Foreword (Wintering Out)

Heaney – selective biography Heaney in 1972 The call of ‘pastures new’ Ulster before Berkeley – Heaney biding his time The Berkeley experience – Heaney on the move Post Berkeley – Heaney burning bridges Tipping point ‘Wintering Out’- publication and reactions ‘Wintering Out’ – the title Style … ‘inward broody’ The ‘languagey’ poems The religious divide of Heaney’s upbringing Sectarianism […]


‘What the Californian distance did was to lead me back into the Irish memory bank’ (DOD142). The first poem of Wintering Out introduces a series of pieces in the collection that identify closely with beloved locations by featuring the sounds of and associations with Irish/ Ulster diction and pronunciation. Heaney refers to them as ‘languagey poems’ (DOD126). Recalled at a […]

Bog Oak

‘What the Californian distance did was to lead me back into the Irish memory bank’ (DOD142). Ulster dialect and pronunciation are woven into the first piece (‘Fodder’) as a shared inheritance of Irish people whatever their religious denomination. The image of a recycled Bog Oak, preserved by the peat bogs that surrounded Heaney’s childhood home, is presented as further ‘common […]


The first of three place-name poems: ‘Anahorish’, ‘Broagh’ and ‘Toome’ are existing communities within a 2 or 3 mile radius of Mossbawn where the poet’s happy childhood unfolded. Heaney attended Anahorish Primary School and featured the townland in a number of pieces. Enigmatically Anahorish does not appear by name on current Ordnance Survey maps yet its identity is memorialized by […]

Servant Boy

Heaney’s poem, based on the experiences of a childhood neighbour Ned Thompson, makes a powerful statement about Irish dispossession at the hands of anglo-scottish invaders and their descendants. The deteriorating circumstances he witnessed upon his return from his sabbatical year at Berkeley served only to confirm the seemingly unchanging fate of the Catholic minority. Heaney portrays a male servant of […]

The Last Mummer

Heaney revealed that his ‘last mummer is, like the servant boy (of the previous poem), an alter ego of sorts, He, too, is ‘resentful and impenitent’(DOD130). The narrative interlaces themes of dispossession, endangered tradition, ‘progress’, superstition, remnants of Scottish New Year ‘good luck’ custom and symbols of Catholic communion set against a landscape literally as old as the hills of […]


Heaney’s 3-poem sequence approaches the title from different angles: a man steeped in country practices announces his intention to go; the effigy he intends to leave behind will transmit the messages of home to him; creatures natural to the Irish landscape-home are under threat from lurking, man-made dangers. A disastrous future for Ulster is on the cards. Land is all-encompassing: […]

Gifts of Rain

Widely regarded as one of the collection’s major pieces, the title introduces the element at the source of all life (Water is certainly a ‘shape-changer’ MP99), dominant feature of Irish climate, determinant of landscape and symbol of cleansing and renewal. Heaney wrote the poem in Berkeley: images, descriptions and associations stem from his Irish memory bank. Allegory is in-built: Heaney’s […]


  Heaney’s second of three ingenious place-name poems contains a phonetic energy that identifies the poet’s specific Ulster background and alludes to the ‘Irish underlay’ of place, time and language that he explores in Wintering Out. As Heaney points out in the notes that follow the ‘languagey’ poems bridged the gap between his working language (English) and his Ulster Irish […]


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 poem ‘acts as the linguistic paradigm for a reconciliation beyond sectarian division’(NC46-8). The poet confessed […]