Shakespeare
35 Topics | 35 Quizzes
19th Century Novels
25 Topics | 25 Quizzes
Drama
38 Topics | 38 Quizzes
Prose
25 Topics | 23 Quizzes
Poetry
45 Topics | 45 Quizzes

Storm on the Island: Power and Conflict Analysis

Seamus Heaney was a poet from Northern Ireland. Storm on the Island was published in 1966.

The poem was written in the build-up to The Troubles, a period of sectarian conflict and political violence in Northern Ireland between 1968 and 1998. The first eight letters of the poem’s title spell Stormont (Storm on the Island). Stormont is the name of the area where the Northern Irish Assembly meets. Therefore, it could be interpreted that the poem is an allegory (it has a hidden meaning) for the political unrest in the country.

Poem summary

A community on an island prepare for a storm. At first, they feel confident because they have designed their houses to be solid. However, as the storm grows, their confidence starts to disappear. They become increasingly frightened by the storm’s power.

The poem’s key message is that nature is more powerful than humans and cannot be controlled.

Language

  • The first few lines have images of safety, reflecting the islanders’ misguided confidence. They are “prepared”; the houses are built “squat”; nature has “never troubled” them.
  • Sound imagery is used as the storm starts to grow. The trees raise a “tragic chorus” in the gale and the wind causes a “Blast”.
  • A semantic field of war describes the storm hitting the island. The wind “strafes” (a reference to a gun or bomb attack from a low-flying aircraft). “Space” is likened to a “salvo,” suggesting that the emptiness and vastness of the sky (or atmosphere) feel like a bombardment, much like how a salvo is a sudden burst or simultaneous firing of artillery. This captures the intensity and overwhelming nature of the storm they’re experiencing. They are “bombarded” by the empty air.

Structure

  • There is a sense of calm in the first six lines as the narrator explains their preparations.
  • Starting line 7 with the word “Blast” gives the first hint of violence.
  • From line 14 onwards, the storm rages forcefully, and the inhabitants can only “sit tight” until it passes.
  • The final line is more reflective as the narrator considers, “it is a huge nothing that we fear”.

Form

  • Heaney writes the poem in blank verse (no rhyme) and iambic pentameter (5 pairs of unstressed and stressed beats per line). This creates a conversational rhythm that makes it sound like the narrator is telling someone a story.
  • The first-person plural (“We are prepared”) shows how this is a challenge faced by the community together rather than individuals. If the poem does link to broader conflicts in Northern Ireland, Heaney could be showing that the problems that exist are for the whole country to face.

Themes

ThemeAnalysis
The power of natureThe island community initially believes they are in control of the storm. They have designed the houses for such weather, with solid walls and roofs made “with good slate”.

However, they have underestimated the violent power of nature. It “pummels” at the houses as if trying to break them down. The spray from the sea smashes against the windows. Its relentless power is shown when they are “bombarded” by the wind. The narrator is shocked at how this “huge nothing” causes such violence against the solid foundations they have put in place.  
Violent conflictHeaney presents this as a battle between the islanders and nature. The people on the island prepare for the attack. The “Blast” they hear could make the reader think of a bomb. Finally, there is the all-out attack from the storm as it “dives/ And strafes invisibly”. We are left wondering whether the buildings can withstand the onslaught and the inhabitants can stay safe.  
FearThe fear in the poem is an unexpected one. The inhabitants feel confident initially and don’t see nature as a threat. They think that the “wizened earth has never troubled us” and that the “sea is company”, so they should have nothing to fear.

This changes when the water from the sea hits the houses “like a tame cat/ Turned savage”. They are suddenly fearful of the sea and nature around them. This fear is made worse because it is invisible – a “huge nothing” – making it harder to understand what they fear.  

Key Quotes to Learn

QuoteWhy is it important?
“We build our houses squat”The word “squat” shows that the houses are built to be short and sturdy, which the inhabitants believe will protect them from damage in a storm.
“spits like a tame cat/ Turned savage”This simile demonstrates that the nature they had thought of as benign and friendly has become violent towards them.
“it is a huge nothing we fear”The storm is an invisible presence, unlike the solid houses they have built. They are at nature’s mercy in ways they can’t predict.

You’ve used 0 of your 10 free revision notes for the month

Sign up to get unlimited access to revision notes, quizzes, audio lessons and more

Sign up