Out of the Bag – Seamus Heaney

Out of the Bag is all about a child’s perception of birth giving, he believes that it is the doctor whom is creating these babies, piece by piece. There is also this reference to mythology, which further enhances the fact that the speaker sees the doctor as mythical and magical, he is someone for the speaker to aspire to be.


Themes –

  • Childhood: This poem looks at the way children see things as mythical and magical as seen through the speakers’ outlook on childbirth. He looks up to this doctor with ‘hyperborean’ eyes. Hyperborean creatures are giants from Greek mythology that live in the ‘north-wind’, the fact that the speaker sees the doctor as mythical and giant like shows that he looks up to him.
  • Religion: The speaker also hints at religion through the ‘shrines’ he visits in Greece and also the way he describes his pilgrimage in order to help heal his friend that is going through ‘chemotherapy’. The speaker carries this idea of mythology and almost naivety throughout the poem as he seeks a ‘sanatorium’ and ‘god’ to help save his friend.


Tone of the poem –

  • There is a friendly and warm tone at the beginning of the poem as we see how the speaker idolises this doctor who ‘savoured’ and appreciated the miracle of birth and ‘like a hypnotist’ with magical powers, made these babies piece by piece. As we get further into the poem the tone shifts to a feeling of helplessness as the speaker goes through ‘heat and fumes’ all in an attempt to find the magic he saw as a child, he hallucinates and looks back at memories of this magician doctor.


Structure –

  • Heaney uses enjambment throughout the poem, which creates fluidity. Water is something that is mentioned quite a lot in this poem and the doctor is linked to water. Water symbolises life giving as we are made of water and it is what makes up most of planet earth, this fluidity that enjambment creates could be symbolising the fact that life is constantly being brought into this world by people like this magical doctor.
  • Chapter like sections separates the poem; Heaney could have done this to represent the chapters of life and how the future brings about new memories to add to our lives. It could also represent how mythology is something that is written in books and fairy tales, and because that sense of magic was such a big part of the speakers’ life, he treats his life as a book.


Techniques –

  • The poet uses assonance in the line ‘those, nosy, rosy, big, soft hands’. The use of the letter ‘o’ could be imitating the awe that the child is in from watching this doctor. His mouth is gaping in awe.
  • There is also a use of personification through ‘trap-sprung mouth’. This gives the bag human features because it is this bag where the doctor carries all of his baby creation tools.
  • The poet also uses sibilance in the line ‘soft, Sud-luscious, saved for him from the rain-butt and savoured’. This is a soft sibilance that creates a soothing and comforting sound, it could also be done to replicate the sound of flowing water (the life giving symbol).
  • The poet also chooses to use Irish slang at the end of the poem through ‘wee baby’ to give a sense of location and emphasise that at that point the speaker is back home in Ireland.


Important quotes –

‘a plump ark by the keel’

A keel is the base of a bag, so the fact that this bag is ‘plump’ at the base could be a symbol of pregnancy and the fact that the speaker believes that it is the contents of the bag, along with the magical doctor, that create a baby. The bag almost replaces the ‘incubation’ a mother would give.



This is another reference to Greek mythology; Asclepius was a physician to soldiers who was then elevated to the status of a God. This could be showing how the speaker is remembering the doctor, and the fact that he was also given a God like status by the speaker.



‘The room I came from’

This is a representation of the circle of life, it is the same room that the speaker was born in, but now it’s his baby that is being born.


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