The tactic of asking the questions pulls the reader into the poem.
A return to everydayness could have been expected after the opening but the last line of the first section, 'And gathered speed and cursed the hellish roads' is too deflating and also too unlikely, unless the driver is very reckless. Most people would slow down rather than accelerate on hellish roads. If we stop to think - stopping to think may be a good thing or a bad thing whilst reading a poem - then we may well wonder what sort of driver we have here, and who was the driver. Any need to ask these further small, slightly irritating questions, should have been made unnecessary by the poet.
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'it medias res' gives of the Spanish experience and an experience of childhood, obviously in Northern Ireland. Some sights and some experiences are intrinsically more magical than others, and the poet has less to do to make them magical in a poem - although, as Seamus Heaney proves, failure isn't in the least difficult But 'small airborne fire-ships' is the product of great gifts, for all its apparent simplicity.
... a dramatically effective, lurid painting-poem. For a short time, the effect is undermined to some extent, at least on a first reading, by questions about the reasons for 'burning.' The valley can't be burning in the sun's heat, since this is midnight, even if the heat of the day has lasted into the night to some extent. Are there furnaces, fires lit for some purposes? We are bound to wonder what the reason is.
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This particular thesis, of 'nounness' is far from being markedly original, of course. Poetic use of nounness belongs to the repertoire of standard poetic technique. It required no innovative daring, no imaginative leap, to employ it, and it needed no critical innovation for Helen Vendler to point out the use of nounness in this poem. Helen Vendler ought to have examined the degree of poetic success in Seamus Heaney's handling of this standard technique. It was flawed success, surely.
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This is illuminating, as thesis-criticism so often is, but 'a small light' (to quote 'The Haw Lantern') and incomplete. If nouns are a feature of this poem, and they are, is there any danger of excess? To me, there are nouns which play an important part in the poem but not a poetically successful part:
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There are only three poems of 'nounness' in this section 'Settings,' xiii, xix and xxiv. Her schematic thesis of adjectival, verbal and noun phases in the poetic career of Seamus Heaney is untenable. She writes, 'If the most recent Heaney is a poet of the noun, if the sensual Heaney is a poet of the verb, the earliest Heaney seemed, to me, a poet of the adjecitive.'
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'Such is the pressure of nounness on this poem that even its adjectives are mostly nouns: "Harbour stillness," "harbour wall," "boat boards," "cockle minarets," "bottle glass," "shell-debris." '
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'Verbs, under the sway of this poetics' ['a poetry of the noun'] become nouns themselves (gerunds), or they attach themselves, as past-participle adjectives, to nouns. Instead of "genuine" or well-formed narrative sentences, exhibiting their unavoidable temporality in the verb, we find sentences composed almost exclusively of nouns or noun-phrases.' She goes on to quote the poem.