The poem precedes a suite of seven poems devoted to stages in his relationship with Marie Devlin. It acts as a preface that considers the force that draws objects inexorably together; it is about pull and resistance, freedom and restriction, seriousness and levity. The poet prepares the ground for the serious responsibilities that love and marriage entail.
The apparent licence for high-riding kites to range freely is illusory; the kite is actually bound by human controls: reined by strings strict and invisible.
Homing pigeons liberated into the air are actually bound by an instinctively faithful impulse to return home.
The consciences of couples truly in love, after they have subjected each other to barrages of hot insult/ Often cutting off their noses to spite their face, are troubled; as a result they admit mutual remorse and show repentance within the native port of their embrace.
Home-sickness provides a powerful gravitational pull. Heaney uses two Irish icons the first literary and the other religious to demonstrate this: James Joyce ‘exiled’ in Paris, as if to prove that his further exile by blindness had no negative effect upon his intellect or his nationalistic zeal, was able to name the shops along O’Connell Street in his native Dublin.
Similarly, as legend would have it, the missionary-monk Colmcille, provided himself with a constant reminder of his rich organic roots: sought ease/ By wearing Irish mould next to his feet.
- Heaney explores the effect of different forces of attraction from basic Newtonian physics to Plato’s idea of the coming together of like bodies, even Aristotle’s notion of self-propelling forces;
- the title offers more than one possibility: the force in physics that holds everything earth-bound; the serious manner required in certain circumstances;
- Heaney selects 2 famous Irish exiles whose ‘gravities’ naturally drew them to Ireland: Colmcille: St Columba (the ‘dove’ of the church) who in exile conducted a religious mission amongst the Pictish tribes from the Scottish island of Iona in the 6th century never reneged on his Irish origins;
- James Joyce, Irish author, journalist, playwright (1882 – 1941) suffered from chronic iritis that ultimately deprived him of his sight (blinding in Paris);
- 12 lines of 10 syllables; rhyme scheme abab cdcd;
- assonant effects: [ai] high/ riding/kites/ quire; [ei] range/ reined; endure; [e] declare/ re-enter/ wearing/ next; [ɪ] strings/ strict/ invisible/ instinctively; [ʌ] suddenly/ faithful;[ɒ] lovers/ hot/ often/ off; shops/ Connell; [i:] Paris [par’ee]/ party/ piece/ Colmcille;
- minor alliteration: heading/ home; Connell/ Colmcille;
- antithesis reflecting the different faces of relationships: a pigeon deserts but is in fact faithful;
- Often cut off their nose to spite their face: the idiom suggests that the lovers who seek to hurt their loved ones can ultimately do themselves greater damage.