Honeymoon Flight | Summary and Analysis

Analysis of Honeymoon Flight by Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney’s Nobel Prize-awarded collection Death of a Naturalist (1966) is home to one of his imagery-rich poems “Honeymoon Flights” which plays on the parallelism drawn between an aircraft journey and the sanctified journey of a marriage that a newlywed couple is embarking on. If the poem is looked at independently, the gender of the speaker is ambiguous. However, viewing it as a part of the collection, the speaker is assumed to be a man.

The poem is divided into four quatrains with each line as decasyllabic and a rhyme scheme of abab not followed precisely. Emphasis on turbulence and crisis in the poem contextually speaks for the nationalist war Ireland witnessed during the 1960s when people believed in the power of their faith to overcome their trials.

Honeymoon Flight | Summary

Honeymoon Flight by Seamus Heaney opens with an aerial view of the earth as experienced by the passengers that blur the otherwise clear geographical boundaries as it flies higher and transforms their known land into a “patchwork” made of bits and pieces with no alignment. The different pieces symbolize different sets of values, personalities, and beliefs that two people bring into the institution of marriage. The long roads below appear to connect and dissect different villages and fields as the flight attempts to make a sharp turn in the air. These connecting roads suggest the new connection that the couple will be working on in their married life ahead.

The turn above the lake leaves all the passengers including the newlyweds in a state of unbalance and the sudden noise from the aircraft engine calls for unexpected anxiety and fear that the speaker of the poem senses in his spouse’s eyes. This becomes an instance of reassuring faith that a couple must have in times of crisis. As the flight is moving ahead, the speaker is marveled at the elements of the earth- fire (engine) and air that come together to facilitate the movement of the aircraft in order to prevent it from crashing down into the other element i.e. the water (sea). The reference to different elements of the earth signals the multiple adjustments and efforts that a couple has to make in every step of their life to fuel the vehicle of marriage.

The poem culminates with the travelers, who are still adjusting to the apprehensive atmosphere in the flight, receiving a warning from the pilot regarding the impending turbulence. The pilot’s composed demeanor amidst the low air pressure zone leaves the travelers overwhelmed with no resort except to believe in him and their fate as the flight ventures to go down. With the coming down of the airplane, the speaker also realizes the possibility of his conjugal life hitting the rock in the future due to unprecedented circumstances and if he finds himself in this anticipated situation, he must not lose faith in his marriage.


Honeymoon Flight | Analysis, Stanza I

Below, the patchwork earth, dark hems of hedge

The long grey tapes of road that bind and loose

Villages and fields in casual marriage:

We bank above the small lough and farmhouse

The honeymoon is popularly believed to be a period that marks the beginning of one’s married life when a couple intends to know each other better. The poem narrates the journey of a newlywed couple embarking on their married life which is paralleled to the flight’s journey to their honeymoon destination. It starts with an aerial view of the landscape below described by the speaker as a “patchwork”. By employing the cloth metaphor for earth, the poem directs us to the fact that while geographically earth is divided into uneven terrains which are not perceptible when one is standing on the land, the view up top renders an image that presents different pieces of land weaved together to stitch a whole fabric. This also leads us to the political domain of questioning the inequitable distribution of land by the concerned authorities and its lack of alignment.

Continuing the cloth metaphor, the “dark hems of hedge” represent the sylvan boundaries of these lands with an alliterative sound of the consonant ‘h’. The cemented roads are compared to “grey tapes” that link as well as divide villages and fields which actually signifies the boundaries a couple is bestowed when entering into a matrimonial union. While one is expected to follow the dictates of the marital institution, there are many who might digress from the codes and their marriage loses its sanctity. The stanza ends with their flight taking a sharp turn above a lough (Irish for a lake) that mirrors different and unexpected turns a marriage, particularly the concerned couple’s, might experience in its future.


Honeymoon Flight | Analysis, Stanza II

And the sure green world goes topsy-turvy

As we climb out of our familiar landscape.

The engine noises change. You look at me.

The coastline slips away beneath the wing-tip.

The second stanza highlights the turbulence that the flight begins to encounter as it flies far from its own land. The “sure green world” and “familiar landscape” conveys the prime of one’s life where he/she is liberated and lives life well suited for him/her. But as one gets married, a lot of changes are in line that leave the otherwise carefree and easy designed life into webs of uncertainty and adjustments depicted through the alliteration “topsy-turvy”. The disturbing noise from the engine unsettles the speaker’s spouse who looks at him for assurance. The anxiety experienced by the couple puts forth the necessity of trusting and having faith in one another in times of crisis. The last line of the stanza gives the readers a picture of the flight crossing the coastline to fly above the sea. As the flight takes the next step in its course, similarly the couple will also have to steer their way and cross all hurdles to reach the next chapter of their life.

Honeymoon Flight | Analysis, Stanza III

And launched right off the earth by force of fire,

We hang, miraculous, above the water,

Dependent on the invisible air

To keep us airborne and bring us farther.

This stanza unites different elements of the earth in one frame that leaves the readers to ponder over the vigor and magnanimity of nature. The airplane is flying with the aid of fire (engine) that, with the helping hand of the “invisible air”, manages to fly people and leave them suspended in the sky over another element i.e. water (sea). The image brings elements of nature together to support a human invention to sustain its journey ahead.

Similarly, in a marriage, both parties are entitled to make efforts and adjustments to run their marriage smoothly because it’s a joint venture. The “force of fire” can also be read as the passion that young men and women harbor for one another in the early years of their marriage. This passion along with the “invisible air” i.e. faith eases their course of blissful life.

Honeymoon Flight | Analysis, Stanza IV

Ahead of us the sky’s a geyser now.

A calm voice talks of cloud but we feel lost.

Air pockets jolt our fears and down we go.

Travellers, at this point, can only trust.

The last stanza of the poem chronicles the impending turbulence that the flight is expected to encounter due to cloud disturbances. The sky is looked at as a “geyser” that discharges water turbulently and amidst this, the pilot assures the passengers to make it through this calamity. The applause-worthy composure exhibited by the pilot keeps panic at bay to some extent but still leaves many travelers nervous and petrified as the airplane entered the low air pressure zone. Their only resort now is to trust the words of their pilot and believe in their fate as they go down. The instability endured by the flight mirrors the rough paths a marriage is conjectured to hit in its timeline. Marriage is a journey that has its own ups and downs. There will be moments of anxiety, fears, etc. but in the end, marriage is all about fighting off the odds and working towards building one’s relationship stronger day by day by investing faith and trust.





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