‘The Forge’ is a sonnet with a clear division into an octave (the first eight lines) and a sestet (the final six lines). While the octave, apart from its initial reference to the narrator, focuses solely on the inanimate objects and occurrences inside and outside the forge, the sestet describes the blacksmith himself, and what he does. Heaney begins with the line All I know is a door into the dark. This can be interpreted as the blacksmith stepping out of reality; into the ignorance of darkness. As he steps through the door it brings him back in time via his memories, as can be seen in the next line as he goes on to tell of the old axles and iron hoops rusting outside.
The adjectives old and rusting create the impression of age; that they have been affected by time. Heaney portrays the scene inside the hammered anvils short-pitched ring… He wants to depict to the reader what a true forge was like. Also, he creates the idea that the anvil was necessary and vital in metal production by describing the anvil as hammered. The writer attempts to prove to the reader how useful and, in turn, well used it was. The unpredictable fantail of sparks… Heaney uses this line to contrast with the order of today’s manufacture which is quite the opposite of his idyllic memory. He tries to persuade the reader that the forge, when in the height of its success, was a picturesque and almost perfect entity.
Hiss – Heaney uses the literary device of onomatopoeia throughout the poem. This is incredibly effective and, perhaps, unrivalled in its ability to incorporate the auditory sense into any piece of literature. This also portrays the noisy, busy environment of the forge. Furthermore, he uses hard and sharp vowels and consonants to further the illusion of authenticity. Another literary device used by Heaney is that of sibilance; this adds to the realism of the poem. Moreover, the use of the word toughens creates the impression of firmness and hardness. This is insulting cheap, modern automobiles and other such mass-produced items by contrasting them with the sturdiness, reliability and individuality of those produced in the forge.
The following line The anvil must be somewhere in the centre, is added to explain the importance of the anvil in the blacksmiths work. Heaney goes on to further depict the anvil Horned as a unicorn. The mythical reference emphasises and praises the blacksmith, whilst this simile also represents strength and incorruptibility.
Heaney’s ensuing line Set there immoveable an altar is phenomenally effective. The punctuation, in this case a colon, creates a pause which is critical in concocting the climax of the piece. The metaphor an altar portrays the reverence which it is to be viewed with; it immediately makes the anvil appear holy. The blacksmiths profession is Godlike and his everyday tasks become religious acts The blacksmith expends himself in shape and music at this anvil, the art of poetry is compared to that of the blacksmith. This shows the creativity involved in his profession.
Realism is furthered in the proceeding line Leather-aproned, hairs in his nose. Heaney attempts to personalise the blacksmith by adding unimportant details of his appearance.
Recalls a clatter of hoofs… The blacksmith obviously does not welcome many customers and so he reminisces about the forges thriving past. Heaney describes modern traffic as flashing in rows. He embraces the romantic image of a bygone era but views modern traffic with contempt. His whole profession is automatically opposed to this; the shoddy tin of todays automobiles contrast with the toughness of the iron produced and manipulated at the forge. Earlier in the poem, Heaney depicted the unpredictable fantail of sparks. These are now compared to the rows of modern traffic; stereotyped vehicles and a lack of individuality.
The blacksmith then grunts and goes in. This onomatopoeia shows his disgust, the next lines further this impression as he enters with a slam and a fick to beat real iron out, clearly showing his anger and rage in this aggressive behaviour. The fact that he states that he will be beating real iron out further describes his distaste towards the cheap, flimsy production of today as opposed to what he considers to be real iron; that produced in the forge. The final line to work the bellows portrays the manual necessity in the forge, again contrasting with modern, robotic production.