"Storm on the Island" is a poem by one Ireland's foremost writers, Seamus Heaney. In the poem, an unspecified narrator talks about an isolated island community. These islanders live in fear of a coming storm, and have no trees for shelter. On the surface level, the poem appears to be about nature's ultimate power over humankind. The anticipation of disaster, however, can also be interpreted as a comment on humankind's own capacity for violence, perhaps in relation to the political tensions in Northern Ireland during the 20th century (which became, soon after the poem's publication in 1966, what's now known as the Troubles).
We are prepared: ...
... can be lost.
Nor are there ...
... your house too.
But there are ... no natural shelter.
You might think ...
... Turned savage.
We just sit ...
... that we fear
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
Poetry and the Troubles — An interesting article about the response of Irish poets to the Troubles conflict.
Heaney Looking Back — Heaney reflects on his life and career shortly after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Heaney's Life and Poetry — A valuable resource from the Poetry Foundation.
Heaney Reads Aloud — Heaney reads some of his own poetry, including the first poem, "Digging," from the same collection as "Storm on the Island."
An Animated History of Irish Conflict — This animation gives a quick summary of conflicts in Ireland over the centuries.
1We are prepared: we build our houses squat,
2Sink walls in rock and roof them with good slate.
3This wizened earth has never troubled us
4With hay, so, as you see, there are no stacks
5Or stooks that can be lost. Nor are there trees
6Which might prove company when it blows full
7Blast: you know what I mean - leaves and branches
8Can raise a tragic chorus in a gale
9So that you listen to the thing you fear
10Forgetting that it pummels your house too.
11But there are no trees, no natural shelter.
12You might think that the sea is company,
13Exploding comfortably down on the cliffs
14But no: when it begins, the flung spray hits
15The very windows, spits like a tame cat
16Turned savage. We just sit tight while wind dives
17And strafes invisibly. Space is a salvo,
18We are bombarded with the empty air.
19Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.