17 pages 34 minutes read

Seamus Heaney

Whatever You Say, Say Nothing

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1975

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Symbols & Motifs

The Trojan Horse

At the end of section III of the poem, Heaney writes, “half of us, as in a wooden horse / Were cabin’d and confined like wily Greeks, / Besieged within the siege, whispering morse” (Lines 74-76). One of the more obvious symbols Heaney employs in “Whatever You Say, Say Nothing” comes with the reference to the Trojan horse from classical Greek literature. The Trojan horse has become a familiar concept to modern audiences of duplicity or trickery—a reward willingly accepted, only to spell doom for the one who accepts it. In context, during the Trojan war (depicted in Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid) the Trojans and Greeks battle each other, and at the end of the conflict, the Greeks seemingly give up and sail home, leaving behind a large wooden horse as a gift of friendship and monument of their loss to the Trojan people. The Trojans, thinking the horse is a sign of surrender and believing the Greeks have given up the siege to return home, bring the wooden horse into their city. The wooden horse, designed by the wily Odysseus, is actually a trap. Within the horse are Greek soldiers who attack unexpectantly after being let into the city, sacking Troy, the Trojans’ capital city.