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Commentary on Twice Shy by Seamus Heaney

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Introduction

'TWICE SHY' BY SEAMUS HEANEY Her scarf a la Bardot, In suede flats for the walk, She came with me one evening For air and friendly talk. We crossed the quiet river, Took the embankment walk. Traffic holding its breath, Sky a tense diaphragm: Dusk hung like a backcloth That shook where a swan swam, Tremulous as a hawk Hanging deadly, calm. A vacuum of need Collapsed each hunting heart But tremulously we held As hawk and prey apart, Preserved classic decorum, Deployed our talk with art. Our Juvenilia Had taught us both to wait, Not to publish feeling And regret it all too late - Mushroom loves already Had puffed and burst in hate. So, chary and excited, As a thrush linked on a hawk, We thrilled to the March twilight With nervous childish talk: Still waters running deep Along the embankment walk. 'Twice Shy' by Seamus Heaney is a poem that sensitively and elegantly expresses the furtive emotions that characterize young love - an encompassment of naivety, idealism, expectation and a considerable degree of fear. In particular, through the use of extended descriptions and various modes of figurative language, Heaney makes sure to attribute this experience to an overriding sense of tension; a fitting tone to a profound experience that is almost ubiquitously relatable. ...read more.

Middle

From start to finish, the poem is in close contact with water - in the first stanza they 'crossed the quiet rive' and in the final stanza Heaney describes 'Still waters running deep // Along the embankment walk.' The significance of this setting and imagery becomes clear when taking into consideration the asphyxiating tension Heaney builds up all throughout the poem. Within the boundaries of the poem, the water is 'quiet' and 'Still'. However, as conveyed through devices such as the muting of senses, Heaney creates an atmosphere fraught with tension; a feeling of inevitable explosion, of a boiling pot about to tip over. Thus the significance of water is that Heaney implicitly conveys a feeling that at any moment the water could flood and pill over onto the dry 'embankment'. This particular mode of tension can be read in one of two ways, or perhaps both combined. Firstly, through the vastness of the river, Heaney could be conveying the absolute sheer weight of expectation that these two characters harbour. It is as if anticipation of the prospects of young love is like the contents of a reservoir threatening to burst through the dam. On perhaps a more adult level, Heaney could be conveying a sense of sexual tension. ...read more.

Conclusion

It is an important decision on Heaney's part for it adds dimensions not only to characterization but also to love. Despite the apparent bubbliness of it, there does, in fact, exist an ominous facet. Despite this unique dimension, for the most part Heaney seems to revel in the youthfulness of his characters. The stylistic device that best portrays this is the bird imagery. Through metaphor the protagonists are likened to 'a thrush linked on a hawk.' The bird is no doubt one of the most ubiquitous symbols of freedom; through flight, birds have no boundaries. By equating the protagonists with birds, Heaney expresses a feeling of freedom, ability and potential that can't be described in terms of human capability. More importantly perhaps, what enables these characters to reach these heights is the elation that they feed each other. The 'thrush' is 'linked' to the 'hawk'; thus transfiguration is not possible for each character without the other. The ultimate implication for this metaphor is the sheer scale of euphoria that love can invoke: enough to make one fly. In conclusion, this poem touches on several points regarding the issue of young love: naivety, innocence, anxiety and tension. Although the poet hints at a possible traumatic effect of love, Heaney's greatest achievement here is the expression of euphoria, inviting the reader perhaps to strive to recreate the joys of innocent romance. ...read more.

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