Jun 012015
 

Mint

Heaney admires the survival instinct of a herb that, for all its lowly appearance, graced the family’s Sunday lunch table. As an adjunct he points out the danger of radicalizing groups who see themselves as marginalised.

Mint might not be anything to look at (like a clump of small dusty nettles) just an invasive plant Growing wild at the gable of the house established at the frontier between garden and rubbish heap: Beyond where we dumped our refuse and old bottles; a plant of unattractive coloration (Unverdant ever), and whilst not beneath contempt, yet insignificant to the eye: almost beneath notice.

But Heaney insists upon fair assessment of mint’s promise / And newness whatever its lowly presence in the back yard of our life (on the farm at Mossbawn). However lowly its image mint held its head up high: something callow yet tenacious, a leisurely presence in green alleys , growing rife against the odds.

What would traditional childhood Sunday lamb roasts have been without the snip of scissor blades… / when the mint was cut and loved?

The poet’s focus changes: acknowledging the increasing forgetfulness of age that leaves his youthful impressions intact (My last things will be first things slipping from me) Heaney strongly advocates the release of all things … that have survived hardship and neglect.

For Heaney his humble herb (Let the smells of mint go heady and defenceless), lowly ennobler of Sunday lamb is an potent example of the victims of human negligence: Like inmates liberated in that yard (political prisoners detained without charge in Ulster or in Eastern Europe). His advice is aimed squarely at those whose ignorance or ideology create injustice and his poem defines the entrenched views that at this very moment threaten any peace initiative.

In a collection that alludes regularly to premonition and foreknowledge Heaney is issuing a visionary warning not to radicalize the disregarded ones we turned against /Because we’d failed them by our disregard.

  • unverdant: the opposite of rich green in colour;
  • saunter: to proceed in a slow, leisurely manner;
  • rife: unchecked and widespread;
  • beneath notice: ’below the line of sight’ takes on a further suggestion of utter worthlessness; Heaney sets out to show that this is not the case;
  • callow:  inexperienced and immature
  • heady: potent, intoxicating;
  • defenceless: in need of no defence;
  • disregarded: paid no attention to;
  • District and Circle will report on the shattering outcome of 9/11 2001 of what Heaney foresaw as lack of foresight (Anything Can Happen);
  • Nicholas Jenkins (Walking on Air in the TLS of July 5th 1996) talks of a benign, lyrical language that is one of this collection’s most appealing notes;
  • a four-stanza poem of four lines each with a loose rhyme scheme abab cdcd;
  • line length based on 10 syllables;
  • a six-sentence construct; its ix full-stops balanced rhythmically by enjambed lines;
  • local colour: a 1940s rear garden area;
  • personification of a plant to resemble the character of a cheeky, neglected but determined youngster of humble beginnings;
  • as if clause introduces the comparison followed by a hidden subjunctive tense ‘sauntered’; use of repeated simile using ‘like’;
  • onomatopoeia of ‘snip’; imperative ‘let’, if not a command as such then a symbol of the statement’s importance;
  • Heaney is a meticulous craftsman using combinations of vowel and consonant to form a poem that is something to be listened to.
  • the music of the poem: twelve 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 consonant effects allow pulses or beats or soothings or hissings or frictions of consonant sound to modify the assonant melodies:
  • the first two lines of Mint, for example, combine velar plosives [k] and [g] with alveolar plosives [t] and [d] alongside alveolar [l];
  • it is well worth teasing out the sound clusters for yourself if only to admire the poet’s sonic engineering:
  • Consonants (with their phonetic symbols) can be classed according to where in the mouth they occur
  • Front-of-mouth sounds: voiceless bi-labial plosive [p] voiced bi-labial plosive [b]; voiceless labio-dental fricative [f] voiced labio-dental fricative [v]; bi-labial nasal [m]; bilabial continuant [w]
  • Behind-the-teeth sounds: voiceless alveolar plosive [t] voiced alveolar plosive [d]; voiceless alveolar fricative as in church match [tʃ]; voiced alveolar fricative as in judge age [dʒ]; voiceless dental fricative [θ] as in thin path; voiced dental fricative as in this other [ð]; voiceless alveolar fricative [s] voiced alveolar fricative [z]; continuant [h] alveolar nasal [n] alveolar approximant [l]; alveolar trill [r]; dental ‘y’ [j] as in yet
  • Rear-of-mouth sounds: voiceless velar plosive [k] voiced velar plosive [g]; voiceless post-alveolar fricative [ʃ] as in ship sure, voiced post- alveolar fricative [ʒ] as in pleasure; palatal nasal [ŋ] as in ring/ anger.