The overall tone of the poem is serious, harsh, even grim. The figure of the docker is central, and any other people are peripheral. The primary device that Seam Heaney uses is description. He employs numerous similes and metaphors to create a vivid picture of the man. He also uses diction and word choice to create a harsh sound to match the visual image of harshness.
In the first stanza, numerous words include the hard C or K sound as alliteration—repetition at the start of the words: “corner, cap, cowling, clamped”; this is accentuated with the final k in “drink.” This repetition recurs in Stanza 4, Line 13, “Celtic cross.”
Similes occur in Line 2, “cap juts like a gantry's crossbeam,” Line 9, “imperatives bang home like rivets,” and Line 13, “strong and blunt as a Celtic cross.”
The man’s rough appearance is emphasized and connected with his working-class identity through metaphors that compare him to metal or tools, such as “plated and sledgehead forehead,” “clamped,” “hammer,” and “rivets. The author also uses an extended metaphor, or conceit, throughout the poem, of industrial references more generally: God is identified as a foreman, and the organization of life consists of “shifts of work and leisure”; even the resurrection of Jesus Christ will be announced by “a factory horn.”
These references to God also emphasize the man’s strong religious beliefs. Heaney uses an allusion to indicate the docker’s antipathy toward Roman Catholics, with the white foam around a glass compared to a priest’s collar:
The only Roman collar he tolerates
Smiles all round his sleek pint of porter.