The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

From a strictly formal point of view, “The Forge” is a sonnet. As is typical of Seamus Heaney’s work, however, and reflective of this poem’s unobtrusive depths, it is more interesting for the ways in which it departs from conventional sonnet forms than for its attachment to them. Thus, “The Forge” opens with a representative sonnet rhyme scheme. Once this is established, however, it is not adhered to. Similarly, the familiar internal organization of a sonnet into octet (the first eight lines) and sestet (the concluding six lines) seems promised but is not maintained.

“The Forge” presents the poet as an observer of a familiar childhood scene (the village “smithy” has a long history as a poetic subject). The poem is written in the first person, and there is little doubt that Heaney draws on material familiar to him and to which he has remained imaginatively attached. The elements of the scene are described in loving detail, so that the reader has a strong impression of immediacy and intimacy. The poet’s strong visual imagination—whereby evidence of the everyday catches the reader’s eye like the smith’s “unpredictable fantail of sparks”—places the reader in direct sensory relation with the subject matter.

The poet remains an unobtrusive facilitator throughout. His presence enables the reader to see, rather than enjoining the reader to read. This approach suggests that experiencing is as significant as reaching...

(The entire section is 475 words.)