What are some of the poetic devices used in Seamus Heaney's poem titled "Funeral Rites"?

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Seamus Heaney’s poem titled “Funeral Rites” effectively uses a variety of literary devices in a number of different ways, including the following:

  • Effective metaphors, as in the word “shouldered” in line 1.
  • Effective enjambment, as in the absence of punctuation at the ends of lines 1 and 2.
  • Effectively ambiguous language, as in the reference to “tainted” rooms (line 5).
  • Effectively vivid imagery, as in the reference to the “dough-white hands” of corpses (7).
  • Effective assonance, as in the reference to “puffed knuckles” (9).
  • Effective parallel phrasing and listing, as in lines 9-12:

Their puffed knuckles

had unwrinkled, the nails

were darkened, the wrists 

obediently sloped.

  • Unusually precise phrasing, as in the reference to a “dulse-brown shroud” (13).
  • Effectively innovative or neologistic phrasing, as in the phrase “veined the candles,” where “vein” is used as a verb.
  • Effective repetition, as in the double use of “hovering” in lines 19-20.
  • Intriguingly suggestive and enigmatic phrasing, as in lines 26-27.
  • Effective paradoxes or oxymorons , as in the reference to a “neighbourly murder” (35).
  • Effective historical allusions, as in line 42.
  • Effective combinations of various techniques in a few short lines, as in the use of alliteration, assonance, metaphor, and vivid verbs in lines 45-47:

Out of side-streets and bye-roads

purring family cars 

nose into line . . .

  • Effective juxtaposition  of very long and unfamiliar words with words that are fairly short and very familiar, as in the reference to “Somnabulent women” (50).
  • Effective variation in line-lengths, thus arguably preventing monotony, as in lines 62-65.

In addition to using these techniques, the poem also sometimes employs intriguing rhythms and meter, as in the heavily accented phrase “dough-white hands,” in which each syllable (one might argue) is accented equally; or in the later, similar phrase “dulse-brown shrowd”; or in the later, sudden shift to a heavily accented first syllable in “Dear soapstone masks.” However, because the poem lacks any kind of predictable meter, it also lacks any sense of striking, powerful departures from such meter.


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