Seamus Heaney's poem 'North' contains these lines:

those fabulous raiders,
those lying in Orkney and Dublin […]
were ocean-deafened voices
warning me, lifted again
in violence and epiphany.

It would be great if you explain the meaning of the words 'violence' and 'epiphany' in the context of the poem.

1 Answer 1


The speaker of ‘North’ describes the experience of standing on a beach (“a long strand”) on the Atlantic coast of Ireland (“facing … Iceland [and] Greenland”) and “suddenly” finding himself imagining the Vikings (“those fabulous raiders”) and being inspired by them to write poetry (“lie down in the word-hoard … compose in darkness”).

So in this context the “voices” belong to these imagined Vikings. Their voices were “lifted in violence” when uttering war-cries as they raided the coastal settlements of Ireland in the ninth and tenth centuries. An “epiphany” is a “sudden manifestation of appearance of some divine or superhuman being” (OED), or figuratively, a sudden realization or inspiration. This is a transferred epithet: it is really the speaker who is experiencing a sudden inspiration, not the Vikings.

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