‘Oysters’ by Seamus Heaney: analysis

Oysters by Seamus Heaney comprises five, five-line stanzas of free verse. The poem is a memory from his younger, more philandering years, about the gluttony of the privileged classes. Eating oyster with his friends, Heaney remembers how ‘the Romans hauled their oysters south to Rome’.

Heaney is a sensuous and ‘noisy’ poet – his use of the onomatopoeia ‘clacking’, creates a perfect description of the noise made by the oysters. He also creates the perfect image of one’s tongue when eating an oyster: ‘my lounge was a filling estuary’.

In the mention of Greek mythology and constellations – ‘Pleiades / Orion’ – Heaney is implying that the oysters taste other-worldly. This is one of the major differences between him and Sheers: Sheers’ poems are concerned with and contain very ‘down-to-earth’ ideas, whilst Heaney seems to be interested with ‘out-of-this-world’ ideas.

Heaney anthropomorphises the oysters with his description of ‘them’ being ‘alive and violated’, lying on ‘their beds’. With this stanza, Heaney’s tone changes to become more critical and almost angry, with words like ‘violated’, ‘split’ and ‘ripped’. From this, we can infer that he doesn’t agree with the amount of oysters people eat: ‘millions of the ripped and shucked and scattered’. ‘Violated’ has connotations of rape and going against someone’s rights and wishes.  ‘This idea continues with the image of the oysters that ‘lay on their beds’ and the ‘philandering ocean’. The oysters lying on ice suggests immobility and therefore helplessness in their situation. ‘Philandering’ implies disrespect and unimportance.

As often in his poems, Heaney uses two words, joined by a hyphen, to create an adjective – and with it a brand new image: ‘frond-lipped’ and ‘brine-stung’. The adjectives sound hard and harsh, possibly reflecting Heaney’s feelings about the ‘glut of privilege’ of the unappreciative Romans, when eating the oysters.


3 thoughts on “‘Oysters’ by Seamus Heaney: analysis

  1. ‘glut of privilege’ of the unappreciative Romans – ‘unappreciative’ – not sure this is best word here – ‘glut’ – lots of + connotations of ££ – ‘privilege’ – perhaps unfair/inequal ££/status/position = use/misuse of power (to get the ‘good stuff’) – ‘think gluttony’ Dante + ‘hauling’ – arduous transportation, so much of it = criticism of Empire, ‘raping’ the environment of own benefit, like perhaps British in Ireland – think about the oysters on the ice bed – like sacrifices – religious connotations as well.

    Overall, a very tight/sharp analysis – very well done. You now must begin to bring evaluations of critical readings to move out of the mid-band marks. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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