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An Ulster Twilight -- Seamus Heaney

Guest poem submitted by Janice:
(Poem #1793) An Ulster Twilight
 The bare bulb, a scatter of nails,
 Shelved timber, glinting chisels:
 In a shed of corrugated iron
 Eric Dawson stoops to his plane
 At five o'clock on a Christmas Eve.
 Carpenter's pencil next, the spoke-shave,
 Fretsaw, auger, rasp and awl,
 A rub with a rag of linseed oil.
 A mile away it was taking shape,
 The hulk of a toy battleship,
 As waterbuckets iced and frost
 Hardened the quiet on roof and post.
 Where is he now?
 There were fifteen years between us two
 That night I strained to hear the bells
 Of a sleigh of the mind and heard him pedal
 Into our lane, get off at the gable,
 Steady his Raleigh bicycle
 Against the whitewash, stand to make sure
 The house was quiet, knock at the door
 And hand his parcel to a peering woman:
 `I suppose you thought I was never coming.'
 Eric, tonight I saw it all
 Like shadows on your workshop wall,
 Smelled wood shavings under the bench,
 Weighed the cold steel monkey-wrench
 In my soft hand, then stood at the road
 To watch your wavering tail-light fade
 And knew that if we met again
 In an Ulster twilight we would begin
 And end whatever we might say
 In a speech all toys and carpentry,
 A doorstep courtesy to shun
 Your father's uniform and gun,
 But -- now that I have said it out --
 Maybe none the worse for that.
-- Seamus Heaney
This is one of my favourite Heaney poems -- simple, beautiful, so
atmospheric. Okay, a little background on Ulster. Ulster is one of the
provinces of Ireland and makes up Northern Ireland which is part of The
United Kingdom (except for three counties which are part of The Republic of
Ireland). The majority of the population, the Unionists, wish to remain
under The United Kingdom stamp while a minority, the Nationalists, long for
a United Ireland. The conflict of course, arises from the fact that the
former are predominantly Protestant and the latter are mainly Catholics.
Political unrest was at its worst during 1968-1994, violence stemming from
the wish to end British presence in the area launched by the Provisional
IRA, resisted by the British Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. (For a
far more detailed account check http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulster)

This state of being neither here nor there, of an uneasy silence, of
brooding heaviness is beautifully captured in Ulster Twilight, the title
encompassing the situation and feelings of a people who fight for freedom
and identity. Heaney begins with fragmented images, small images, like
little pictures that flash through a window. A work-shop where anything
could be in the process of being made -- a bomb? a weapon? But it is
Christmas Eve and Eric Dawson is making a toy battleship -- but a battleship
all the same. The frosty evening images reflect the sombre, cold
relationships.

Then we realise that it is a flashback. It is a Christmas Eve of fifteen
years ago, a surreptious evening unmarked by the season's cheer and
brightness. It is steeped in an atmosphere of surveillance, the cautiously
peering woman, the little boy watching with a monkey wrench in hand ...
while the man does something as simple as deliver a present. The dim hope
held at the end is that perhaps if they ever met again, there could be some
sort of dialogue (note: a 'speech', not even a conversation) and not a mere
doorstep courtesy.

I love the fact that the movement of the poem spirals as we reach the end.
Beginning with sharp, small images the feeling at the end is of something
larger, looming, something that envelopes and permeates. The underlying
violence, tension is like a gun that's trained on you, waiting to go off.

Hope you enjoy the poem!

Regards
Janice.

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brooding weight is magnificently taken in Ulster Evening, the title encompassing the scenario and emotions of a people who battle for freedom and identification. Haney starts with fragmented images, little images, like little images that display through a window

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