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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Forge” is a typical Heaney poem in a number of respects. It exemplifies the poet’s striking use of what he has called (borrowing a T. S. Eliot phrase) “the auditory imagination.” At one level, the sense of sound works in a familiar poetic, as, for example, in the internal rhyme of “know” and “door” and the juxtaposition of “door” and “dark” in the poem’s opening line. Such sonar relationships give the poem a pleasing degree of sensory interplay that engages the reader’s imagination, as slowly reading “The Forge” aloud will reveal. Additionally, it is noticeable how “short-pitched,” used to describe the sound of hammer on anvil, evokes in its taut sibilance the chink of metal on metal, as well as more distantly suggesting the smith’s muscular stroke. Those two associations facilitate and reinforce the mention of “shape and music” in later lines—“shape” being the immediacy of the thing made and “music” an abstract consequence of the making.

Though verbally rich, “The Forge” does not rely on facile verbal fireworks. The smith “grunts and goes in” back to work, and work has its unglamorous mundanity, as the colloquialisms “slam and flick” state. Generally speaking, the poem’s combination of restraint and attachment provides the reader with an attractive experience of the domestic and the vaguely exotic—“door” and “dark,” “outside” and “inside.” The one occasion in which...

(The entire section is 534 words.)