Personal Helicon

Personal Helicon Study Guide

"Personal Helicon," a five-stanza poem by Irish writer Seamus Heaney, describes a child's love of exploring wells from the perspective of his adult self. It links the process of exploring the physical world to both self-examination and poetic practice, rhetorically linking rhyme, reflection, and echoing. The poem, like much of Heaney's work, is somewhat autobiographical and touches on the poet's childhood in Ireland. It implicitly alludes to the Irish folk practice of visiting holy wells, but in its title and its reference to Narcissus, also explicitly alludes to Greek myth.

"Personal Helicon" was originally published in Heaney's first collection, Death of a Naturalist, released in 1966. It consists of five quatrains with a loose ABAB rhyme scheme, often employing slant rhyme. Its tone is nostalgic, reflective, and playful. Like much of Heaney's work, it makes copious use of sound devices such as alliteration, assonance, and onomatopoeia, creating a consistent musicality even while maintaining an informal tone. It also makes use of a wide variety of sensory images, referencing smell, sound, and sight in order to vividly portray the physical world.