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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 311

Like the blacksmith hammering object from molten metal, the poet hammers meaning out of words. The blacksmith is a metaphor for all creative artists and craftsmen, including the poet. As the imagined blacksmith enters a "dark" space to "beat" out his creation, so a poet beats a new creation out of the "unpredictable" stuff of words. This process, for both blacksmith and wordsmith, requires tools, such as an anvil and bellows, and takes effort—the smith "expends himself" and "grunts." The artistic endeavor depends on an imaginative appreciation of the past: as the blacksmith "recalls a clatter/of hoofs" so the wordsmith must be able to imagine a past time.

Creative endeavors are spiritual in nature. The anvil is described as an "altar," as if the blacksmith is engaged in a holy task inside a church. Like a church, the blacksmith's shop is "a door into the dark." The "dark" and the "door" also stand as metaphors for entering the spiritual realm, where ordinary, secular assumptions are left behind. Here one sees the sacred, the "unpredictable...sparks," that are both the literal sparks of the anvil and the divine spark of the creative spirit. Here, as in a church, is "music." This is a space apart, in place and in time, a numinous locale where one must imagine a former world in order to create.

Blacksmiths do valuable work. All metaphors aside, one message of the poem is that the blacksmith in and of himself does work that is beautiful—he creates amid the "the unpredictable fantail of sparks." He should not be forgotten in a world of traffic "flashing by." Heaney takes a moment to stop and dwell, to notice what the blacksmith does, before hurrying on. On this level, the poem is not about a poet or religious seer, but simply a description of a craftsman pursuing his trade.

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