- Slides: 76
Seamus Heaney Leaving Cert Poetry
Who is Seamus Heaney?
Seamus Heaney u u Was born in 1939 to a Co. Derry farmer and cattle dealer. Many of his poems refer to this rural childhood. His first book of poems Death of Naturalist, was published in 1966 and he has since gone on to win great fame, success and popularity. Since 1982 he has lived in Dublin and Wicklow, spending part of each year teaching in the Us. In 1995 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, probably the greatest accolade a poet can be awarded.
A Constable Calls (1975) u Poem based on a childhood memory: a visit by a police officer to the Heaney Farm. u The constable is in the farmhouse recording the “tillage returns” to record the crops that are growing on the farm.
A Constable Calls u Heaney describes the constable. u He has taken off his cap, revealing the “slightly sweating hair” underneath. u The description of the constable, as seen through the eyes of the boy, describe his uniform and equipment so he seems nearly inhuman. u The speaker mentions ‘his cap’, his ‘polished holster’ and his ‘baton-case’.
A Constable Calls u The father lists the different crops growing on the farm, describing the amount of land dedicated to each. u The constable records the information in his ledger. u The speaker meanwhile is filled with fear.
A Constable Calls u u u His eyes are drawn to his gun, “I sat staring at the polished holster”. The father hides the fact that he is growing turnips – to avoid paying tax. Speaker uncomfortable about this – imagines his father might be taken to the “barracks”.
A Constable Calls u Thankfully for the speaker the constable leaves without inspecting the fields. u The speaker describes the sound of the constable’s bicycle as he departs, declaring that it “ticked, ticked”. This line is threatening, calling to mind the sound of an explosive device.
A Constable Calls Themes Conflict and Fear u. The constable is a member of the RUC, the Protestant controlled police force and to the young speaker he represents oppressive state power. u. His boots are associated with heaviness. His pedals are described as being “relieved” when he steps off them. u. The constable’s presence fills the speaker with fear as he associates the constable with violence. u. The family home, a place of love and security, is threatened by the presence of the policeman and all he represents.
A Constable Calls Personification u. The bicycle of the constable is described in cold language and Heaney uses wordplay to associate the different parts of the bike with the power of the police to arrest and use force. u. The phrase ‘handlegrips’ suggests handcuffs and the gleaming ‘cocked back’ dynamo brings to mind a gun ready to fire. u. The phrase ‘boot of the law’ suggests the violence of the police force at that time.
A Constable Calls A snapshot from childhood Themes of fear and power Constable intrudes Personal memory But also specking for the whole community Constable describe In terms of his uniform and equipment Harsh sound Feelings of guilt, alarm and dread.
First Encounter 1. 2. 3. The speaker spends eight lines describing the constable’s bicycle? List the different features. What age do you think the speaker is at the time of the visit? Why? ‘the bicycle ticked, ticked’. What do you regard as the significance of this closing line? Do you think it can be interpreted in more than one way?
A closer reading 1. What three words would you use to describe the atmosphere of this poem? Give reasons for you answer. 2. What do you regard as the most interesting line or image in this poem. Give reasons for your answer.
Lines 1 -10 u The poet remembers an evening from his honeymoon in London. He and wife were going to the ‘the Proms’, a concert in the Albert Hall. u They travelled by train on the London underground to get to the concert hall.
The poet remembers his wife running ahead of him through ‘the vaulted tunnel’ of the station. u The poet describes in line 3 this race through the city in terms of a Greek myth. The poet thinks of his wife running through the London streets as Syrinx. He thinks of himself as Pan running behind her: ’me then like a fleet god/upon you before you turned to reed’. u
LINES 11 -16 u u The second half of the poem is dark and eerie. The poet presents a kind of nightmare scenario in which he leads his wife through the late-night streets of London tracing their way by means of the buttons.
u He compares himself to Hansel in the fairy story, guiding his wife through the dark and alien streets of the city. u They arrive at a ‘draughty lamp lit station’ where the underground service has finished. The place seems eerily empty. u The poet is in a tense and agitated state of mind: ’the wet track/Bared and tensed as I am’.
u The poem’s last lines reference the Greek myth of Orpheus. u Orpheus was a Greek musician and poet. He visited the Underworld to plead for the return of his wife and the rulers of the Underworld were so moved they allowed her to return with him on one condition. Orpheus was to walk ahead of his wife and not look back at her until they had reached the upper world. In his anxiety and his love, as soon as he reached the borders of the two worlds, he looked behind him and his wife was lost to him forever.
Ø Likewise, Heaney is leading his wife out of a dark and alien landscape and fears that if he looks back he will lose her forever: 'all attention/for your step following and damned if I look back’.
u Heaney takes an ordinary human experience and makes it universal by reference to classical myths and tales. The reference to the lustful god Pan chasing the nymph Syrinx highlights the couple’s desire and sexual excitement. u The references to Hansel and Gretel and Orpheus highlight the fears the poet feels as he begins married life.
Themes Love and Married Life The first half of the poem captures the joy, excitement and energy of a early married life. They seem to be carefree and preoccupied with their love for one another. u The poem also captures the sexual excitement of young married love. u It may be that the ‘white flower japed with crimson’ represents the loss of virginity between new married couple. u
Themes Love and Married Life u However, the poem also seems to suggest that married life can involve doubt and uncertainty. u The nightmare second part of the poem registers that poet’s fears and anxieties as he sets out on married life. u This section also suggest the tensions and security he might be feeling in his new role as husband.
Atmosphere u u An interesting feature of this poem is that it has two different atmospheres. The opening section is realistic, joyous and full of life. The poet describes the excitement that he and his wife felt as they raced through the streets of London. The description of the buttons springing off suggests the abandonment and thrill that they both feel.
u u In stark contrast, the atmosphere of the second half is unrealistic, eerie and haunting with its dark streets and empty tube station. Heaney describes feeling ‘Bared and tensed’ and the ‘draught lamplit station’ suggests loneliness and uncertainty.
Playful, celebratory Poem The Underground Energy and excitement True life in description of love Love as desire, pursuit, escape, Silence. A love poem without the word love Not a conventional ending Poet present as attentive but stubbor
Language Allusion The poem is rich in allusions, referencing another story. The references to Hansel and Gretel and Orpheus and Eurydice in the last two stanzas particularly highlight the fears the poet feels as he begins married life. The reference to the lustful god Pan chasing Syrinx, meanwhile, captures the poet’s sexual excitement on his honeymoon. It also captures the nerves his wife might be experiencing, one common to many newly-wed brides at this time.
Language Metaphor The poet imagines his wife being transformed not only into a “reed” but also “some new white flower”. Here we imagine this woman in her white goingaway coat being some never before seen flower. The fact that this flower would be “japed” or stained with “crimson” has two different meanings. Firstly how she stained her coat while eating at a pub but it also evokes the loss of virginity.
Questions 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. Where is the poet? Who is he with? Where are they going? What sort of mood is evident in the first nine lines of the poem? What does the poet compare himself to in the first stanza? Why do you think he makes this comparison? How does the atmosphere and mood of the poem change after line 9? Why do you think the poet is ‘bared’ and ‘tense’? What do you think the poet means when he says that he is ‘damned’ if he looks back? Are there different ways to read the last lines of the poem? The poem tells of a couple honeymooning in London. What does this suggest to you about the early days of marriage? Do you think the poet expresses mixed feelings about becoming a husband?
First encounter 1. 2. 3. What sort of mood is evident in the first nine lines of the poem? What does the poet compare himself to in the first stanza? How does the atmosphere and mood of the poem change after line 9?
A closer look 1. 2. The poem tells of a couple honey mooning in London. What does it suggest to you about the early days of marriage? Do you think the poet expresses mixed feelings about becoming a married man?
‘Hold on, ’ she said, ‘I’ll just run out and get him. The weather here’s so good, he took the chance To do a bit of weeding. ’ So I saw him Down on his hands and knees beside the leek rig, Touching, inspecting, separating one Stalk from the other, gently pulling up Everything not tapered, frail and leafless, Pleased to feel each little weed-root break, But rueful also… Then found myself listening to The amplified grave ticking of hall clocks Where the phone lay unattended in a calm Of mirror glass and sunstruck pendulums… And found myself then thinking: if it were nowadays, This is how Death would summon Everyman. Next thing he spoke and I nearly said I loved him.
u u u First Encounter The poet is calling his father. His mother has answered the phone and told him that his father is weeding in the garden. While he waits the poet pictures his father gardening. The poet imagines his father kneeling a ‘rig’ or bed of leeks. He pictures his father inspecting them carefully, separating them one from the other as he searches for weeds growing between them. The father is happy to remove these invaders but he is also ‘rueful’ or regretful at ending the weed’s life.
The poet continues to wait for his father to come to the phone. His parents phone rests on the hallway where there seems to be several clocks in the hallway. Their ticking is ‘amplified’ or made louder by the emptiness of the hallway. u The poet imagines how his parent’s hallway must look in the sunlight and he thinks of the hallway as a calm and peaceful place. u
Medieval story: Death u Heaney uses allusion to refer to a morality tale. In medieval times morality tales were performed to teach people valuable lessons. The main character in these stories was always called ‘Everyman’. u In these stories, Death would appear at the door of Everyman in order to summon him to the next world. The poet imagines that if the story were written ‘nowadays, Death would probably summon Everyman by calling him on the phone.
u As he imagines his father drifting closer towards death the poet is momentarily overcome with emotion. u When his father comes to the phone Heaney is so relieved that he wants to tell his father how much he loves him and cares for him, but he doesn’t do it.
Themes Family: Father&Son u The poem offers us a moving portrait of the poet’s father and suggests the difficulty that fathers and sons have when it comes to expressing the love they feel for each other. u Heaney portrays his father as a gentle and sensitive man: removing the weeds gently, seeming to regret the need to kill them. He is also presented as a careful and thoughtful person as he focuses on the task of weeding. We get a sense that he is very fond of his father and thinks of him as a kindly and decent person. u
Themes: Death and the Passage of Time u u u The poem is deeply concerned with death and the passage of time. This is most apparent when the poet alludes to the medieval story of Death and Everyman which stresses that we all must face death at some moment. Time is constantly passing, bringing each of us closer to the moment when death will come for us. This is emphasised by the sound of the clocks ticking. The word ‘grave’ suggests that this is a serious sound but also brings to mind the notion of death itself. This idea is also explored when the poet imagines his father killing the weeds in his leek-bed. The fragility of the leaves suggests how vulnerable each of us is in the face of death.
Imagery u u u One of the key images of poem is of the poet’s father carefully tending his garden. This gives us a sense of the gentle and sensitive man he is, carefully and deliberately weeding. It is obvious the fondness the poet has for him. The poem clearly describes the hallway in the poet’s parents house showing us how familiar all the details are to the poet. The poet imagines the calm and sunlit empty hallway but given that this poem is about death the empty hallway might suggest the emptiness the poet will feel when his father is dead. The image of Death ‘calling’ his father highlights the poet’s realisation that the end could be sudden and unexpected on a mundane day such as this one. The imagery of the ticking clock vividly brings to life the unstoppable passage of time. Each moment that passes brings each of closer to death – either the death of a loved on or our own end.
Sound Effects u u The assonance in “pulling up” and “sunstruck pendulums” creates a pleasant, melodious sound which reflects the peace associated with the parents’ house. Onomatopoeia occurs when Heaney describes the clocks “ticking”. We can hear the tick-tock of the clock and are reminded of the inescapable passage of time.
A Call Dramatic opening Relief at the sound of his Father’s voice Moves from action to remembering Moving from remembering to death Plain and unfussy language Relates a modern Phone to a medieval Death Guarded feeling At the end Father and son theme
First Encounter 1. 2. 3. 4. Describe in your own words what is happening in the first three lines. How does the speaker imagine his father? How does the speaker imagine the hallway where the phone is situated? ‘I nearly said I love him’. Why doesn’t the speaker actually tell his father he loves him?
A closer reading 1. What clues are we given about the father's personality and about the relationship between him and the poet? 2. Would you describe this as a sorrowful or as a joyful poem? Give reasons for your answer.
Comparison between Ireland & America Prairies of North America Irish Landscape Prairies are vast grasslands stretching for hundreds of kilometres The Irish landscape is relatively tiny, you can travel for a few hours by car before reaching the sea. May seem cramped and claustrophobic in comparison The prairies exhibit an endless flatness Known for being rugged, mountainous and uneven The prairies are nearly featureless Filled with geographical features; with mountains, lakes and hills You can see for tens or even hundreds of kilometres You can only see as far as the next mountain, lake or hill. The eye must give way or “concede” In the prairies because there are no In Ireland, however, some features distractions, one’s gaze tends to of landscape will inevitably attract drift all the way towards the horizon or distract the eye. Heaney mentions how the eye is “wooed” or seduced by the sight of a mountain lake
A journey into the bog’s depths u In the 19 th century the voyagers who travelled the great plains of America were known as pioneers. These were fearless explorers. u The closest Irish equivalent according to Heaney are the turf cutters who dig into the bog revealing its secrets. “Our pioneers keep striking / Inwards and downwards” u
u Our turf-cutting pioneers have made incredible discoveries of their own: – The perfectly preserved skeleton of a ‘Great Irish Elk’ which has been extinct for over 11, 000 years. – Butter buried in the bog over “a hundred years ago”. Still “salty” after its decades amid the peat. – Trunks of ancient trees, of “great firs”, softened by the bog’s swampy wetness until “waterlogged”
u u Each layer of bogland the turf cutters remove reveals layers of earlier civilisations: “Every layer they strip / Seem camped on before” Heaney’s description of how each layer of bog seems “camped on” wonderfully captures the shortness of human life. Each generation of Irish people is only “camping” on the island
A description of bogland u The poem emphasises the strange splendour of Ireland’s boglands. Heaney praises the pleasant texture of the peat that makes up the boggy landscape comparing it to “black butter”. u Heaney seems especially fascinated by the bog’s shifting malleable nature: the buttery material which changes shape, the bog’s surface which is constantly altering “between sights of the sun” generating a crusty upper layer and the feeling that nothing solid could ever exist in such an environment: “they’ll never dig coal here”
Theme: History and Nature u Heaney said about Irish bogland: “I began to get an idea of bog as the memory of the landscape, or as a landscape that remembered everything that happened in and to it. ” u He describes going to the National Museum in Dublin and realising that most of the most cherished heritage of Ireland there was found in a bog.
Theme: History and Nature u The bog, then, is like a museum preserving the history of the Irish race. Within our national consciousness we remember all that has happened to us as a race, handing it down to the next generation in history, song and story. Similarly the bog records an impression of everything that happened to it serving as a metaphor for our national consciousness. – Like the “bottomless” bog our national consciousness goes back thousands of years – Like the bog, it contains different layers of memory – Like the bog, our national consciousness is shapeless and fluid. The story of Irish civilisation changes depending on who is recounting it u Like the bog cutters who constantly strike “inward and downward” perhaps Irish people too spend too long obsessing about our own past and the injustices we have faced.
Language Form ‘Bogland’ features short lines arranged in four-line stanzas. Perhaps the poem’s long progress down the page suggests digging or excavation. The stanzas then act as representatives of the digging into the bog’s depths as its pioneer’s keep striking downwards.
Metaphor There are several memorable metaphors in the poem: – He uses an excellent metaphor to describe the impressive American sunset, claiming the prairies “slice a big sun at evening”. We can imagine how the sun may seem cut in half by the horizon as it sinks slowly downward. – A tarn is described as the eye of a cyclops, a mythical one-eyed giant, linking the bog to myth and mystery. – The elk’s skeleton set up in a museum is described as “an astounding crate full of air”. We can imagine the elk’s bare bones resembling a crate or box.
Hyperbole The poem concludes with an example of hyperbole or deliberate poetic exaggeration: “The wet centre is bottomless”. He exaggerates for effect, to emphasise how incredibly deep the bogs actually are and how much might be contained within them.
Imagery u u u ‘Bogland’ abounds with images of softness and wetness as Heaney masterfully conjures up the yielding nature of the bog. He describes its buttery soil: “melting and opening underfoot”. He emphasises the moistness of this landscape, featuring a centre you cold sink down into forever and holes that are filled with “seepage” from the Atlantic itself. The bog is depicted in terms of wholesome food, of “butter” and “crusting” bread emphasising what Heaney regards as its nurturing, nourishing qualities. This is further reinforced when he personifies the bog’s soil as “kind”.
The poet misses his wife u u The poet remembers a period he spent working in California in the 1970 s without his wife or children. He felt extremely lonely for his family and missed his wife so much that many aspects of California’s landscape and lifestyle reminded him of her.
u u u Whenever he catches the scent of eucalyptus trees it reminds him that he is in a foreign part of the world, not associated with his wife which makes him miss her all the more. “The beautiful, useless / Tang of eucalyptus spelt your absence. ” This suggests the trees were communicating with the poet, speaking to him through their scent and reminding him how far away he wife was.
u Californian wine, too, brings his wife to mind as the aftertaste reminds him of her scent. u He thinks about the way in Dublin he would inhale her aroma from her cold pillow after she’d left the bedroom in the morning. u “The aftermath of a mouthful of wine / Was like inhaling you off a cold pillow”
u u While in California, Heaney would spend his evenings writing and he recalls the extreme quiet of the house broken only by the humming of the fridge. “The refrigerator whinnied into silence” In these times, he found himself writing love letters to his wife for the first time since their early relationship. “After eleven years I was composing / Love letters again”
The skunk’s nightly visits u u u Each evening, as the poet writes, a skunk would appear in the garden. He was fascinated by this creature and was especially taken by its lustrous, glossy tail. He compares the tail to the vestment worn by Catholic priests and it was so extravagant it seemed to parade the skunk around the place. The word paraded highlights the skunk’s confident, self-assured demeanour. He also describes how the tail was “Up” as if the skunk wants to show off its most extravagant feature, like a peacock.
u Heaney finds himself waiting each night for the skunk to appear: “I expected her like a visitor” and is shocked at how important these nightly visits became to him. u It seems that the skunk, just like the eucalyptus and the wine, begin to remind the poet of the wife he missed so much.
u u Though an unusual comparison , the skunk, like the poet’s wife, is female and is a “glamorous” creature showing off its tale as a woman might show off the latest fashion. The skunk swaggers around the yard with great self-confidence which also brings his wife to mind. The comparison between the skunk and his wife may seem bizarre but it actually makes a certain kind of sense. In the skunk he sees the characteristics he associates with his wife – her beauty and her attitude.
u The final stanza moves back to the present day where Heaney is back in Dublin with his wife and family. u He describes how he was “stirred” by the sound of his wife undressing at bedtime. u He describes her reaching into a bottom drawer for her black nightdress and suddenly the poet finds himself reminded of the skunk.
u The motion of his wife searching for the nightdress reminds him of the skunk “snuffing” the boards of the verandah. u The black nightdress on her white skin also brings to mind the skunk’s damask coat and suddenly he is transported to those nights waiting for the skunk to make its appearance .
THEME: Love and Relationships u u u This poem is powerful celebration of married love. It shows how the love between two people can grow and remain intense even after years of marriage. When the poet was in California, he had already been with his wife for “eleven years” yet his feelings towards her are still passionate and he misses her deeply during this period. He writes her love letters and everything reminds him of her. The poem also celebrates sexual love, showing their desire for each other is undiminished by over a decade of marriage. The poet looks forward to the skunk’s nightly visits because its glamour, mystery and confidence remind him of his wife.
THEME: Love and Relationships u u Even years later, back in Dublin, Heaney still desires his wife and is “stirred” by the sound of his wife undressing and her “tail-up hunt” for her nightdress. The poem also illustrates how the old saying ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ is true. The time spent in California is the poet’s first separation from his wife since the beginning of their marriage and it intensifies his feelings towards her.
Simile and Metaphor u u The poet compares the skunk’s tail to a priest’s “chasuble” emphasising how mysterious and sacred the creature has become to him. Because the poet and his wife usually live together he has not written her love letters for a long time. He is not used to writing the word “wife” and the word seems strange and mysterious to him. He evokes this mystery by comparing the word to an old and precious cask of wine which has been in storage but will be opened once more now.
Focus on the senses u u u In the poem Heaney vividly captures different sounds to bring the atmosphere to life. He compares the soft hum of the fridge to a horse whinnying and the swishing sound of his wife removing her clothes to the soft noise of soot falling down a chimney. Taste and smell are evoked when he describes the smell of eucalyptus and the after taste of wine. The senses of smell and taste are intermingled when he compares the wine’s aftertaste to the aroma of his wife’s pillow.
Heaney Question Heaney uses evocative language and imagery to lend universal significance to his personal experiences of life.
Plan Answer u Three key phrases at work: – Evocative language and imagery – Personal experiences – Universal significance
Plan Answer u Start with ‘personal experiences’ – what personal experiences does Heaney explore in the poetry you have studied? Be specific! u Now ask yourself, what is universal about these experiences? What does he discuss/explore/discover which can also be relevant to your life or anybody’s life?
Plan Answer u Now ask yourself, for each individual poem what specific language and imagery did Heaney use to explore his personal experiences? u How did this language and imagery help you understand his experiences better? And then, how did it help you relate to his experiences? (‘universal’)
Plan Answer u Address the question, with specific details, in your introduction. u Use a lead sentence at the start of each poem that does not simply say “This poem is about …” but explains what personal experience is explored and how language/imagery helped you understand it.
For Examples A Constable Calls u Personal experience: Childhood experience of fear and conflict. u Universal significance: Child’s fear of authority, child’s fear of the unknown, violence in Northern Ireland. u Language and imagery: Language hints at oppression, negative imagery of bicycle and constable, revolver, personification, ominous “tick, tick”