Heaney goes for a synaesthetic effect. The visual scene he has witnessed and described is a voice of Nature, a language heard: the vowel of earth/ dreaming its root/ in flowers and snow, part of Earth’s climatic mutation of weathers… and seasons, a fleeting benefit that ultimately returns matter to itself: a windfall composing/ the floor it rots into.

The poet is no exception – such is the stuff he is made of. Ultimately he is destined to follow the cycle: I grew out of all this/ like a weeping-willow (iconic tree whose branches droop earthwards) and share the common fate of all earthly matter, inclined to/ the appetites of gravity.

  • sump: originally a synonym for marsh, morass, bog; refined to suggest a ‘pit for collecting water’;

  • ochre: a pigment varying from yellow to brown and red;

  • windfall: originally literal, in reference to wood or fruit blown down by the wind, and thus free to all; later it developed a figurative sense of ‘unexpected benefit;

  • gravity: the irresistible force that attracts matter to the centre of a spinning celestial body; a property of ‘having weight’;

  • inclined: both in the sense of ‘leaning’ and ‘disposed to’;

  • 6 quatrains; 5 sentence construction; no rhyme scheme;

  • variable line length between 3 and 7 syllables; 10 enjambed lines;

  • lines 1-5: assonant chain of [e] centre/ spreads/ seedbed/ melting sits alongside alliterative sibilant [s] effect;

  • lines 6-13 add [i:] leaf/ deepen/ unseeds later dreaming/ seasons; the early use of[əʊ] in holds is echoed in ochre; sibilants will maintain their alliterative hold, especially sour and sink; earlier [e] reappears: head/ heather; cluster of voiced [b] and voiceless [p] bilabial plosives;

  • lines 14-20 seek assonant effects from [au] vowel/ flowers [əʊ] snow/ composing and other vowel (o) variants root/ floor it rots into interlaced with the bilabial consonants [w] and [m];

  • final quatrain interweaves [ai] I/ like/ appetites with velar [gr] and [w];

  • The memorable first stanza of William Butler Yeats’s The Second Coming reads as follows:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Words in bold would seem to reflect themes and issues present in Heaney’s bog poems;

V

Heaney celebrates the kinship by ‘flesh-and-blood’ composing a deeply personal, warm-hearted vignette triggered by the discovery of the hand-carved felloes/ of the turf-cart wheels concealed in the bog beneath a litter of turf mould. Associated memories conjure up a whole period-piece: thecupid’s bow/ of the tail-board/ the socketed lips of the cribs.

Such a cart was once driven by a man deified by the poet when he was a youngster, not (given the seductive description of his vehicle) as some kind of Eros, but as god of the waggon, delivering peat for people’s fires. As a boy, the speaker would sometimes accompany him on his rounds enjoying the status that went with it: that of knight’s apprentice, the squire of his circuits.

In early autumn When summer died, when he and his uncle were on their rounds (abroad) women, as they gave up up working for the day (forsook the fields), would respectfully make way for the peat-man and his boy-attendant.

We are invited to share a ‘lost’ time and Watch what is in his mind’s eye: our progress/ down the haw-lit hedges. To be addressed by this exalted figure was a source of manly pride for the boy.

  • Heaney pays tribute to his great-uncle, Hughie Scullion from a community where the importance of peat-cutters was well recognised;

  • felloe: “rim of a spoked wheel”, from O.E.

  • socketed: one section of wood has been fitted into a hollow piece in a second section, designed to receive it;

  • cupid’s–bow: the once-fashionable shape of a woman’s made-up lips, so called because they resembled the bow carried by Cupid/ Eros, the classical god of erotic love;

  • crib: the wooden bars of a child’s bed would fit this context;

  • squire: a kind of apprentice-knight in medieval times;

  • use of passives: saluted, given right-of-way in ll19-20;

  • 6 quatrains in a 4 sentence structure; no rhyme scheme but an interesting use of sonic echoes at specific ends of line: [əʊ] felloes/ mould/ bow; [ɪ] litter/ lips cribs/ drink/ circuits; [æ] man/ waggon; feeder/ bearer; [ai] died/ pride;

  • vowel sound effects include the above with other assonant reinforcement: [ɑː] carved/ cart/ hearth; [ɜː] turf/ turf; [e] felloes/ buried/ attendant/ bread; [ai] I deified/ squire/ wives/ right; [ɪ] buried in/ cupid’s/ given/ haw-lit;

  • alliterative effects (1-8) using groupings of labio-dental [f], voiceless velar [k], voiceless alveolar [t] and sibilant [s];

  • (9-24): bilabial plosives [p] [b]; voiced alveolar [d]; voiced alveolar [g] god of the waggon; a swell of sibilants after l.15; aspirate pairing: haw-lit hedges;

  • the bog has produced its own turf-cutter God and cup-bearing Ganymede poet (NC75);

VI

Heaney perceives no progress over the two thousand years since Tacitus: Ireland is still an occupied land and still a prey to social unrest.

Heaney addresses the Roman historian of 2 millennia before, inviting him to see how similar is 20th century poet to his Irish forebears in need of self-protection: I make my grove/ on an old crannog built on ground swelled by the Irish victims of oppression and occupation: piled by the fearful dead. The ‘Troubles’ are simply the current manifestation of what Tacitus referred to as the desolate peace imposed upon Ireland by all invaders.

Heaney sets out what was and still is Irish destiny: Our mother ground/is sour with the blood/ of her faithful. His dramatic present tense depicts the age of Tacitus: Roman legions stare/ from the ramparts looking on as the native population lies in its death throes: gargling/ in her sacred heart.

His cri de coeur summons Tacitus to Come back and witness the lack of progress on his ‘island of the ocean’/ where nothing will suffice. The phrase echoes a bitter resignation: Heaney cannot conceive what will be sufficient to break the cycle of violence and revenge.

Tacitus has only to see the ‘pictures’, Read the inhumed faces/ of casualty and victim to comprehend the mutually barbaric thinking of those involved in the current struggle: how we slaughter for the common good and shave the heads of the notorious (women deemed to have consorted with ‘the enemy’). to understand how the barbaric practices revealed by the bog conjoin with the present: how the goddess swallows/ our love and terror.

  • a summarising hymn to the bog (NC75); the most intimate conjunction between the Nordic religion and NI (p76);

  • Tacitus: 1c AD Roman historian whose works include Germania, an ethnographical assessment of the lands, laws and customs of ‘primitive’ peoples as far north as the Baltic. In Agricola he turned his attention to ancient Britain including what is now Ireland. Heaney summons him back to bear witness to his view that nothing has changed in contemporary Ireland;

  • grove: in Tacitus’s Germania, Chapter 40 opened: ‘In an island of the ocean is a holy grove’ (NC75);

  • desolate peace: referring to empire-builders and conquerors Tacitus commented that they make a desolation and call it peace;

  • crannog: the ancient Irish peoples built defensive if primitive dwellings on lakes or in bogs;

  • suffice: the word assumes a particular resonance in Heaney’s more ‘political’ poems; in the bloody aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin W.B.Yeats asked the question O when may it suffice? Heaney gives his opinion: nothing will suffice; see Funeral Rites (I) for its further use;

  • 6 quatrains; line length between 4 and 7 syllables; no rhyme scheme;

  • constructed in 4 sentences; 13 enjambed lines;

  • addressed to Tacitus as if in person with the vigour of polemic but without the personal attack;

  • lines 1-7 exploit 5 variant sounds of vowel (o): observe/ on/ crannog – how/ our/ ground/ sour – grove/ old – desolate – mother/ blood; initial alliterative effects are engineered using velar plosives [k] and [g] also paired assonant sounds [i:] fearful/ peace later legions/ Read;

  • after line 7 assonant [a:] gargling/ heart/ ramparts interweaves with sibilants [s];

  • assonant echoes in lines 13-24 come from combinations of [ai] island/ suffice alongside[ɪ] this/ nothing will/ inhumed/ victim; [ʌ] Come/ nothing/ suffice/ us/ good/ goddess/ love; [u] inhumed/ casualty; [ei] faces/ shave; [ɔː]slaughter/ notorious; frequent andvariant sibilant sounds of [s] [z][sh][ʒ] casualty.

The sequence as a whole

  • 6 poems in which Heaney pursues the interconnectedness between contemporary sectarian atrocity in NI, the behaviour of Viking invaders and the ritual murders of iron-age Jutland (NC);

  • a strange language the poet can read and turn material into text (ibid p56);