In a poem that foretells (Oracle) of a poet-in-the-making Heaney relives a childhood moment that demonstrates his strong spirit of independence, his sensitivity to the world around and his busy imagination. Once upon a real time, child Heaney’s eagerness to wriggle free of parental control, run ahead and play hide-and-seek in the hollow trunk/ of the willow tree provided a […]

The Backward Look

A complex variant of Heaney’s ‘languagey’ poems, the piece explores linguistic impurities that have crept into the spoken word and adulterated the Irish language. The poet’s principle concern is linguistic dispossession. By use of a kind of Audenesque ‘verbal contraption’ he reflects on the wider erosion of the Irish domain. The landscape might have changed little but the language that […]


For Tom Flanagan Heaney met Tom Flanagan and was inspired by his Ireland-centred thinking at Berkeley. He explains the dedication: ‘It was Tom’s poem because I lifted the conclusion of it from his book on the Irish novelists (The Irish Novelists 1800-1850). The epigraph to that book juxtaposes MacMorris’s question in Henry V ( ) with Bloom’s answer in Ulysses […]

A New Song

The poem spins a web comprising South Derry place names, issues of Irish history (dispossession, uprising), a vanished world, things that happen in real-life (universal: girl-meets-boy; particular: a flood event). Its phonological content adds to the complexity. To help unravel the piece’s message NC refers to the Heaney’s essay ‘1972’ in Preoccupations: ‘discussing his begin­nings as a poet, he writes, […]

The Other Side

As sectarian divisions in Northern Ireland were boiling up into major 1970s conflict Heaney takes a peek back at relationships prevailing in the Heaney neighbourhood of the 1940s. ‘The Other Side’ presents a guarded but benign encounter between your family and your Protestant neighbour Johnny Junkin (DOD131). Heaney’s neighbours as he explained to DOD were ‘both beside us and on […]

The Wool Trade

‘How different are the words “home”, “Christ”, “ale”, “master”, on his lips and mine’ Stephen Dedalus Heaney’s epigraph is taken from James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man at the point when the young Irishman, in his dealings with the English Dean of Studies, suffers ‘unrest of spirit’ when it dawns on him that English (‘so familiar […]

Linen Town

High Street, Belfast, 1786 A pen and ink study on tinted paper of Ye High Streete Belfast Anno Dom 1786 features the old Market House in front of which an insurrectionist would be hanged twelve years after; behind the vignette of bustling, fashionable Belfast life a clock is ticking: the political execution will change everything. Heaney uses a depiction announcing […]

A Northern Hoard

And some in dreams assured were/ of the Spirit that plagued us so Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner of 1798 provides the epigraph to the sequence. Coleridge’s long fable deals with the consequences of an aberrant act upon both the sinner and those around him; it weaves together matters of conscience, danger, serenity, the supernatural, mental health […]


Midnight is to do with being robbed. Loss of language, prosperity and nationhood are dealt with in the collection; to them Heaney adds the contrived extinction of the wolf, once prevalent in Ireland. The spoliation visited on Ireland over the centuries has brought Heaney to a Midnight of gloom: things Irish lost or compromised by a string of occupying armies […]

The Tollund Man

‘I did ‘The Tollund Man’ in Ballydavid in Kerry at Easter in 1970. Marie and I had gone there for holidays regularly …’ (DOD124); I Heaney makes the pledge he will fulfil in 1973 a year after Wintering Out is published: Some day I will go to Aarhus. His pilgrimage will aim to bring him face to face with Tollund […]