Nov 222013
 

The Birthplace

Heaney and his wife are at Upper Bockhampton near Dorchester paying their respect to the spirit of English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy (1840-1928). The 3-poem sequence explores associations with the poet and his birthplace.

 

Heaney recalled the experienceslipping in en passant a reference to the significance of ‘station’ in a collection that includes the word in its title:The trees around the place, the thatched roof, the small rooms, all reminded me of Mossbawn. But that wasn’t the only reason I wrote it; there was also the fact that Hardy’s novels and poems were so much part of me by the time I got there. In fact, the grave in Stinsford churchyard and the house in Upper Bockharnpton are literary ‘stations’ I keep going back to(DOD p252).

I

Heaney describes the place where Hardy worked and rested; the frugality of his first-floor work-space reflects the modest circumstances Heaney would have known in Mossbawn and Glanmore: The deal table where he wrote, so small and plain. Hardy’s commitment to his writing eschewed his wife’s company, his single bed a dream of discipline reflecting the single-minded schedule he imposed upon himself.

Downstairs the original flagged kitchen illuminated by dust-speckled mote-slants/ of thick light, tranquil, trustworthy guardian of the ghost life Hardy carried in his head with no need to invent.

Outside high trees around the house moving in winds that blew at the same pace as Victorian rural life: as slow as a cart/ coming late from market, the sound making little impact on a man not much given to fun: the stir a fiddle could make in his reluctant heart.

  • deal: cheap, modest wood, say pine;
  • flagged: a floor composed of slabs of stone;
  • motes: tiny particles in the air visible under bright light;
  • three triplets in three sentences; lines based on ten syllables;
  • punctuated lines accompany the movement of the eye; enjambed lines open a flow of reaction to what is observed;
  • a single rhyme but no scheme;
  • the use of simple adjectives that reflect a life-style give way to a recreation of the past using personification of the wind; the wind’s speed likened to the unhurried pace of nineteenth century transport;

 

  • the music of the poem: nine assonant strands are woven into the text; Heaney places them grouped within specific areas to create internal rhymes , or reprises them at intervals or threads them through the text:

  • alliterative effects allow pulses or beats or soothings or hissings or frictions of consonant sound to modify the assonant melodies: T1 is marked by voiced plosives: bilabial [b] and alveolar [d] alongside bi-labial nasal [m] and alveolar nasal [n];T2 reinforces front-of-mouth plosives (alveolar [t] [d]), the latter carried into S3 alongside voiceless velar plosive [k];

II

Heaney vividly recalls that on the day of the visit an ‘atmosphere’ existed between himself and his wife: like one/ of his troubled pairs (reading Hardy’s major novels will confirm that for many if not most of the Wessex couples portrayed in them the course of true love was anything but smooth).

Hardy alone could have described their and ‘our’ crisis (speechless/ until he spoke for them), shadows of their real selves, haunters of silence at noon and, despite the vibrancy of nature (a deep lane …. sexual/ with ferns and butterflies), alarmed by their mutual hostility (scared at our hurt)and oppressed by their responses and the hot oppressive weather (throat-sick, heat-struck).

Then in the damp-floored wood matters came to a head:something unforgettable, unmentionable ( ) we made an episode of ourselves before they re-emerged from the trees in a disorderly rush (broke out again like cattle / through bushes) to find themselves though soaked and angry (wet and raised)just a few yards from their destination.

  • five triplets in a single sentence; numerous enjambed lines offer almost uninterrupted flow;
  • lines of 6 or 7 syllables; no rhyme scheme;
  • the Heaneys depicted as characters from Hardy; their ‘problems’ contrast with the normality of nature in which they are misbehaving;
  • use of compound adjectives, stitching multiple ideas into the hyphenated phrase;
  • local usage: to ‘make an episode’;

 

  • the music of the poem: eleven assonant strands are woven into the text; Heaney places them grouped within specific areas to create internal rhymes , or reprises them at intervals or threads them through the text:

  • alliterative effects allow pulses or beats or soothings or hissings or frictions of consonant sound to modify the assonant melodies: T1 has paired voiceless bi-labial plosive [p] and voiced dental fricative [ð] (as in That); T2 features alveolar nasal [n], voiceless alveolar fricative [s] and voiced alveolar fricative [z]; T3 shows voiceless velar plosive [k] and labio-dental fricatives [f] [v]; T4 and T5 provide a mixture of consonants;

 

 

III

A further example of Heaney in transition: the correspondences between Bockhampton and Mossbawn even Glanmore provide examples of writers twinned with their work ‘space’, living in a specific place and being identified with it. His question, however, seeks to examine this permanence: Everywhere being nowhere,/ who can prove one place more than another?

The set ideas he and his wife took with them to Bockhampton have been dented by the experience: We come back emptied. He has returned to his domestic space, his familiar roots no longer satisfied that its words of coming to rest suffice. Within his desire to nourish cherished everyday words of belonging, a counter-force has entered the equation: to resist permanence, the status-quo, the orthodox by leaving the words and their associations suspended in space: like unstacked iron weights/ … among galaxies until they resettle.

Heaney goes back thirty years to recall the first Hardy novel he could not put down: I read until first light, for the first time. So immersed was he in The Return of the Native that the sounds of wakening nature around him: the corncrake that verified himself, the roosters and dogs might have figured in the Hardy narrative: the very same/ as if he had written them.

  • The Return of the Native is Hardy’s sixth published novel. It first appeared in the magazine Belgravia, a publication known for its sensationalism, and was presented in twelve monthly instalments from January to December 1878. Because of the novel’s controversial themes, Hardy had some difficulty finding a publisher; reviews, however, though somewhat mixed, were generally positive. In the twentieth century, The Return of the Native became one of Hardy’s most popular novels.
  • Everywhere is nowhere: the gist of Seneca’s original statement was that when a person spends all his time in foreign travel he ends up by having many acquaintances, but no friends.Seneca (mid 1st century AD)
  • Responding to DOD‘s question about Hardy’s home in Upper Bockhampton Heaneycommented that ‘the trees around the place, the thatched roof. the small rooms, all reminded meof Mossbawn … Hardy’s novels and poems were so much a part of me by the time I got there … literary stations I keep going back to’ (p 152);
  • MP sums it up very cogently: Heaney invokes an intellectual and physical environment which is Wessex but could equally be Wicklow …frugal room inhabited by ‘ghost life’… unlike Hardy’s ‘troubled pairs’ the poet and his wife disport themselves without serious consequences ( ) Heaney stresses the dangers in the nesting instinct. The flight back to sources and roots and roosts -literary, spiritual, sensual, emotional – must not result in a permanent grounding (p189);
  • Hardy did not leave his birthplace until, aged thirty-four, he married his first wife;
  • His marriage to Emma was troubled and a time of great unhappiness for Hardy in contrast to the Heaneys who despite any hostility implicit in II have enjoyed an enduring, loving marriage;
  • six triplets; a 4-sentence construct; lines between 3 and 8 syllables; no rhyme scheme;
  • the philosophical reasoning of the initial question aligns Bockhampton with Heaney’s Mossbawn; the subjective responses that follow seek to confirm a kinship;
  • The lyric is in 3 parts; the first in the third person, the others in the first person singular and plural; they are all in Heaney’s own voice;
  • use of building terms as symbols of ‘home’ common to Hardy and Heaney;
  • time passing/ the oncoming future presented as entities floating in space;
  • the feeling of common creative responses to two writers’ similar surroundings confirmed in the cadence;

 

  • the music of the poem: nine assonant strands are woven into the text; Heaney places them grouped within specific areas to create internal rhymes , or reprises them at intervals or threads them through the text:

  • alliterative effects allow pulses or beats or soothings or hissings or frictions of consonant sound to modify the assonant melodies:T1 offers a blend of continuant [w], voiceless bi-labial plosive [p] bi-labial [m] and alveolar nasal [n]; T2 persists with nasals alongside voiceless alveolar plosive [t]; T3 offers a medley of consonant sounds with voiceless alveolar plosive [t] and voiceless dental fricative [θ] carried into T4; T5 picks up the voiceless labio-dental fricative [f] adding a zest of voiceless velar plosive [k]; T6 combines voiceless and voiced front-of-mouth labio-dental fricatives [f] [v] adding alveolar trill [r];