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2. The Prestige

“The first part is called the Pledge… the magician shows you something ordinary. He shows you this object, and pledges to you its utter normality… Perhaps he asks you to inspect it…unaltered… But, of course, it probably isn’t… The second act is called the Turn… the magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret. But you won’t find it. Because of course, you’re not really looking. You want to be fooled. But you couldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough… you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act. The hardest part…The Prestige.”


In a quite extraordinarily sleight of low-brow-ness, I am now going to use this Michael Cain speech from the 2007 blockbuster hit The Prestige, in order to help us enjoy poems by Seamus Heaney.


As before, I am going to ask you to put the line-breaks into the following poems. This is a bit easier than last time, as there is a regular metre and rhyme-scheme at work here. THEN, take a look through and see where you think the following moments happen in each poem (and use an extra line-break to indicate them):

1.The Pledge, when the subject of the poem is shown

2.The Turn, when the subject ‘vanishes’ from view as the poet discussed/discovers it’s metaphorical strength

3.The Prestige, when the trick of the poem is completed and the moment is given to the reader


I have done the first one.



Vowels ploughed into other: opened ground.


The mildest February for twenty years

Is mist bands over furrows, a deep no sound

Vulnerable to distant gargling tractors.

Our road is steaming, the turned-up acres breathe.

Now the good life could be to cross a field


And art a paradigm of earth new from the lathe

Of ploughs. My lea is deeply tilled.

Old ploughsocks gorge the subsoil of each sense

And I am quickened with a redolence

Of farmland as a dark unblown rose.

Wait then…Breasting the mist, in sowers’ aprons,


My ghosts come striding into their spring stations.

The dream grain whirls like freakish Easter snows.


Now, have a go at these two… how does the line-breaking reflect which ‘moment’ of the magic trick we are at?



I used to lie with an ear to the line for that way, they said, there should come a sound escaping ahead, an iron tune of flange and piston pitched along the ground, but I never heard that. Always, instead, struck couplings and shuntings two miles away lifted over the woods. The head of a horse swirled back from a gate, a grey turnover of haunch and mane, and I’d look up to the cutting where she’d soon appear. Two fields back, in the house, small ripples shook silently across our drinking water (As they are shaking now across my heart) and vanished into where they seemed to start.



He lived there in the unsayable lights. He saw the fuchsia in a drizzling noon, The elderflower at dusk like a risen moon and green fields greying on the windswept heights. ‘I will break through,’ he said, ‘what I glazed over with perfect mist and peaceful absences’— sudden and sure as the man who dared the ice and raced his bike across the Moyola River. A man we never saw. But in that winter of nineteen forty-seven, when the snow kept the country bright as a studio, in a cold where things might crystallize or founder, his story quickened us, a wild white goose heard after dark above the drifted house.


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