May 312016
 

Serenades

Following the domestic tribulations of ‘Summer Home’ the Heaney family back home; harmony has been restored, the children are sleeping soundly and love is renewed. The poet celebrates the Serenades to be heard, before inviting his wife to shut out the world and retire for the night with him.

Heaney engages in a spot of leg-pulling – the Irish nightingale is a figment of Irish folklore imagination. ‘Their’ Irish version is a sedge-warbler, a bird noted for the unromantic din it makes (A little bird with a big voice/ Kicking up a racket all night) decidedly unemblematic of Irish musical culture: Not what you’d expect/ From the musical nation.

Wherever the Irish nightingale is supposed to perform it has never turned up in his neck of the woods: I haven’t even heard one –/ Nor an owl, for that matter.

My serenades have been those of the farmland landscapes of his Ulster environment: the deep, raucous sounds from rookery treetops, The broken voice of a crow in flight or imagined (In a draught or a dream); the asthmatic nocturnal creatures (The wheeze of bats); the anti-aircraft sounds (ack-ack) of the scruffy, itinerant tramp corncrake confused by a farming industry of big equipment and pesticides hostile to birdlife: Lost in a no man’s land/ Between combines and chemicals.

Heaney’s composes own night call to his beloved … before we retire, let us increase the chances of an undisturbed night: fill the bottles, love,/ Leave them inside their cots (whether to feed their two young sons or keep them warm).

Should his little plan fail, so be it; the disturbance the children cause will be on a par with the ‘Irish nightingale’: And if they do wake us, well,/ So would the sedge-warbler.

  • serenade: open-air music sung typically by a man beneath his loved-one’s window at night;
  • Irish nightingale: wishful thinking on Heaney’s part; nightingales do not breed in Ireland;
  • sedge warbler: a small, quite plump bird with a striking broad creamy stripe above its eye, and greyish brown legs; a summer visitor to the British Isles ; its song is a noisy, rambling warble;
  • kick up a racket: produce loud noises, make a din;
  • for that matter: ‘the same applies to’;
  • broken: human voices deepen in puberty; compared with other birds the crow’s call is in the lowest register;
  • draught: current of cold air;
  • wheeze: describes an audible, whistling sound (made typically by people with congested breathing);
  • ack-ack: anti-aircraft gunfire;
  • corncrake: a bird related to moorhens, coots and rails but living on dry land; secretive hiding in tall grass and only betrayed by its rasping call; summer visitor;
  • no man’s land: the wilderness separating opposing forces in trench warfare;
  • combines: shortened form for ‘combine-harvesters’ (a one-trip agricultural harvesting machine);
  • bottles: containers of babies’ milk feeds; also hot water containers to warm beds;
  • Heaney reveals to DOD (p147) that he wrote Serenades during a very productive week of ‘about forty poems in May I969;
  • 5 quatrains; 5 sentence construct; lines of 4-8 syllables; unrhymed but with a number of assonant line ends;
  • the balance of enjambed lines and punctuation regulates the breath groups of oral delivery;
  • verb tenses : use of simple present, present perfect and conditional;
  • antithesis: ‘ little … big’;
  • stressing nationhood: bird species include Irish nightingale; the Irish deemed ‘the musical nation’;
  • hearsay: description of a bird he later reveals he has not seen;
  • negatives: ‘ -n’t even … nor’;
  • extended contrast/ paradox: intrusive, unpleasant bird-sound (‘racket … broken … wheeze’) will be sweet music from the mouths of wakeful children;
  • metaphor: the corncrake portrayed as the lost victim of modern farming practices echoes the poet’s inner feelings about modernism;
  • conversational section (reported speech yet as if said);
  • juxtaposition of words of warmth and security: ‘bottles, love’ – the comforts of hot water bottle and wife;
  • repetition of ‘so’ used differently: adverb that emphasizes ( ‘time we …) conjunction ‘in the same way ‘;
  • 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 effects allow pulses or beats or soothings or hissings or frictions of consonant sound to modify the assonant melodies:
  • the first lines, for example, initial sibilants s] [sh] give way to more percussive plosive sounds: alveolar [d] [t, velar [k] [g];
  • 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.