Responses To 'Clearances'

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Seamus Heaney's Response:

Talking about "Clearances"

Oddly enough these sonnets, once they began, were quite easy to write and that's not a boast, it's a gratitude. I think that there are certain kinds of poems and these sonnets are of that kind where you in a sense don't have to write it, you don't have to invent it. The poem is lying there at the bottom of memory. It's like looking down through water at stones at the bottom of water. There's that kind of given poem.

In an RTE series The Poet's Voice
broadcast when The Haw Lantern
was published. (1987)


A Broadcaster's Response:

I love these lines because they are so simple and clear and one can see vivid pictures when reading them. Most people would probably identify with them also. To enjoy poetry, which I do very much, I must understand it perfectly and the pictures always have to be very clear.

Kathleen Watkins



Kathleen Watkins
Broadcaster, harpist and singer
(Quoted in the anthology Lifelines compiled
by students in Wesley College)

A Comedian's Response: favourite poem of all time. I read it at least four times a year and each time it says more and more. I envy his touch, I envy the moments he remembers. I envy his love of life and this of course leaves me with the nutter need to expres my love for my mother before her time comes. A rich, soft, beautiful poem.

Sean Hughes

Sean Hughes
Comedian, novelist and television actor
(Quoted in the anthology Lifelines compiled
by students in Wesley College)

A Found Response:

Perhaps his most moving works are the series of sonnets called "Clearances," written as a memorial to his mother. The two poems we have here, the third and fifth of the sequence, show him taking firm hold of the sonnet form and bending it to his own interpretation of the elegaic tradition. These poems possess a soft power that bathes all in the golden haze of memory while presenting stark images of the spaces that death leaves between us. In "When all the others were away at Mass" Heaney moves from the distant past of the first two quatrains, through a telling break in lines, the into a place nearer the present in the final quatrain. But this present reality is too much to bear, and he retreats again to the past in the final couplet. In this way memory serves as a shield to protect him from his mother's death.

Joe Pellegrino
On the Northern Show.Biz site

A Spanish Student's Response:

My work is about Heaney’s poem “From clearances 3”. As we can see in the title, the poet talks about somebody who is going to another part, who is made to go. The title suggests that the person is appreciated by the author, and another reason to think this is that nobody writes a poem to a person who doesn’t matter.

In the poem, we are reading about a funeral. It’s divided into two stanzas. In the first stanza, we read about the funeral. People broke the silence, all people are falling one by one to the silence, to think about the dead person. It was cold that day, there were a lot of people and they are in groups. People recall a few good moments (pleasant splashes) and remember the person.

In the second stanza, the author tells that, while the priest is praying with some people, and the others are crying, he remembers how the dead person looked at him, he felt her breath... “never closer the whole rest of our lives”.

The person who is dead, is Heaney’s mother. This poem belongs to a collection of eight sonnets. Here Heaney reflects the emotions of his mother’s death. (

The rhyme of the poem, in my opinion, is abab,cdcd, efef, gg, and it’s a sonnet with eight verses in the first stanza and six in the second.

The tone of the poem is melancholic, because he misses his mother. He can’t hug her any more. He is sad, he is remembering his mother, the day of the funeral, the last moment with her...

The author is Irish, catholic and nationalist. He was affected by the violence between catholics and protestants ( Maybe the topic of death in the war inspired the poem with his mother’s death. It could be an influence but, in my opinion the main reason was his mother.

Ana Raquel Montero Candela
A student in the University of Valencia

© a.r.e.a. / Dr. Vicente Forés López
© Ana Raquel Montero Candela

A Journalist's Response:

The poem that maybe moves me most is that one by Seamus Heaney when he is evoking the memory of his mother and the time when she and he peeled potatoes together at the kitchen sink. "Never closer than at that moment" I think he says in the poem which unfortunately I cannot put my hand to but you should be able to find it without too much difficulty.

Emily O'Reilly

Emily O'Reilly
Journalist, broadcaster and current Ombudsman
(Quoted in the anthology Lifelines compiled
by students in Wesley College)

Project Students' Responses:

This poem is easier to understand than the others in the project. It has a simple message - you will not appreciate someone until they are gone.

Thomas Foy.

I thought this was a good poem because it is easy and and has many emotions in it. I can see that he loves his mother and misses her. This poem can also gives you plenty of images so we can see what sort of surroundings he was in at the time with his mother in the kitchen and , later, when he was with her on her death bed. All in all it was a very good poem.

Robert Murphy.

I think this poem is confusing and hard to understand, but it has a lot of emotions which is good and that is why I like it.

Corey O'Neill.

This poem is about the last memory Seamus Heaney had of his mother while she was dying.

Jamie Quirke.

I really liked this poem as it is about Heaney and his mother. I get on well with my mother as Heaney did.

Seán Nolan.

I think this is a good poem because of the way Heaney reflects on two memories in his life, one happy and one sad. Another good thing about the poem would be the last two lines.

William Lynch.

I thought the poem was good because it tells us how he felt and what happened as he watched his mother dying in a bed and the priest praying for her and everyone crying and how she had bent her head towards his and then the last line that they will never be closer the rest of their lives.

Adam Cronin.

I think this poem was probably the easiest poem we have done because there are not many things to explain and it is short and simple.

Robert Griffin.

I think "Clearances" is a good poem because of the way Seamus Heaney reflects on two memories in his life, one happy and one sad event. In the two parts of the poem, his good memory is about his quality time with his mother and the second one is the sad one on the death of his mother.

Ayokunle Onamusi.

I like this poem. I think it is a nice way for Heaney to remember his dead mother.

Aaron Flood.

Examination Response:

Higher Level

Response of Project Student: Jamie Quirke.


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