Describe the theme of Seamus Heaneys poem Sunlight:

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cclinn | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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The theme of Seamus Heaney’s poem, “Mossbawn: Sunlight”, appears to be the love between mother and child, depicted in the familiar scone-baking activity.  Although there is a “sunlit absence”, there is the light and warmth of peaceful, loving, contented activity.

Besides “Mossbawn” being the name of the poet’s home, with “bawn’ meaning white, fair, pleasant, beloved, the poem emanates warmth, sweetness, and contentment through its alliterative diction – “helmeted”, “heated”, “honeyed”, “heat”, “slung”, “sun”, “stood”, “scuffled”, “stove” - and sensuous imagery – “reddening stove”, “plaque of heat”, “floury apron”, “sits broad-lapped with whitened nails”, “measling shins”.  

Line 1 brackets the scene in the silent “sunlit absence”. The diction and imagery from line 2 to line 21 connote familiarity, the unspoken love recollected in the peace of a later time.  In line 22, there is a shift – “here is a space/ again” – the lovingly made scones take on a life of their own by “rising to the tick of two clocks”.  Does this mean a swelling or increasing of anticipation and of love?  Do the clocks just tick or might it be the ticking of the hearts of mother and child?

Lines 25 to 28 provide the other bracket for the scene: “And here is love/ like a tinsmith’s scoop/ sunk past its gleam/ in the meal-bin”.  Light and fragile, the “tinsmith’s scoop” reflects an apt metaphor for the humble, silent love that hides its light “sunk … in the meal-bin”, of the nurturing fruitfulness the child has come to know.

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