Storm on the Island

Storm on the Island Study Guide

"Storm on the Island" is a poem by Irish poet Seamus Heaney, first published in his 1966 collection Death of a Naturalist. It has been interpreted as an allegory for political tensions in Northern Ireland, though it does not allude to these tensions explicitly. It portrays a desolate island landscape inhabited by a group of resourceful individuals who must protect themselves from a storm. If read as an allegory for conflict in Ireland, then the islanders may be understood to represent the Irish people. The storm, meanwhile, may represent oppressive British rule, and may represent the brutality of war and conflict in general.

The poem begins with a description of the island itself and the islanders' techniques of self-protection. It then shifts to describing the chaos of the storm, making heavy use of enjambment in order to portray turmoil and build suspense. As the poem draws to a close, the speaker makes note of the paradoxical nature of the islanders' fear, musing that the storm they are afraid of is both destructive and, on a physical level, almost nonexistent.

The poem is notable for its vivid descriptions of the natural world and for its meticulous use of assonance, alliteration, consonance, and onomatopoeia. It borrows from military vocabularies, subtly comparing the storm to an attacking army. It is written as a single stanza, uses iambic pentameter throughout, and, though it does not consistently use rhyme, does conclude with an end rhyme. Its speaker appears to be an amalgamation of the island's inhabitants, identified only as "we." The reader is also addressed as "you," implying that even the reader is implicated in the poem's conflict.

Death of a Naturalist, the collection containing this poem, contains 33 others as well, including the well-known "Digging" and "Mid-Term Break." These other poems, like "Storm on the Island," are concerned with the natural world, Irish heritage and history, loss, and the divide between the physical and abstract realms.