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
- 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.