Turkeys Observed

Turkeys Observed

Heaney provides an object lesson in transposing close observation into verse. Shop-window displays of regulation Christmas fare set up a chain of associations in the poet’s mind leading from the ‘v’ of the Diviner’s hazel stick in the previous poem to the ‘v’ of a turkey’s wishbone! Heaney laments the sorry sight of turkeys slaughtered in cold blood for Man’s Christmastide self-indulgence.

He describes them blue-breasted, royal in death, lying on show in the butcher’s indifferent mortuary; akin to huge sea creatures or ditched planes, they lie in shop after shop beached bare on the cold marble slabs reduced as turkeys to wearing only immodest underwear frills of feather.

Hung beef has grandeur, retaining Some of the smelly majesty of living; to Heaney the presence of a side of beef ensures that the blood and flesh are not ignored.

No such dignity amongst poultry: the turkey cowers in death, all too easily despatched and de-feathered, reduced to just another poor forked thing. Heaney weaves the corpse’s shape, size, consistency and colour into a line of fewer than ten syllables: A skin bag plumped with inky putty.

Alive, the turkey was querulous, complained extravagantly … lorded it in the farm-yard’s claw-flecked mud; he possessed the blinking, ‘knowing’ grey flick of his Confucian eye.
In death the turkey is part of the bleak Christmas dazzle, ubiquitous, sad as aircraft abandoned on disused arodromes ranged in their cold squadrons, bereft of their glory: fuselage/ bare/ proud wings snapped, their downfall evident in the very part of them that bristled with life, character and swank: The tail-fan stripped down to s shameful rudder.

  • 5 quatrains; lines of different length between 7 and 10 syllables with subsequent variations in rhythm and emphasis; free verse;
  • with its tone of elegy the poem focuses on the sorry corpses of turkeys once alive now dead;
  • alliterative effects: voiceless labio-dental [f[ frills of feather …claw-flecked … flick;
  • assonant echoes: persistent use of [ʌ]: slung/ hook/ blood/ pull/ pluck/ look/ just another; ə]  poor/ forked/ lorded/ claw;
  • vowel and consonant sounds in tandem: indifferent mortuary/ immodest/ frills of feather; skin/ plumped/ inky/ putty;
  • persistent consonant echoes: bi-labial plosive [b] observes/ blue-breasted/ beached/ bare/ marble/ slabs; sibilant [s] and [z]: sides/ some/ smelly/ majesty/ pass/ Christmas dazzle;
  • Heaney recalls depictions of the 4c BC Chinese philosopher Confucius that perfectly match his descriptive aim: grey flick of his Confucian eye;
  • Paradox: bleak Christmas;
  • forked thing: eaten with a fork; containing a forked wishbone;
  • aviation vocabulary in support of the imagery;


  • Neil Corcoran The Poetry of Seamus Heaney, A Critical Study refers to insistent anthropomorphisms (p.3) (the attribution of human qualities to non-human objects);