The Underground

The Underground Heaney dramatises an incident from his honeymoon, dissolving a panicky rush into a version of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Underground and Underworld merge in a fusion of reality and nightmare. A London Underground tunnel is the unifying factor: first a memory played out (then),the intimate recollection of a mad rush to get to a Promenade concert […]

La Toilette

La Toilette The early-morning embrace of a loved one recalls unwelcome memories of Heaney’s Catholic training. The die is cast, however: Marie’s is Heaney’s new sacred body. Initial sensual contact focuses on the nightwear and body of a woman engaged at her ‘toilette’. The speaker’s voice reveals the excitement generated by the way she presents herself: bathrobe/ ungirdled, first coldness […]

Sloe Gin

Sloe Gin Heaney proposes a lyrical toast to a drink made from sloe berries that drip with taste and sensation and to the woman who produces sloe gin. The poem salutes the creation of an enjoyable tipple. The process is defined as a late autumn activity performed as the clear weather of juniper/ darkened into winter. The tipple-maker simply added […]

Away from it All

Away from it All The poem should be read in the context of the ‘Troubles’ in Ulster at a time of internment without trial, of the H-Blocks at Long Kesh and of hunger strikers, summed up in‘it All‘. Heaney, a poet in the public eye, acknowledges that he has often been absent from Ulster as events unfolded; he has sympathy […]

Chekhov on Sakhalin

Chekhov on Sakhalin These instances from a political pilgrimage are dedicated to fellow Ulster man of Letters Derek Mahon (to whom Heaney’s Seeing Things collection is dedicated); amongst their numerous contacts Heaney and Mahon shared, in 1977, an Arts Council tour entitled In Their Element; The poem should be read in the context of the Troubles in Ulster at a […]

Sandstone Keepsake

Sandstone Keepsake The poem should be read in the context of the Troubles in Ulster at a time of internment without trial, of H-Blocks at Long Kesh and hunger strikers. Heaney is holding a stone that he once picked up on the border separating Ulster from the Irish Republic. It comes to symbolise the speaker’s inner conflict in face of […]

Shelf Life

Shelf Life   Memories are awakened by items that sit on ‘surfaces’ within Heaney’s private space; contrary tothe modern term ‘shelf-life’ that sets out the time it takes for perishables to become unfit for consumption, Heaney’s items remain timeless, have no ‘sell-by-date’. Heaney maps out his private space (in) six terse lyrics (MP p187). 1. Granite Chip The speaker once […]

A Migration

A Migration The title introduces an all-female family group that has moved communities for reasons of necessity. Their new accommodation, close to where the speaker lives, is down-at-heel: leaking roof ../ cracked dormer windows. The identities of those involved are clarified. Standing out in his memory is the adolescent Brigid and the life-style imposed upon her: the sharing of a […]

Last Look

Last Look The poet recounts the speaker’s last sighting of an old man taking his last look at the environment in which he has spent his life. Heaney’s in memoriam is addressed to the memory E.G. and though we later learn the man’s family name, no further identity is provided.   A couple out for a spin above the sea-shore […]

Remembering Malibu

Remembering Malibu Dedicated to Brian Moore, Belfast novelist and friend, remembered by Heaney for his ‘kindness’ and his invitation to the Heaney family to visit him and his wife at their home in Malibu around 1970. New experiences challenge old attachments, transition is in the making.   The first of two ‘American’ poems and first of a series of poems […]