Analysis of Poem "Mossbawn: Sunlight" by Seamus Heaney

Updated on May 3, 2018
chef-de-jour profile image

Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney | Source

Seamus Heaney and Mossbawn: Sunlight

Mossbawn: Sunlight is a poem that focuses on Seamus Heaney's childhood and the loving relationship he had with his Aunt Mary on the family farm at Mossbawn, County Derry, Northern Ireland.

  • The poem is a subtle exploration of the atmosphere within the house as the auntie makes bread, of the remembered light and love, and shifts between past and present which allows the reader to take in the rich, digestible language.
  • It is an evocative mix of timelessness and ticking time, a blending of elements (water and fire) and of the passing of an era. The reader experiences an almost hypnotic energy as the poem progresses, which comes from Heaney's intuitive power over form and content.

You can picture the poet going over each line, reflecting on the sounds and meaning as both build up through the seven stanzas:

'The gift of writing is to be self-forgetful, to get a surge of inner life or inner supply or unexpected sense of empowerment, to be afloat, to be out of yourself.'

First published in 1975 in the book North, this poem has all the signature Heaney ingredients - plenty of alliteration, assonance and deep, long vowels, sensual feel to the language and the juxtaposed past and present.

Mossbawn: Sunlight

There was a sunlit absence.
The helmeted pump in the yard
heated its iron,
water honeyed

in the slung bucket
and the sun stood
like a griddle cooling
against the wall

of each long afternoon.
So, her hands scuffled
over the bakeboard,
the reddening stove

sent its plaque of heat
against her where she stood
in a floury apron
by the window.

Now she dusts the board
with a goose's wing,
now sits, broad-lapped,
with whitened nails

and measling shins:
here is a space
again, the scone rising
to the tick of two clocks.

And here is love
like a tinsmith's scoop
sunk past its gleam
in the meal-bin.

Analysis of Mossbawn: Sunlight

Mossbawn: Sunlight starts off with an ambiguous first line, a single sentence, which creates a sense of something being there yet being ephemeral. That phrase sunlit absence suggests that the speaker is already looking back into a particular light. How come there's an absence? Something missing from the past?

The speaker takes the reader into a yard where a metal pump warms up, the pump being a symbol of life because it brings fresh water. It's certainly an early focal point, where elements blend, water and fire (from the sun), a creative fusion.

Water is made sweet with that word honeyed which enhances the sense of warmth and goodness as the throaty vowels - slung bucket/sun stood - bring depth and strength.

  • The sun is like a griddle (a metal plate used for cooking) and is a familiar presence, time seeming to stand still on those long afternoons of childhood. Note the only use of a simile.

The third stanza tells the reader that there is someone else besides the speaker, casually introduced in that ninth line...So, her hands scuffled ...this is the poet's aunt Mary in real life. And she's making bread, another vital ingredient for life.

This is building up into a solid scene of domesticity, a closed and cosy environment which is secure and safe and nurturing.

Again there is the focus on heat, this time the stove becoming the vital object as it gives heat with which the bread can be baked but equally as important this same heat affects the auntie who is by the window in the light. This is a parallel to the sun and its influence in the yard.

  • Has the past become the present? Now she dusts....it could well be that, in the mind of the speaker, time has stopped, yet the memories are fresh and being refreshed as the poem progresses.
  • This is one of the strengths of this poem - it has a timelessness about it, but is rooted in reality because bread is being made, a fundamental domestic task, and scones are being timed by two clocks.

And throughout the poem enjambment takes the reader on, momentum increasing until the next pause, when things slow down and the past is savoured.

Note the goose's wing, real feathers, perfect for the job but oh so old fashioned, from another era when life on the farm was truly connected to the land and the animals.

  • There is also a superb portrait of Aunt Mary, her nails white with flour, her shins measling (spotty) and quite substantial (broad-lapped) as she sits after using the wing to dust flour off the board.

It's a powerfully nostalgic tone which underpins the detail and subtle observations. It is love that finally emerges in the shape of the tinsmith's scoop, a metaphor/simile for those enduring family bonds, ready for the next batch of bread making.

All in all, a warm, evocative poem with some delicious language, a portrayal of domestic life that is no longer reality but which is still alive in the memory.

Further Analysis of Mossbawn: Sunlight

Mossbawn: Sunlight has lots of alliteration and other devices to help bring texture of sound and interest for the reader. The contrast between long and short vowel words and phrases creates a particular kind of music, a tapestry of cadences.

Alliteration

When consonants are repeated in words that are close to each other in a line - when the sounds resemble each other - this is alliteration, and there are examples here:

Line 6 : and the sun stood

Line 10 : So, her hands scuffled

Line 14 : against her where she stood

Line 20 : with whitened nails

Line 24 : to the tick of two clocks

Assonance

Where the same vowels and/or sounds occur in words close together in a line:

Line 5 : in the slung bucket

Line 6 : and the sun stood

Internal Rhyme

Seamus Heaney is a master at using the sounds of full and near rhyme to help connect lines and stanzas throughout poems. Just take a note of these, and other vowel and consonant sounds, in no particular order:

yard/bakeboard/board

stove/love

stood/stood

board/broad-lapped

(h) helmeted/heated/honeyed/her hands/here/here

(s) sunlit/slung/sun/scuffled/stove/sent/stood/she/sits/shins/space/scone/scoop/sunk

(p) pump/plaque/apron/broad-lapped/space/scoop

(u) sunlit/pump/slung/sun/scuffled/dusts/sunk

(ea) heated/each/heat/measling/gleam/meal-bin

(oo)(wo) cooling/afternoon/goose's/two/scoop

(it)(et) sunlit/bucket/its/sits

More Analysis of Mossbawn: Sunlight

Mossbawn: Sunlight is a free verse poem of seven stanzas, 28 lines in total. There is no set rhyme scheme and the metre (meter in American English) varies from line to line, there being no consistent rhythm.

Form

On the page the poem looks measured and formal, each quatrain with short lines of between four and eight syllables. So, free verse means no full end rhymes which reflects a certain freedom of mind and creativity, despite the nostalgic feel to some stanzas.

Syntax

Syntax is the way clauses, sentences and punctuation come together. In this poem the syntax is based around conventional sentences that vary in length. For example, the opening line is a single sentence, a solid statement which sets the scene.

What follows is another much longer single sentence spread over three stanzas, with minimum punctuation, slowing everything down as details are added.

Another single sentence starts in stanza three and ends in the fourth; same again with the next two stanzas before the final sentence is contained within the last stanza. A neat and ordered syntactical set up - five sentences in the poem.

Enjambment

There are several examples of enjambment, when a line or stanza carries on into the next without punctuation, so helping with the flow of meaning as the reader progresses through.

Stanzas one, two, three and five are enjambed which means there is no pause between stanzas. Note the many lines too without punctuation, allowing the reader more flexibility.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Andrew Spacey

    Comments

    Submit a Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)