S Seamus Heaney

Postscript by Seamus Heaney

Within ‘Postscript’ Heaney delves into themes of nature, experience, and time.  He presents the reader with a series of images that can only be experienced once and one should not expect to see ever again. Emotion plays an important role in this text, especially in the concluding lines as the wind buffets the car. 

Postscript by Seamus Heaney

 

Summary

Postscript’ by Seamus Heaney is a short, meditative poem that describes a transitory moment by the sea and the sight of swans on a lake. 

The poem begins with the speaker telling the reader they should take the time to travel to the Flaggy Shore in the northern part of County Clare, Ireland. There, if they arrive between September and October, they’ll see the area at its best. The sea will light up and glitter and there will be swans landing on the “inland” lake. He focuses on these creatures, describing them and their actions in great detail. The purity of this moment should not be violated by attempts to know it more fully. Instead, one should let the emotion rock their body, experiencing it this once in that time and place. 

You can read the full poem here and more Seamus Heaney poems here.

 

Structure 

Postscript’ by Seamus Heaney is a sixteen-line poem contained within a single stanza. Heaney did not choose to imbue this piece with a specific rhyme scheme, but there are moments of half-rhyme. These are seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For example, the long “i” sound in “time” and “drive” in the first line. Or, the same sound reappearing in the fifth line with “side” and “wild”. Other examples include “blow” and “open” in the last line of the poem, as well as “heart” and “guard”. 

 

Poetic Techniques

Heaney also makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Postscript’ these include alliteration, personification, enjambment, metaphor, anaphora, and repetition. The latter, repetition, is the use and reuse of a specific technique, word, tone or phrase within a poem. For instance, in the first line, the word “time” appears twice. Anaphora is another kind of repetition. It is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. For example, “Their” at the beginning of lines nine and ten. 

Personification is also present in ‘Postscript’. It occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. In the ninth and tenth lines, Heaney describes the swans through human terms, they are “headstrong-looking”. 

Another technique Heaney makes use of is alliteration. It occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “County Clare” in line one and “roughed and ruffling” in line nine. Other examples include “big” and “buffetings” in line fifteen and “white on white” in line nine. 

Finally, enjambment. It can be seen when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For instance, the transition between lines three and four as well as between lines seven and eight. 

 

Analysis of Postscript 

Lines 1-4

And some time make the time to drive out west
(…)
And the light are working off each other

In the first lines of ‘Postscript,’ the speaker begins by making use of repetition. He repeats the word “time,” emphasizing that the reader should take the time, when they can, to “drive out west / Into County Clare”. It is interesting to note that Heaney began this poem with the word “And”. This is quite an unusual way to start such an important line of verse and has the effect of pulling the reader straight into the text. 

Specifically, the speaker is interested in having the reader imagine the “Flaggy Shore” in the north of County Clare. He thinks that “September or October” would be best, as the “light” and “wind” are “working off each other”. One benefits the other. The fourth line is enjambed, leading the reader quickly into the fifth line. 

Lines 5-8 

So that the ocean on one side is wild
(…)
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,

He goes on, expanding his description of the scene. If one was there, at the right time, at the Flaggy Shore they’d see how the “ocean on one side is wild”. There, as the sun, water, and wind interact, one can see “foam and glitter”. There is something magical about this simple description. A perfect confluence of elements makes for a one-of-a-kind sight that’s worth seeing, at least to the speaker’s mind. 

Moving away from the sea, the speaker describes an “inland” lake. It is surrounded by stones and the surface is “slate-grey”. Despite this fact, and the prominent juxtaposition between the lake and sea, there is some light. It is “lit” by something that has the qualities of lightning, but isn’t– “a flock of swans”. 

 

Lines 9-12

Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
(…)
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it

The next four lines of ‘Postscript’ zoom in closer to the swans. The speaker takes note of the shape and movement of their feathers. The word “ruffling” is used to describe the way they move, as well as the sounds they make as they do. The feathers, “white on white” create their own light in amongst the monotone shades of the lake. 

Heaney also personifies the swans. They are said to have “fully grown headstrong-looking”. This is a human characteristic that speaks to an excess of confidence. They move constantly, sometimes with their heads “tucked,” other times “busy underwater”. 

The twelfth line is enjambed again, informing the reader, in part, that it’s “Useless” to try to stop and “capture” the moment. 

 

Lines 13-16

More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
(…)
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

The line concludes, and the speaker tells the reader that “You are neither here nor there”. One should not try to enter more fully into the swan’s world or place themselves firmly on solid ground. He tells the reader that they should take advantage of the “known and strange things” as they pass. 

‘Postscript’ concludes by zooming back again and speaking on the wind buffeting the side of the car. Its power catches “the heart off guard” and is able to blow it up, triggering a real emotional response that can’t be duplicated. 

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About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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