Casting and Gathering Poem by Seamus Heaney Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


The well-known Irish poet Seamus Heaney’s poem “Casting and Gathering” is about tradition, nature, and time passing. The cyclical aspect of life and the interdependence of human experiences with the natural world are reflected in the title, which refers to a process of letting go and bringing together. Heaney explores the customs of rural life, such as sowing seeds and harvesting the crop, which act as metaphors for more general issues like the continuity of life, the cycle of development and decay, and the human desire to maintain tradition and connect with nature. Heaney encourages us to reflect on the intricacies of human life and our interaction with the natural world by the sensory details and evocative descriptions of the landscape and human existence in the poem. 

About the poet

Irish poet, dramatist, and translator Seamus Justin Heaney won the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature. He was a well-known poet in Ireland, best known for his first significant book of poetry, Death of a Naturalist (1966). In 1996, Heaney, a professor at Harvard and Oxford, was appointed a Commandeur of the Order of the Arts and Letters. In addition, he received two Whitbread Prizes, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, the E. M. Forster Award, the PEN Translation Prize, the Golden Wreath of Poetry, and the T. S. Eliot Prize. In Bellaghy, Northern Ireland, he was laid to rest at St. Mary’s Church, where his gravestone bore the inscription “Walk on air against your better judgement.”


Line 1-6

for Ted Hughes

Years and years ago, these sounds took sides:

On the left bank a green silk tapered cast

Went whispering through the air, saying hush

And lush, entirely free, no matter whether

It swished above the hayfield or the river


The poem begins with the speaker remembering a period when some sound in nature seemed to choose sides. A “green silk tapered cast” was floating smoothly through the air on the left bank. The cast has been described as “whispering” and “lush,” creating an air of elegance and freedom. The sound of the cast appears to reflect the silence of the wind, whether it passed above a hayfield or a river.


The opening line of the poem creates a calm and nostalgic mood, with the phrase “Years and years ago” signifying a distant memory. The noises are related to the natural environment, notably the left side of a river. The picture of a green silk tapered cast conveys a delicate movement, similar to that of a fishing line. The phrase “whispering” heightens the peace, and the word “lush” adds a touch of luxury. Alliteration is created when the sound “sh” is repeated in the words “whispering” and “lush,” giving the poetry a melodic touch. The enjambment of lines contributes to the flowing, tranquil rhythm, echoing the cast’s smooth motion.

Line 7-10

On the right bank, like a speeded-up corncrake,

A sharp ratcheting kept on and on

Cutting across the stillness as another

Fisherman gathered line-lengths off his reel.


On the right bank, the sound is similar to that of a “speeded-up corncrake.” The term “speeded-up” implies a quick and repeating sound, similar to a corncrake bird’s call. The shrill ratcheting noise continues indefinitely, piercing the silence. The sound is compared to a fisherman repeatedly removing lengths of line from his fishing reel.


The poem successfully captures the spirit of nature by depicting two distinct auditory experiences along the riverbanks. While the right bank presents a more vibrant and active landscape, the left bank is calm and quiet. The repeated and loud “speeded-up corncrake” sound adds life to the surroundings by breaking up the serenity and silence. The term “cutting across the stillness” highlights the variety of sounds and experiences found in nature by striking an apparent contrast between the two sides of the river. The ratcheting sound, which is reminiscent of a fisherman unwinding lengths of line from his reel, emphasizes activity and labor and heightens the sensation of movement and bustling on the right bank. 

Line 11-14

I am still standing there, awake and dreamy.

I have grown older and can see them both

Moving their arms and rods, working away,

Each one absorbed, proofed by the sounds he’s making.


The two fishermen are described by the speaker as being alert and dreamy, aware of their surroundings but yet immersed in a daydream. They see that they have gotten older since their original memory. The fisherman appears dedicated and concentrated since they are working hard and staying on task. The speaker claims that the sounds they make when casting and gathering, such as the swishing of fishing rods and the splashing of water, support their acts. These noises are indications of their efforts and participation in the fishing process.


Through the speaker’s observation of the fisherman in the present, the poem tackles themes of time and change while also stressing the passage of time and the speaker’s awareness of their own aging. The speaker’s experience is a combination of being aware and sleepy, reflecting their knowledge of their own aging. The fishermen’s commitment to their craft is shown in the results of their labor, which is unaffected by outside forces. This commitment could represent the peaceful and eternal quality of fishing, which has always been a part of human activities. As the speaker observes the fisherman and the changes that have taken place since the initial remembrance, the poem portrays a moment of reflection and introspection for the speaker. 

Line 15-18

One sound is saying, ‘You aren’t worth tuppence,

But neither is anybody. So watch Number One!’

The other says, ‘Go with it! Give and swerve.

You are everything you feel beside the river.’


The speaker describes two voices they hear when observing fishermen: a contemptuous and critical one that urges them to concentrate on their own problems and an inspirational and motivating one that counsels them to adopt a broad and receptive mindset. The speaker claims to be “everything beside the river,” referring to the metaphorical relationship between life’s events and emotions and the river and fishing. The speaker’s viewpoint on the fisherman serves as a reminder of the value of adaptability and self-doubt in life.


The poem examines the internal struggle that exists in the speaker’s head, with the critical voice standing in for self-doubt and the narrow focus on one’s own interests, which reflect feelings of inadequacy or insecurity. The encouraging voice, on the other hand, promotes self-affirmation and a larger viewpoint, urging the speaker to enjoy life completely and be present in the moment. The expression “giving and swerving” denotes a desire to be sensitive to the universe and manage life’s twists and turns with flexibility. While “everything you feel beside the river” emphasizes the connectivity of the speaker’s experiences with the natural world, the term “watch Number One” conveys a self-centered perspective. These opposing voices reflect the universal battle between self-doubt and self-acceptance, a prevalent issue in human psychology. 

Line 19-22

I love hushed air. I trust contrariness.

Years and years go past and I cannot move

For I see that when one man casts, the other gathers

And then vice versa, without changing sides.


The speaker expresses their love for the peaceful environment, which is characterized by stillness and silence (“hushed air”). This serene setting appears to inspire calmness and introspection. The statement “I trust contrariness” denotes the speaker’s embracing of and acceptance of opposites or inconsistencies in life. They respect the coexistence of opposing forces and regard it as a fundamental feature of reality. With one guy “casting” (throwing the fishing line out) and the other “gathering” (reeling it in), the lines also add to the motif of fishing. The act of casting and gathering is depicted as a circular and continuous process, with one man’s activity following the other’s “without changing sides.”


The poem utilizes fishing as a metaphor for life and the interconnectivity of human acts. The process of casting and gathering is a metaphor for life’s cyclical nature, in which one thing leads to another without having a clear conclusion in sight. The term “hushed air” indicates a moment of silence and tranquility, implying a contemplative condition in which the speaker observes and contemplates the universe. The idea of “contrariness” conveys the speaker’s readiness to accept paradoxes and inconsistencies as well as their recognition of the complexity and duality that exist in all things. The lines convey a feeling of continuity and timelessness, implying that years pass with no significant change. This is consistent with the poem’s cyclical idea, in which events and experiences continue to repeat and interconnect. The poem promotes mindfulness of the moment and an awareness that life’s journey is marked by perpetual change and harmonious discord.