19 pages 38 minutes read

Seamus Heaney

Act of Union

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1975

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Literary Devices

Form and Meter

The poem is in the form of two sonnets. A sonnet is a 14-line poem, and most sonnets are written in iambic pentameter. An iamb is a poetic foot consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. A pentameter comprises five feet. In this poem, Heaney follows a basic iambic pentameter framework but with many variations. Only a few of the lines scan as regular iambic pentameter. Line 2 is one example: “As if the rain in bogland gathered head.” Line 4 is an iambic pentameter, except for the second and third feet, both of which are trochees where the stress falling on the first of the two syllables rather than the second: “A gash breaking open the ferny bed.” Line 11 contains a reversal of the iambic rhythm in the first foot, making it stand out against the basic metrical rhythm: “Conquest.” In Line 22, the first foot is also a trochee: “Mustering force.” In Line 16, the first foot is a spondee, in which both syllables are stressed: “Male, leaving you.” Placing the emphasis on the first syllable strongly underlines the masculine element that bears some responsibility for Ireland’s current plight.