Storm on the Island by Seamus Heaney – study session 2 of 2

Today we will…

  • Remind ourselves of the poem ‘Storm on the Island’ and check our understanding
  • Learn about how Seamus Heaney writes about conflict in this poem
  • Look at language, structure and form in the poem

Download a copy of the poem, print it (if you can) and read it.

You can download the poem from the button below ▼

You will also need a pen and paper or your exercise book to write in

By the end of this study session you will…

  • Understand how conflict is shown in the poem
  • Understand features of language, structure and form in the poem

To get started…
Read the poem again and write a list, or highlight on your copy, words that you would associate with war and violence.

Storm on the Island by Seamus Heaney

We are prepared: we build our houses squat,
Sink walls in rock and roof them with good slate.
This wizened earth has never troubled us
With hay, so, as you see, there are no stacks
Or stooks that can be lost. Nor are there trees
Which might prove company when it blows full
Blast: you know what I mean – leaves and branches
Can raise a tragic chorus in a gale
So that you listen to the thing you fear
Forgetting that it pummels your house too.
But there are no trees, no natural shelter.
You might think that the sea is company,
Exploding comfortably down on the cliffs
But no: when it begins, the flung spray hits
The very windows, spits like a tame cat
Turned savage. We just sit tight while wind dives
And strafes invisibly. Space is a salvo,
We are bombarded with the empty air.
Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.

✎Write down in just one sentence what you think the poem is about … if you need help to get stared click for a model answer ▼

Seamus Heaney’s poem Storm on the Island is a dramatic monologue from the perspective of an villager on a remote island about the storms his community face and their effects.


Some information about the troubles in Northern Ireland and how they relate to this poem:
►Storm on the Island is an extended metaphor for the political storm that raged in Northern Ireland in the second half of the 20th century. The storm pummeling the island is a metaphor for the violence and unrest in Northern Ireland
►During the troubles Protestants and Catholics were intolerant of each other. Protestants wanted to continue to be part of the United Kingdom and Catholics wanted to reunite with the Republic of Ireland. There was deep mistrust and enmity on both sides.
► Tensions in Northern Ireland led to conflict and violence. The IRA was an illegal organisation form by the Catholics to rid Northern Ireland of the British army and British government. The conflict resulted in many actions of violence: petrol bombs, looting, acts of terrorism and a great many lives were lost on both sides.
►The first 8 letters of the poem spell out the word Stormont – the name of the government building in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Read this information because it helps us to understand the context of conflict in the poem. The poem works on two levels; describing the conflict between man and nature in the physical storm and also the violent and political conflict during the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland.
Words like blasted, bombarded, fear, exploding, strafes and salvo don’t just describe the literal storm but also the violence in Northern Ireland

YOU DO Imagery

Find 2 phrases in the poem that suggest that the storm is like and enemy attack and explain why.

I DO… An example for you
‘It pummels your house’ – The word pummels means to hit something repeatedly and shows how the cottage was being attacked relentlessly by the storm

The best examples are in the second half of the poem when the violence of the storm escalates

I DO… Notes for you about structure in Storm on the Island

►Free verse (no rhyme): showing the power of the storm and the lack of control that humans have over the weather.
►One stanza: showing the isolated of the cottage and of the inhabitants, but they stand strong against the storm.
►Enjambment: showing the repetitive cycle of the storm and its relentlessness
►Caesura: slows the pace so that the devastation of the storm is prolonged
►Iambic meter: the rhythm reflects the repeated attack by the storm

YOU DO… structure
Write a 3 or 4 sentence paragraph to summarise what happens…
➀ At the start of the poem
➁ In the middle of the poem
➂ At the end of the poem
There’s and example here ▼ to check your answer against, or to use to get started.

At first the community feel safe and secure and words like ‘prepared’, ‘rock’ and ‘good slate’ convey a sense of security and well-being. However, as the storm begins the feelings of security are replaced by fear and the violence of the storm increases; the sea is ‘exploding’ and there is ‘no natural shelter’. By the end of the poem people appear helpless and at the mercy of the storm and the elements and resigned to their fate in the face of a terrifying invisible force, ‘It is a huge nothing that we fear’.

YOU DO… Poetic techniques

✎Find an example in the poem of the poetic techniques listed below and explain the effect created

I DO… an example for you
The poet uses alliteration in the phrase ‘rock and roof‘. The repetition of the strong ‘r’ emphasises the sturdiness of the cottage and the sense of security at the start of the poem.

How do you know what you know?


Choose a line or phrase and physically draw it out to demonstrate the imagery used.

“You might think that the sea is company,
Exploding comfortably down on the cliffs”