A short piece dedicated to fellow Irishman Paul Muldoon (b.1951); eminent Irish poet;
Pulitzer Prizefor Poetry; T.S. Eliot Prize winner;Oxford Professor of Poetry (1999 – 2004).
The bird is an innocent victim of Man’s hunting instincts. Correspondences with the victims of contemporary sectarian violence emerge strongly and the poet raises a critical finger against injustice, his compassion evident in both the literal and allegorical contexts.
Heaney’s speaker is removing the feathers from the duck in preparation for the cooking-pot. Its death by shooting caused suffering: It had been badly shot. The plucker has discovered the duck’s voice-box / … in the broken windpipe; its vocal function is likened to a flute stop.
The man’s response is both unexpected and moving: the bird can no longer sing its own song and he finds himself breathing spiritual life into it with his own small widgeon cries.
- widgeon: a medium sized duck hunted as a tasty food;
- flute-stop: the image is musical: as with the human voice, airflow through a church-organ or a wind instrument can be blocked or modified to alter the pitch or timbre of the sound or to silence it completely;
- windpipe: the part of the body used to carry air from mouth to lungs;
- the Catholic notion of insufflation seems appropriate tothe poem. The term is explained by Seamus Deane as ‘the blowing or breathing of spiritual life into a person (and by extension a creature‘) Notes on the Penguin edition of James Joyce’sPortrait of the Artist as a Young Man(p313);
- ‘Widgeon’ the shortest poem ( ) and one of the most perfect ( ) may be read as an allegory of the book’s deflective procedures; ‘he’ blows his own cries on the dead bird’s voice-box ( ) just as Heaney ( ) blows a voice to the dead in the Station Island sequence … as in the Sweeney Redivivus (Part 3) his own voice sounds through the voice-box of Sweeney the bird man … the way the individual poetic voice speaks through the real and legendary dead; (ibid p112 ) The use of ‘unexpectedly’ in the text is the possible recognition by the poet of self-illumination or self-definition (NC p111):
- the poem is to do with defying the violent, keeping the song alive, resisting; like the duck; it hints that Ireland is silent; it needs a voice.
- eight lines split 3-2-3; a single sentence with 2 pauses marked by colons;
- lines between 5 and 7 syllables; a pattern of mainly assonant rhymes;
- simile provides the bird’s injury with a musical analogy;
- the music of the poem: eight assonant strands are woven into this short text; Heaney places them grouped within specific areas to create internal rhymes , or reprises them at intervals :
- alliterative effects allow pulses or beats or soothings or hissings or frictions of consonant sound to modify the assonant melodies: the title’s bilabial frictionless [w] accompanies labio-dental fricatives [f] [v];