In Irish Gaelic súgán refers to a kind of straw rope with a variety of uses, for example chair seats; this piece follows the traditional weaving method. The poet himself is managing the system.
The raw material is portrayed in a series of sibilants: The fluster of that soft supply. Dexterity was required to coax ( ) it/ from the ruck and feed it into the weaving machine. By using alliterative groupings Heaney succeeds in conveying both the mechanics, sounds and outcome of the process: taken in by furl and swivel,/ Turned and tightened, rickety-rick, to rope.
At the production end of the process Heaney has a much more physical role, ensuring the length and strength of ‘súgán’, Walking backwards, winding for all I was worth/ By snag and by sag the long and the short of it/ To make ends mesh: a two-handed task, with winder in one hand and the finished product, much stronger now, like fashioned wire, in the other.
The lyrical picture Heaney paints is of a time gone by, a healthy outdoor activity (breeze on my back,/ Sun in my face) that developed fitness and endurance as well as demanding a deft touch and hard work: power to bind and loose/ Eked out and into each last tug and lap.
The metaphor fits the process of writing perfectly.
- Heaney describes an age-old process, its material and its product. Though unstated, a parallel is drawn: the composition of a poem is as complex and demanding of energy, skill and commitment as the practice being described;
- sonnet containing broken lines; full lines based on 10 syllables; no rhyme scheme but ends of line show an assonant chain of [æ] hand/ haft/ back/ lap; the combination of punctuation and enjambed lines somehow echoes the bitty process of producing rope from hay;
- in (1) [ʌ] and sibilants [s] associate: fluster/ soft supply/ coaxed/ handfuls/ ruck/; then alveolar plosive [t] and [ɜː] combine: taken/ furl/ turned and tightened with assonant [ɪ] that mimics the sound of the process and comments on the dilapidation rickety and the provenance of the hay rick;
- the composition of (2) into (3) blends consonants [w] walking backwards winding and [s] sag/ snag/short/ ends mesh with assonant [æ] sag and snag and [e] ends mesh/ left/ elderberry;
- the final lines are rich with the monosyllables of bitty activities with [i:] breeze/ eked/ each;