Gravities

The poem precedes a suite of seven poems devoted to stages in his relationship with Marie Devlin. It acts as a kind of foreword reflecting on the force that draws objects inexorably together. It is about pull and resistance, freedom and restriction, seriousness and levity of manner. The poet prepares the ground for what the coming together of two people entails.

The poet does not accept that high-riding kites have the licence to range freely. He submits that they are in fact strongly controlled (reined by strings strict and invisible). Likewise the pigeon that flies away (deserts you suddenly) is bound by an instinctively faithful impulse to return home.

After they have subjected each other to barrages of hot insult often leaving them worse off (cutting off their noses to spite their face) the remorseful consciences of truly loving couples seek readmission to the native port of their embrace by saying ‘sorry’.

Home-sickness provides a powerful emotional pull. Heaney uses two Irish icons, one literary and the other religious, to demonstrate this: James Joyce ‘exiled’ in Paris was able to name the shops along O’Connell Street of his native Dublin both to demonstrate his true provenance and to prove that neither blindness nor alcohol had a negative effect upon his intellect!   

Similarly, as legend would have it, the missionary-monk Colmcille sought to provide himself with a constant reminder of his rich organic homeland (sought ease/ By wearing Irish mould next to his feet).

  • Heaney’s Irish exiles: the author, James Joyce, losing his sight and boozing in Paris after 1920; Colmcille (St Columba, the ‘dove’ of the church) in exile amidst the Pictish tribes around the Scottish island of Iona in the 6th Neither of them ever shook off the gravitational pull of their Irish origins.
  • gravity: Heaney explores the effect of different forces of attraction from basic Newtonian physics to Plato’s idea of the coming together of like bodies; note also gravity as ‘something of great importance’;
  • kite: a light-framed toy flown in the wind at the end of a long string;
  • range freely: go wherever they will;
  • reined: restrained;
  • instinct: an innate response to circumstances;
  • barrage: broadside, salvo;
  • spite: deliberately hurt; the whole phrase warns against disadvantaging oneself by willfully attempting to gain an advantage;
  • James Joyce, Irish author, journalist, playwright (1882 – 1941) suffered from chronic iritis that ultimately deprived him of his sight;f
  • blinding: as well as hinting at the author’s medical condition, the word plays on the notion of blind drunkenness (total inebriation) and associated loss of faculties;
  • party-piece: some feat of memory regularly performed to entertain others;
  • O’Connell Street: a main thoroughfare in Dublin;
  • Iona: small Inner-Hebridean island close to the Scottish coast where St Columba founded a monastery around 560AD;
  • Colmcille: Irish name for Columba;
  • mould: rich organic soil ;

 

  • 12 lines of 10 syllables; rhyme scheme abab cdcd;
  • assonant effects: [ai] high/ riding/kites/ quite; [ei]  range/ reined, declare, wearing [e] endure re-enter, next; [ɪ] strings/ strict/ invisible/ instinctively; [ʌ] suddenly/ faithful, lovers;[ɒ] hot/ often/ off; shops/ Connell [i:] Paris [par’ee]/ party/ piece/ Colmcille;
  • alliteration: heading/ home; Connell/ Colmcille         
  • vocabulary reflecting the different faces of human endearment: a pigeon deserts yet remains faithful;
  • Often cut off their nose to spite their face echoes an idiom suggesting that a lover who seeks to hurt his loved one can ultimately do himself greater damage;

 

  • 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: nine 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 verse, for example, weaves together labio-dental fricatives [f] [v], a cluster of plosives (alveolar [t][d], velar [k] [g]) alongside alveolar [r] and 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]; interlabial 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/ ang