Seamus Heaney

Storm on the Island by Seamus Heaney

The poem, ‘Storm on the Island’ by Seamus Heaney, describes how an islander or the islanders lives or live their lives on an island that is frequently hit by the fierce and ravaging storms. Discover more poetry from Seamus Heaney.

Storm on the Island by Seamus Heaney


Storm on the Island Analysis

The poem, which can be read in full here, begins with robust confidence, when the speakers in the poem say, “We are prepared”, which means that the islanders on the island are all set to confront a storm, but all their practices and past experiences come to nothing when the storm takes fierce form, and devastate all that hinders its ways. The after-effects of stormy weather on an island are so ravaging and destructive that the islanders have learned to make their architecture and farming methods, as per the conditions of the weather. All the dealings with the environment must be according to the climate on the island. The islanders have not developed these practices in just one day, one month, or one year, rather they went through several years of hardship by living on such island, and then they became accustomed to the tempestuous weather or climate of an island.

The landscape of the island being discussed in this poem is bleak and exposed to all those elements that are expected from such islands. The very starting word ‘we’ denote a collective and cultural voice of solidarity. This is the community that has to face a common enemy i.e. the unpredictably stormy weather. The landscape is bleak and inhospitable, allowing what we might consider subsistence without luxury.

In the third line of the poem, the readers are told that “The wizened earth” cannot yield hay as it is barren. There’re no “stacks” or “stooks” of it. The readers are also told about the extreme power of nature, isolation, and the difference between perceived and real danger.

In the poem, where, on the one hand, the readers are told about the invisible power of a storm, they are also introduced to its palpable aspect, which comes in both psychological and physical ways. This is the reason why, the islanders are required to adapt their farming practices by taking into account the possible, predictable, and potential effects of the tempestuous weather. For instance, in lines 1 and 2, the poet says, the islanders build their houses “squat”, they have well-grounded walls in “rock” and have a roof built with heavy slate.

The idea of danger and exposure is best represented all through the poem. By its very nature, an island is more devastatingly influenced by harsh weather than a much greater non-coastal landmass. The island doesn’t even have the company of trees that can “raise a tragic chorus in a gale” (line 8) to divert the attention of the listeners from the startling reality that the wind “pummels” not only the houses but the surrounding landscape, as well. Here the poet through the use of ‘chorus’ creates a mournful atmosphere and tells that the islanders don’t have any such source that can help in diverting their attention away from the hard-core reality of their situation. It looks as if they alone are prey to the gale. The inhospitable sea is described as “Exploding comfortably down the cliffs” (line 13). Here the use of the verb “exploding” points to an image, which relates to an ordinance of war, something that’s created in ensuing lines.

Explosions look natural to the personified sea, which helps in reinforcing how alarming it is for the querulous people on the receiving end of the storm’s attack. The quick-changing nature of weather into the storm is best represented by an image of “a tame cat / Turned savage” in lines 15-16. However, the islanders know how to endure the storm, and therefore they “sit tight” (line 16). The unbridled power of the storm is well-depicted by the strongly alliterated sounds of “spray”, “hits”, “spits” and “cat”.

The island is under the attack of nature; it is assaulted by nature. Extended military metaphor depicts the storm as a fighter plane that “strafes invisibly”. This is supported with normally used terms such as “strafed” and “bombarded”. These terms give a description of a fighter pilot’s use of bombs and machine guns. This extremely ferocious imagery makes the storm look as if an air force is on the hunt for destroying the island. Heaney brings to light the mysterious or secretive power of the wind by defining it is “empty air” and “a huge nothing” that’s the root of all this feared devastation. This poem doesn’t just relate itself with a storm on an island but gets engaged with the idea that no matter how rooted and practical we are, there exist powers further than us that are in the end more mysterious and more influential than us. This poem ponders over the force of nature and talks about what after-effects it has on human imaginings.

The poem has a very conversational tone that best fits a dramatic monologue. At certain point in the poem, the islander is depicted clearly talking as if sharing a confidence with someone when he says, “you know what I mean” (line 7).

In the poem, ‘Storm on the Island’ the poet Seamus Heaney has very powerfully evoked the atmosphere and throws challenges to the idealized thinking about living on an island. He says this is not an island where you wish to spend a romantic retreat; rather an island that you will have to learn to endure. Let’s face it; life is not a ‘bed of roses’, it doesn’t always have good weather. There comes a time when we all have to gather and use all our inner strength, our resources to triumph over our fear. The poem describes a blasted landscape, possibly one of the Arran islands off the West coast of Ireland.

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Dharmender Kumar Poetry Expert
Dharmender is a writer by passion, and a lawyer by profession. He has has a degree in English literature from Delhi University, and Mass Communication from Bhartiya Vidhya Bhavan, Delhi, as well as holding a law degree. Dharmender is awesomely passionate about Indian and English literature.
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