May 312016
 

Broagh

Wintering Out features three ingenious place-name poems; this third piece provides the phonetic evidence that distinguishes those with a genuine Ulster background from outsiders; the poem alludes to ‘Irish underlay’, the common factors shared by Ulster folk for which Heaney searches in Wintering Out. The poemacts as the linguistic paradigm for a reconciliation beyond sectarian division’(NC46-8).

The poet confessed that the ‘languagey poems’ (DOD124) eased his professional conscience by bridging the gap between his working language (English) and his Ulster Irish origins.

The village landscape that backed on to the river Moyola provides words planted into the Ulster vernacular by historical English and Scots occupation: trenches for vegetable growth (long rigs), wide-leaved docks (broad docken) and a tree-fringed track leading down to the river crossing point: canopied pad/ down to the ford. Thus the Ulster dialect is not pure. Natural matter was just as easily blemished (The garden mould/ bruised easily).

On a walk with his companion the poet weaves a synesthetic correspondence between climate and word shape (the shower gathering in your heelmark was the black 0 [əʊ] in Broagh) its sound only recognizable as authentic ‘home produced’ in the sense that Broagh’s falling rain (its low tattoo) provides growth for ‘home-grown’ plants that demand damp conditions: elderberry (the windy boortrees) and rhubarb blades.

The correspondence is pursued: the rain’s abrupt cessation (ended almost/ suddenly) echoes the place name: like that last / gh . Broagh’s final sound is proof: those not from the territory struggle with its pronunciation: strangers found/ difficult to manage.

  • Broagh: from the Gaelic Bruach, a riverbank;
  • riverback: a contracted variant of the Irish bruach abhana:
  • rigs: dialect words: ‘rigs’, for ‘furrows’, a word brought to Northern Ireland by the Scots planters of the seventeenth century (NC);
  • docken: , a Scots and archaic English plural for dock-leaves’ (NC);
  • pad: an English and Scots dialect word for ‘path’(NC);
  • ford: a shallow river crossing through which one can walk or drive;
  • mould: fungal growth on decomposing organic matter;
  • bruise: a mark of damage on a vegetable or plant;
  • shower: brief heavy rainfall;
  • O: here a clipped sound;
  • tattoo: the drumming rhythm of falling rain;
  • boortrees: a variant of ‘bourtrees’ (bower-trees) the old Scots version of ‘elderberry’;
  • gh: a sound particular to the local area (from the very rear of the mouth, glottal, lightly guttural); nearest approximants: Scottish loch and German ich;
  • strangers: people not of local extraction;
  • But the most subtle of Heaney’s territorial claims on place—on place made word and on word made place—may be the poem “Broagh” ( ) for its obvious focus on the challenge that “strangers” (plausibly, but not exclusively, the British) face in pronouncing … which makes this seemingly simple word into a sort of two-syllable tongue-twister. Tellingly, however, “Broagh” begins to operate as “a verbal contraption” (W. H. Auden’s fine phrase) fuelled by local specifics long before that tricky vowel. (Thomas O’Grady, Heaney’s ‘Broagh’: The World Made Word fromThe Boston Irish Reporter, Volume 17, Number 5 (May 2006), p. 25.);
  • each line of the first stanza concludes with a word that, almost as much as the name Broagh itself, grounds the poem in Heaney’s particular world (ibid);
  • Those languagey poems were all post-Berkeley, as far as I remember… The place poems came from a different source, etymological day­ dreams of sorts, playing with the fit between place and name, responses to having been born in what John Montague called the ‘primal Gaeltacht’. They harked back to the Irish language underlay and were laying claim to a hidden Ulster the Uladh of Doire Cholmcille rather than the Londonderry of the Plantation and Siege. But you’re right to think of their energy as phonetic rather than political’ (DOD124);
  • ,,, the tongue, or language, he speaks, and uses as a poet – English – is not native or original to the land he comes from – Ireland – or straightforwardly iden­tifiable with the feelings or aspirations of the community from which he derives. English is, at least in the traditional national­ist reading of the case, the imposition of the colonial oppressor, dispossessing the native Irish of their own first ‘tongue’? The historical and political themes of Wintering Out, therefore, are necessarily implicit in the actual tongue spoken in Northern Ireland; and the book includes many poems about language itself’ (NC37);
  • In their conjuring of an articulate landscape, and in the almost erotically satisfying ‘pleasuring’ which this offers these poems are clearly related to those shorter pieces of great originality, ‘Anahorish’, ‘Toome’ and ‘Broagh’.

Heaney says of the ‘place-name poems’ in an interview with Seamus Deane

I had a great sense of release as they were being written, a joy and devil-may-careness, and that convinced me that one could be faithful to the nature of the English language – for in some senses these poems are erotic mouth-music by and out of the anglo-saxon tongue – and, at the same time, be faithful to one’s own non-English origin, for me that is County Derry.

They are envisaged … from within the etymology of the warmly cherished place-names of Heaney’s home, and they may have been sanctioned by the Gaelic tradition of dinnseanchas … They insist that the importance of a place depends not on the world’s having heard of it, but on its significance for the poet who writes it’ (NC43-4);

  • This very short poem, then, celebrates, along with the Irish-derived name of its title, the ‘planted’ words of the local dialect English; and, imagining the riverbank itself as an imitation, in nature, of the form of the word, the poem delights in the exclusivity of the pronunciation … a way of keeping the place private to his community even while (creating) a paradigm of a certain kind of inclusiveness … it acts as the linguistic paradigm for a reconciliation beyond sectarian division. Its point is that conflictual histories have resulted in a community whose individual members, whatever their political or religious affinity, now all speak the same language, whether derived from Irish or English or Scots roots‘Broagh’ addresses a ‘you’, the companion, in a way that is attentive, hushed and almost secret. The reader, as it were overhears what is said and that poetic tone is entirely consistent with the allegory being described, which is one of shared privacies refusing to counten­ance disturbance. In addition, both place and place-name are being very self-consciously translated out of actual topography into what we might call the topography of the poem, or the place of the text, by the way it foregrounds that ‘black O’, the word ‘Broagh’ itself, and the last ‘gh’, by distinguishing them in italic font. The original place is, we might say, visibly displacing itself into the place of writing (NC46-8);
  • Another major legacy of colonialism, broached first in ‘The Last Mummer’, and then explored in a succession of poems (including) ‘Broagh’, is the linguistic dispossession of the Irish people. Though on one level these poems mourn the ‘Vanished music’ (‘A New Song’) of Gaelic, on another they deny silence and loss. Acknowl­edging the debt contemporary Irish writers owe to Joyce, Heaney has commented that thanks to (Joyce) English is by now not so much an imperial humiliation as a native weapon’’ (MP97);
  • For Heaney, the poet remains a diviner, a kind of Magus ‘summoning and meshing … the subconscious and semantic energies of words’, and by drawing upon the Gaelic place-names which encircled his Mossbawn home, he attempts to re-connect the ‘energies of generation coursing through Man, land and language, to restore continuity while acknowledging change. ‘Anahorish’, ‘Broagh’, and ‘Toome’ renew an ancient genre of Irish poetry called dinnseanchas, which are ‘poems and tales which relate the original meanings of place names and constitute a form of mythological etymology’ (MP98);
  • Voicing the word’ Broagh’ stimulates a spill of images from his earliest years, and brings together in its opening lines the three traditions he encountered then – the Gaelic (Bruach, a riverbank), the Scots (rigs, a Planter word for a riverside field), and the Anglo-Saxon (docken, an Old English plural for the dock plant). Heaney attempts to construct a ford between past and present, and, somewhat opti­mistically, between Nationalist and Unionist. If left to themselves, he implies, perhaps the Ulster Catholics and Protestants might one day learn to accept each other’s traditions and acknowledge the rich diversity of their linguistic heritage … A dominant presence in the poem – as in ‘Anahorish’ and ‘Broagh’ – is water, the healer, the assuager, the shape-changer’ (MP98);
  • 4 quartets; 2 sentence construct; line length 2-7 syllables; unrhymed;
  • copious use of enjambment the breath groups of oral recitation;
  • wealth associated with language sounded and spelt;
  • synesthetic interrelation ship of language and sound; visual and heard juxtaposed;
  • vocabulary from different ages and cultural backgrounds reflecting the place-name’s history;;
  • vocabulary of flourishing nature, growth and water;
  • comparison the sound of rain ceasing to fall guttural final syllable;
  • stern emphatic finish: the common ground does not welcome every Tom, Dick and Harry;
  • 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: 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:
  • the first lines, for example, bring together bilabial plosives [p] [b] and alveolar [d] alongside nasal [n];
  • it is well worth teasing out the sound clusters for yourself 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.