Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Poems of notably succinct, imagistic directness about his rural life growing up on the family farm in County Derry, Northern Ireland, formed the core of Heaney’s first book, Death of a Naturalist (1966). To a certain extent, the poems in his second book, Door into the Dark, are in the same vein. “Bogland,” the concluding poem in this volume, indicates how comprehensive a grasp the poet has on the metaphorical resonances of landscape and origins. “The Forge” is an important illustration of the process of achieving full poetic identity, which is what gives Door into the Dark its wider fascination and significance. Here, as elsewhere, the poet does not merely draw on background material but also allows the occasion of doing so to substantiate the activity of doing so.

The smith, then, is more than a figure from the past. He is also an emblem of present transformative energies. The forge is more than a place by which a child was fascinated. The poem actively rehearses the recognition of there being entry to a place of making, and it welcomes the possibility. The smith’s withdrawal into his vaguely Promethean cave and his invisibility within it is counteracted by the poet’s refusal to look away, frustrated by what he cannot see. The poem becomes an extended metaphor for the activity of poetry.

The tendency of “The Forge” to see its material in somewhat larger-than-life terms—as in the “unicorn”...

(The entire section is 401 words.)