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Storm On The Island Seamus Heaney Essay

What is it about?
Seamus Heaney's poem has a helpful title: it is a dramatic monologue from the perspective of an villager on a remote island, probably in the Irish Atlantic, about the storms his community face and their effects.

Storm on the Island by Seamus Heaney

We are prepared: we build our houses squat,
Sink walls in rock and roof them with good slate.
This wizened earth has never troubled us
With hay, so, as you see, there are no stacks
Or stooks that can be lost. Nor are there trees
Which might prove company when it blows full
Blast: you know what I mean - leaves and branches
Can raise a tragic chorus in a gale
So that you listen to the thing you fear
Forgetting that it pummels your house too.
But there are no trees, no natural shelter.
You might think that the sea is company,
Exploding comfortably down on the cliffs
But no: when it begins, the flung spray hits
The very windows, spits like a tame cat
Turned savage. We just sit tight while wind dives
And strafes invisibly. Space is a salvo,
We are bombarded with the empty air.
Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.

The title is simple, but by having no article (no 'a' or 'the' to begin the title), Heaney makes his description even simpler, even generalising so that Storm on the Island could describe any storm on any island. However, we realise that this is a particularly bleak and isolated place: 'no trees, no natural shelter'.

The poem is written in unrhymed iambic pentameter - blank verse. The lines are usually enjambed - the sentences do not stop with the lines - but the occasional line contains a full sentence, like the last, which gives a strong indication of reaching the end of the speaker's pondering. Enjambing a single, monosyllabic word like 'full | Blast' makes the most of this overlapping pattern, adding stress onto the words placed first in the line against the generally rising rhythm of the whole piece.

Heaney really uses the full range of consonance,assonance, alliteration and other sound patterns in the poem. This helps create a noisy recreation of the wind and rain thrashing the bare island. The 'comfortable' explosions of waves echo on the 'cliffs', with the hard 'c' sound providing the sound of the attacking wave and the final 's' on 'cliffs' echoing the hiss as the wave retreats over the stones. Later when the water is flying, the spray 'hits' the windows and an internal rhyme with 'spits' repeats this harsh contact.

The poem ends with open, empty sounds, including a half-rhyme between 'air' and 'fear'. But read the poem in an Irish accent and you might be rewarded with a final full-rhyme to close off the verse.

Storm on the Island begins with the resolute determination of someone sure about himself and his people. The very simplicity of the sentence 'We are prepared' speaks of confidence. There is also a self-deprecating humour in the phrase 'This wizened earth has never troubled us | With hay', giving the impression that the speaker is glad not to have the bother of being able to grow anything!

In a way, the pride of the speaker for the earth beneath his feet - his island - is the opposite of the 'huge nothing' that he says they fear. The speaker has a friendly tone, reminiscent of Browning's monologue 'Fra Lippo Lippi', particularly in the phrases 'you know what I mean' and 'You might think'.

The speaker compares the sea to a cat (fickle and liable to seem friendly, then scratch!), and the wind to an attacking aircraft ('while the wind dives | And strafes invisibly'). These comparisons have different effects. On the one hand we return to the idea of a community defending itself, as in the first lines, against an invader.

On the other hand, there is a familiar, comfortable undercurrent of knowing the sea like a pet - even an unpredictable one. It seems that life on an island produces people who can think of something in two ways at once without worrying about contradictions.

The speaker moves between defiance (at the start of the poem), awe, humour and finally admissions of fear. Yet throughout he maintains a calm tone, sure of the thickness of the stone walls around him. Perhaps that, rather than the storm itself, is what Heaney really wants to feature: the self-confidence of island people when faced with challenges.

consonance Repeated consonant sounds within words (stacks and stooks)
assonance Repeated vowel sounds within words (mean - leaves)

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For More GCSE poem analyses similar to Love's Philosophy: The Farmer's Bride, Love's Philosophy, Neutral Tones, The Yellow Palm,Medusa, and Bayonet Charge.

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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. Here is a complete analysis of the poem.

Storm on the Island Analysis

The poem, which can be read in full here, begins with a 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 a stormy weather on an island are so ravaging and destructive that the islanders have learnt 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 line 1 and 2, the poet says, the islanders build their houses “squat”, they have well-grounded walls in “rock” and have 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 land mass. 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 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 help 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 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 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 gun. 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 the 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 challenge to the idealised 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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