To Pablo Neruda in Tamlaghtduff


Heaney provides a second example of ‘erotic’ pleasure in the newly discovered sense of ‘Fiddleheads’. The poem describes how something exquisite can come from something that is unlovely.

The speaker has received a gift from a local acquaintance: crab-apple jelly made from crabs off the tree/ That grew at Duff’s Corner in fact still grows there. The product is greeted with some incredulity: a tree I never once saw/ with crab apples on it.

The speaker’s visual memory of the tree is as unfavourable as can be: Contrary, unflowery/ sky whisk and bristle, more/ twig fret than fruit fort; a cantankerous tree that showed no sign of fertility or fruit, was shaped like an implement used to scare off flies or kitchen utensil and resembled an unprepossessing haphazard criss-cross fretwork of twigs. Knowing the jelly’s provenance he can anticipate only sourness from a tree crabbed,/ as crabbed could be.

Surprise, surprise!  He reworks a common exclamation ‘Oh my goodness me’: O my Pablo of Earthlife! The jelly is delightful: all freshets and orbs, with mouth-watering liquidity and chunks of fruit. Its savour generates involuntary memory in the best Proustian tradition, a lyrical apotheosis of days gone by: My eyes were on stalks/ I was back on the old stamping-grounds, amidst high summer’s smoulder/ under our own tree ascendant. This Pure hindsight confirms the sovereign nature of the jelly’s orbs, its plentiful fruit, a crab hoard and corona of gold.

From a distance Heaney recalls the lyricism of Neruda, whose poetry provided the precedent for celebrating such bounty: O my home-truth Neruda,/ round-faced as the crowd/ at the crossroads, with your eyes/ I see it.

No common-or-garden jelly, good enough to cause taste-bud/ and tear-duct melt down; for the speaker, such a moment is an excuse for regaling himself and spreading the jelly on thick/ as if there were no tomorrow.

His final phrase does more than describe extremes of self-indulgence. At his time of life this treat might literally be his last opportunity!

  • Tamlaghtduff is a small townland in County Derry, not far from Glenshane Pass mentioned in ‘Boarders’
  • Pablo Neruda was a Chilean poet and diplomat awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. His poems reflected the struggle for social justice and the socio-economic developments of Latin America whilst expressing his personal and emotional feelings, often in the most lyrical of ways. The poem contains a tribute to a kindred spirit.
  • Fitz:a prefix common to Irish names denoting ‘son of’ (Fr. fils) as with  MacDuff, Johnson  etc;
  • Crab-apples are generally sour to the taste; the adjective ‘crabby’ is applied to people with sour natures;
  • Freshet: 1590s, “stream flowing into the sea. Orb: both fruit-shaped ‘globe’ and symbol of sovereignty, royalty;
  • 2 seven lined stanzas and 24 lines in a single section; lines of variable length between 2 and 8 syllables;
  • no formal rhyme scheme but some pairs and loose echoes: Corner repeated: saw/ more/ fort; be/ tree;
  • the piece is an excellent example of  sonic composition:
  • Stanza (1) picks up assonant suggestions from the tile; [æ] Pablo Neruda/ Tamlaghtduff; crab-apple/ crabs repeated [e] Neruda/ jelly/ never; alliterative effects are produced by paired [dʒ] jar/ jelly followed by a weave of alveolar [k] Tamlaghtduff/ repeated crab and its voiced partner alveolar [d, all the Duffs] [g] grew/ grows; fricative [f] Tamlaghtduff/ Fitzduff/ off/ Duff’s; the stanzas enjambed lines and use of dashes illustrates the pause require for memory to intercede in the middle;
  • in (2 ) unusual [i] sound of Contrary, unflowery precedes a cluster of [ɪwhisk/ bristle/ twig; reprise of {k} contrary/ sky-whisk/ crabbed/ could; two pairs rhyme;
  • the [e] of remembered is picked up after line 15: then/ when/ freshets; breasting/  smelling/ nettles; a peal of assonant variants on vowel (o) brings together[əʊ] O/ Pablo/ old/ road/ smoulder/ own with[ɔː] orbs/ stalks; [au] rounds/ cow; [ɒ foxgloves/ of;
  • the same section up to line 30 offers a cluster of alveolar [s] [t] tasted/ stuff/ freshets/ orbs/ eyes/ stalks overtaken by alveolar [r] freshets/ rutted cart road/ rounds/ district/ breasting itself overtaken by sibilants culminating in summer’s smoulder/ ascendant; less stressed (o) sound  [ʌ] of summer’s/ under/ -duff is replaced by the stronger [əʊ]: corona of gold and  [ai] hindsight; cluster of participles –ing;
  • the final sentence replays [əʊ]:home/ crossroads/ no tomorrow introducing [au] now/ round/ crowd/ now/ down alongside  [ʌ] in tandem with alveolar [t] [d] taste-bud/ tear-duct and [e] melt/ spread/ jelly/ there;