Seamus Heaney’s (1939-2013) poem the skunk is about Seamus Heaney’s own married life.
The poem begins with the speaker describing how there is a skunk near his house, and he is always on the lookout for it. It is a proud creature and it has become very important for him to try to see it in his yard. He spends a lot of time looking outside, past his verandah, waiting for the animal to appear. So much so that he feels like a voyeur. The poet says,
“The refrigerator whinnied into silence.
I began to be tense as a voyeur.”
The second half of the poem makes clear that the speaker sees his wife as a skunk. The poem is a tribute to his wife Marie – how living away from home has caused him to miss his married life. Exiled from his wife, Heaney recalls the skunk which reminds him of his wife.
More Notes: Seamus Heaney
The poet describes the nightly visit of a skunk to the backyard of a Californian house he had been staying in away from his wife and family. He describes ‘her’ in unusual terms, likening her upright tail to a priest’s vestments at a funeral mass as she ‘paraded’.
By the end of the poem, it appears that the speaker and his wife are starting to come back together again, or at least in his mind. He can recall what it is like to hear and see her near him, as she moves around the room.
More Notes: Suggestions