17 pages 34 minutes read

Seamus Heaney

Whatever You Say, Say Nothing

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1975

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Literary Devices

Form and Meter

Although Heaney often writes poems that eschew or repurpose traditional uses of form and meter, “Whatever You Say, Say Nothing” is fairly traditional in its use of formal restraints. The poem is written in quatrains, or sets of four lines, and Heaney uses a consistent rhyme scheme throughout the piece that relies on end rhymes placed in an alternating pattern, line-by-line. As discussed earlier in this guide, quatrains are commonly featured in epigrams, and some notion of epigrammatic format is being purposefully employed by Heaney in order to subvert the meaning of the poem’s epigrammatic title: “Whatever You Say, Say Nothing.”

This subversion is typical for Heaney, a Postmodernist who is familiar with traditional form but prefers to twist it in order to make intelligent criticism of particular concepts. The poem’s rhyme scheme maintains this epigrammatic format throughout; however, the sections themselves are not consistent in length, which is a clear step away from formal restraint. Sections I and III maintain a consistent, matching length of 24 lines, arranged in six quatrains. Section II strays and becomes longer with 28 lines, arranged in seven quatrains, and most notably of all, the concluding section pulls up short with only 12 lines, arranged in three quatrains.