Seamus Heaney Poetry

Seamus Heaney was born April 1939, the eldest member of a family containing nine children. His father lived and worked on a farm of fifty acres in Northern Ireland which was economically less prosperous than Britain, and his father’s real commitment was to cattle dealing. Seamus grew up as a country boy; his poems first came to public attention in the mid-1960s when he was active as one of a group of poets who were subsequently recognized as constituting something of a “Northern School” within Irish writing and at the time having to deal with the war and troubles of Northern Ireland.

His first collection of poems “Death of a naturalist” was published in 1966 and deals with childhood and experience of life on his fathers farm, in particular Digging and Follower; which focus on his relationship with his father and how he feels as he matures. By the time he reaches maturity his view and attitude towards his father has been changed.

He started off admiring his father and liking farming whereas now he realises as a poet, he cannot follow in his father’s footsteps.

Primarily Digging and Follower are both concerned with Heaney’s relationship with his father and both conclude with the idea that this has changed yet both however express Seamus’s admiration for the skill of his father. Other poems involved into this collection consist of Blackberry picking which describes also some of his childhood memories, particularly about discovering disappointment and that things don’t always last therefore developing an awareness of mortality, this poem celebrates on of the rituals of country life.

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Another poem in this collection is called the Early Purges which is describing a change of life and death and concerned with Heaney overcoming his childish fear and fascination with death. All his poems are about his childhood, however they all deal with different aspects, and all the poems are put together and conditioned by the sense of time. The technical term that Heaney is using is Vernacular this means him using every day-to-day speech. Digging and Follower are both, deep, thoughtful poems describing his father and his view on himself and the hard graph of farm work his father can clearly achieve.

Both poems indicate Heaney’s admiration for his father and his grandfather. In Follower the majestic phrase “His shoulders globed” suggests not only the shape of the physique Seamus admired, but also the metaphorical notion that his father meant the “world” to him. A nautical theme also seemed to develop through the poem, which continues the concept of respect he has for his father. To Heaney his father is symbolised as a ship with his globed shoulders “like a full sail strung”. As the sailing ship represents a sanctuary over the ocean, in the poem it’s symbolising how Seamus’s father is a sanctuary to him.

Follower clearly shows us Heaney imitates his father but in Digging isn’t quite the case. The Follower shows his admiration to plough and grow up like his father but feels guilty not being able to do so like, “I was a nuisance, tripping and falling. ” The title “Follower” is literal and metaphorical, since it is about the son following the father. It is a poem as a memory of his father as a child; all verses save the last are in the past, before the final verse which brings the reader forward where Heaney is now a man.

Seamus Heaney does not use a lot of onomatopoeic words, only “clicking” and “yapping”. Heaney might have used the word clicking because in the whole sentence the word clicking can be translated that the horses are actually listening to him as if they know Seamus’ father. He might use the word “yapping” because he describes himself to when he was younger, almost as if describing himself to an annoying puppy. When reading Follower you can notice he uses several mathematical and geographical images this can be shown in verse three “Narrowed and angled at the ground, mapping the furrow exactly.

The word angled suggests mathematical and focus on his work and the word geographical shows geography, and close plans to detail. It draws attention to the precision with which Patric ploughs. He loved to watch his father ploughing but suggests his father is now old and instead of him being explained as the clumsy one he now turns it on his father being the nuisance he shows this “It is my father who keeps stumbling behind me, I will not go away. ” This says now because he is a nuisance he won’t go away and leave him alone.

The poetry deals with a transformation in Heaney as he decides against farming. Perhaps Heaney, now an established poet having broken away from his family and their traditional employment is now uncomfortable with the decision. In Digging, Heaney clearly expresses he can remember his own role in the digging. It is set when Heaney is an adult about to become a poet; the middle section looks back 20 years before returning to the present. It was with this involvement in which enabled him to watch his father and grandfather at work and able to describe their movements with such precision.

And example from the text to express this was “The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft against the inside knew was levered firmly. ” Also the words “nestled” and “levered firmly” can give us the indication of the professionalism of Heaney’s father. There are also a few colloquial phrases like, “By god, the old man can handle a spade” in metaphor of digging and roots, showing how the poet in writing is getting back to his own roots. The speaker suggests that his father has great skill when it comes to digging; it indicates to the reader that the country life is strenuous and much effort is required to dig properly.

They also give us the image not only is the man digging but also with immense skill; working on the land is a difficult job, which requires a lot of power to stay at. The image of orderly potato plants suggests that working on land is very systematic and this goes perfectly with the ploughed soil image in “Follower” because of the technical terms used to emphasise that working on land as a difficult and skilled profession. In Digging Heaney does feel a bit guilty as he knows digging isn’t for him as shown “I’ve no spade to follow men like them / between my finger and thumb the squat pen rests. Squat suggesting, shortness, thick and dumpy therefore maybe difficult to use, therefore suggesting the pen may be improper and not meant to be there, either ungainly or uncomfortable. Whereas the word “rests” gives a sense of inertia, a comfort, still in the moment.

There is a contradiction between the two words, therefore using ambivalence meaning being in two minds, a co-existence or opposite feelings. Heaney does not use this term only once he also approaches ambivalence in the forth verse quote “The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft. Course represents a rough and rigid texture whereas nestled gives the sense of lightness and delicacy, showing affection through the coarseness. Maybe suggesting he’s uncertain or indecisive. Also shows that the time is present and the reader is as if they were reading his thoughts. In digging you can notice the tension, and that he may feel uneasy about some decisions in life. Yet he still boasts about and has a sense of pride about his grandfather.

This has been shown “My grandfather cut more turf in a day, than any other man in Toners bog. The language is simple and direct. Heaney is constantly finding ways to compare himself to his forefathers. “Corked sloppily with paper. ” This reference back to his childhood is one of the most powerful in the poem. The use of the word sloppily illustrates his inability to work on the farm. In verse two Heaney expresses the notion of him being above his father, and looking down onto him digging, “My father, digging. I look down. ” this therefore becomes symbolic that they are apart as if they don’t think the same.

Heaney may feel superior to his father and not in the same world. To him his father could be symbolised as nature in the outdoors and natural on the land whereas he may see himself as indoors and surrounded by a man made world, this shows maybe a wall of independence divides them. Heaney refers to poetry as when “human experiences come to life. ” In “Blackberry Picking” it comes to life in the poem because he describes with enthusiasm his childhood experiences. It is an analysis of how he came to be aware of disappointment.

His poetry is used to describe these experiences, almost a way of expressing how his life was then in his eyes and in this case facing the notion of decay and his sense of innocence to awareness and his awareness of developing sexuality. The poetry is brought to life by his multiple emotions he experienced and the blackberries developing as so does he. Some of these emotions he seems disgusted “Rat grey fungus” and “they smelt of rot. ” These sentences create a vivid and hysterical time warp bringing the reader back into his childhood.

He takes us by using his own thoughts, how the landscape was aggressive “the briars scratched” when he went out. In this poem a child’s perspective is shown, he uses strong emotions bringing us into his thoughts of when he was a child. The reader has to look at what he’s describing and through his words emotionally expresses a nai?? ve view on blackberry picking and this then evolves into new thoughts on death and sexuality. Heaney comes across immature when saying “I felt like crying. It wasn’t fair” showing typical of a child’s behaviour and no restraint.

The poet comes across excited and in a phase of enjoyment to the extravagance of blackberry picking, he comes across almost desperate to tell the audience of his happiness of blackberry picking as if like a young child forever nagging for pointless attention. “Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam pots” In this phrase he is suggesting he found the desire of his hobby feeling ecstatic and he would go to any lengths to get them you achieve a sense of childish excitement. But thought the poem he develops a multiple of emotions quickly changing to his vast hatred to the rot and stench they’d end up letting off.

Expresses new emotions to his discovery that nothing can last forever, he expresses this in the last line “Each year I’d hope they’d keep, I knew they would not. ” In Blackberry Picking Heaney uses similes, metaphors and onomatopoeic words creating a picture. In the first line of the poem Heaney uses a metaphor “Like a plate of eyes” this brings the reader deeper into the poem making them feel slightly awkward, expanding their imaginations to believe almost an illusion, a fantasy picture compared to what was actually going on.

It expresses the grossness he was experiencing at the time of the awful sight of the rotting blackberries which as a child would “haunt” him and would create an image to himself as a young boy to how he would describe this sight. Later in the poem he uses “our palms as sticky as bluebeards” which is a simile comparing his palms covered in the thorns and juices of the blackberries to Bluebeard’s erotic lifestyle, both dirty and disgusting, once again involving the evolution of his sexuality.

To create vivid touchable images he uses onomatopoeic words which involves the reader within the poem, almost trying to create not only a visual image but a physical and auditory one as well, this has been shown in several places “Picking” this is onomatopoeic because, it makes an image of sharp pricks getting picked up slowly and painfully one at a time. “Potato-drills” is also a suggestion to onomatopoeia because the word sounds just like the job it was created to do, creating a whirling image of a potato drill, digging viciously into the ground.

In the Early Purges once again Heaney suggests the idea of change and continues with the idea of decay but more over to the sense of life and death and to his present day learning that acceptance. He seems at first to realize that nothing can last forever, almost continuing from after Blackberry picking, picking up from his view that realising nothing will last forever. He clearly expresses heart wrenching feelings of coming to terms with death, from when the kittens drown. He continues to use vernacular language, the use of day to day speech. This helps to bring the audience into a relax environment into his eyes as a six year old.

He tells us how he was scared of the animals and had a tremendous fear for “big rats, snared rabbits and shot crows” he uses this poem to tell his feelings at the time of his emotions towards death and the petrified emotion towards the actions towards the animals. An example of vernacular, every day to day speech Heaney has used is in the third stanza “”sure isn’t it better for them now? ” Dan said. “” This uses vernacular in the sense the language used is simple and informal, this sort of language is usually used of a country or a district, instead of official and quite formal language which tended to be used in more upmarket environments.

Heaney’s use of language is always effective and three examples of this are as follows. Heaney seems very controversial in the way he describes things around him and uses these differences to explain his opinions, a good example of this is in the third stanza when he is describing the kittens drowning “Like wet gloves they bobbed and shone till he sluiced. ” He is controversial within this by using the words “wet” and “shone”. Wet emphasizes darkness, dreary and damp mainly associated with the winter season and rain, whereas “shone” emphasizes happy, bright and the sun, mainly associated with summer and sunshine.

These two words suggest his immaturity in never being able to make up his mind. Another thing of Seamus’s use of language was expressing his sadness and disappointment to the sad news, he uses words which make the reader feel small and trapped into his mind making you feel sorry for him this is shown in stanza four “Suddenly frightened, for days I sadly hung. ” This makes the reader quiet and almost intimidated by his emotions, feeling sorry for him but also embarrassed because maybe it would have been seen as rather over the top.

Another example of a use of his language in stanza five is when he expresses anger and distigtive fears of objects in his life, he uses words to make you feel involved and unstoppable to listen on, because the audience know if they weren’t to carry on all would be left on a cliff hanger. From this extract “Until I forgot them. But the fear came back when Dan trapped the big rats. ” It is building up suspension slowly and takes you into a mind of his childhood and erupts you with self fear and cold blood rushes around the body. His language is emotional, intriguing the audience with his imagination.

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Seamus Heaney Poetry. (2017, Oct 17). Retrieved from

Seamus Heaney Poetry
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