I am going to compare two different poems written by Seamus Heaney. The names of these two poems are “Digging” and “Follower”. Both of these poems were written when Seamus Heaney had started his career in poetry. Heaney was the eldest of nine children and grew up in poor conditions, as his father was a potato farmer, just as his forefathers. The poems are basically Heaney’s autobiography, where he is explaining what happened in his past. Heaney was born when there were Catholic and Protestant riots were occurring and it was a troubled time for him and his family.
The two poems are similar because they both describe Heaney at a young age, when he used to be “tripping, falling, yapping always”. This was meant to prove that Heaney was always behind his father, but the second poem has a real twist to it at the end, which I will describe to you further in to this essay. Heaney is probably writing this poem in his room, and looking out into his old farm which is bringing back his memories of being a child.
His room would be dimly lit to show the bluntness in his vocabulary.
This also depicts that fact that his language is not flowery, or there is no glorification of any part of his father’s job, but just going straight to the point. He does not in any way denigrate the job either, but just keeps it simply and straight to the point. I think that Heaney would’ve been in his dimly lit room (as explained above) and is picturing his father in a hat, with a grey coat on and his “coarse boot nestled on the lug, against the inside knee was levered firmly”.
Heaney’s language here conveys to us the point that he used language that reflects the traditional down-to-earth nature of his ancestors.
What I mean here, is that most other writers would glorify these sentences and add extra vocabulary to add to the effect, but Heaney’s draws in the reader’s interest by keeping it simple and concise. The relationship between Heaney and his father is exposed in the second line, “The squat pen rests; snug as a gun”, and it can be compared to line 4, “Then the spade sinks… ” Here, Heaney is trying to force through the point that his father’s profession was a farmer, and his weapon was a spade, whereas, Heaney’s profession is a writer and his dangerous weapon is the pen.
The pen also had enormous power and when the pen is used incorrectly, it can too cause damage. Heaney’s pen gives him the eccentricity and power which he felt he lacked as a child due to the restricted conditions. The pen freed him from his restrictions that he had a child and the pen if offering him dangerous new possibilities. This emphasises the point that Heaney lacked attention and had wished to get it with the power of his pen. Heaney believes that the pen can be as powerful as the spade. This is proven in line 2 – “The squat pen rests; snug as a gun”.
This means that when the pen is not in use, it is just a potential threat, but when it is used incorrectly, it can be as dangerous as a gun, and a gun is surely more powerful than a spade. The relationship between him and his father is flowing at times, for example, when enjambment is used between lines five and six. “My father digging. I look down Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds”. The second stanza ends at the word “down” and the third stanza begins at the word “Till”. Enjambment is used to keep the rhythm of the poem continuously flowing and to keep the readers in the frame of the poem.
Enjambment is also used to show that the poem is digging further into his memories. Heaney liked harsh and blunt sounds such as “lug”, “coarse”, “nestled” and “heaving sods”. These words don’t have a squeaky sound to them, whereas, the words like “nicking” and “slicing” do. What I mean by blunt is that the words aren’t sharp or high, but easy to say, and uses less effort, meaning that more effort can be used in the work being done. The poem is basically about Heaney’s admiration for his father. “By god, the old man could handle a spade, Just like his old man…
My grandfather cut more turf in a day, than any other man in Toners Bog”. In these quotes, he is portraying to us how much he admires his forefathers. He is exaggerating the fact that his grandfather cut more turf in a day than any other man in Toners Bog. He is exaggerating it because is substantiates that fact that his grandfather was the greatest potato farmer of all time, and that his speed and skill together was indestructible. He states that his grandfather is not any old potato farmer, but a very unique one indeed. The speed, I have verified above, but the skill of his grandfather-“Nicking and slicing neatly”.
This is also Heaney’s use of onomatopoeia “nicking”, sounds like its meaning; as does “slicing”. They are both quite gruesome words, but this depicts to us that the job of Heaney’s forefather was gruesome and it also portrays the conditions that he would’ve lived in, being the eldest of nine children and being the son of a potato farmer. This exposes to us about Heaney’s straight to the point thoughts, no matter how grisly his history may be, he will state it. “Once I carried him milk in a bottle Corked sloppily with water. He straightened up to drink it, then fell to it straight away”.
This illustrates how devoted his forefathers were in their work. No other work could show that dedication, it was unparalleled. This is an example of Heaney’s pride for his forefathers, not everyone would write in a poem how inspired they are by their forefathers. I think that Heaney is a bit ashamed of not being able to follow in their footsteps, “But I’ve no spade to follow like them”. What Heaney means here is not that he has no spade, but he has no spade within him to carry on his father’s work, that he was not enough bottle to follow in their footsteps. “Between my finger and my thumb, The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it” Heaney is trying to convey the message that as his father’s profession was a farmer, he used the spade to dig for potatoes, but Heaney will use a pen to “dig with it”, meaning that he will continue his profession as a writer. Heaney believes the pen will give him that extra power but never that hardness and toughness that his forefathers had from their profession. I think that Heaney loves and respects his forefathers due to the amount of respect that he has given them in this poem. “By God the old man could handle a spade, Just like his old man”.
This tells us that he admires his forefathers unbelievably, and that he is proud of them. I think that Heaney is not a bit monotonous, because each time he marvels at his forefathers, he is giving us something original, something new and interesting. He does say that he wanted to grow up and follow in his father’s footsteps, “I wanted to grow up and plough… All I ever did was follow”. This shows us that he did want to be a farmer just like his forefathers, but he felt he lacked the physical strength, but he had the mental strength of being a writer.
This explains that Heaney always wanted to be a farmer, but he felt he lacked the individuality that he needed and the confidence when he was a child, and he now feels a bit guilty not carrying on the family tradition. I think that Heaney felt inadequate and lost as a child and felt he lacked the attention that a child needed. That is why he felt he lacked the power of being a potato farmer, and that he would rather have had a stronger childhood to be a farmer, not a feeble and astray one as he has experienced. Heaney saw himself as a nuisance in both poems, but more so in the second poem. I stumbled in his hob nailed wake, Fell sometimes on the polished sod”.
This is a quote from the second poem elucidating the fact that he used to stumble on his father’s hard work. Heaney’s language is blunt and matter of fact. “Corked sloppily with water”. He is just stating the obvious here, meaning that he is down to earth and likes to state what is there, and not exaggerate to give effect, but the structure and the way he has delivered this poem to us speaks for itself. Heaney also uses language that reflects the down-to-earth nature of his ancestors. “The cold small of potato mould, the squelch and slap”.
Here is another example of onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia is used to emphasise the meaning of the words to the reader, these words are one syllable words. One syllable words are easy to say and they get the meaning of the words of the reader straight away. One syllable words can also be used so that it takes less time to read, and it reflects the level of knowledge and education that his forefathers have in speaking. Another reason why one syllable words are used is because it shows us how little time these farmers have, and that they believe in ‘a little less conversation, a little more action’. His shoulders globed like a full sail strung”. This is a simile which is used to compare his father’s shoulders with a sail. What he means here is that his shoulders were so muscular that they were comparable with a ‘full sail strung’. This also shows his admiration for his forefathers. How wonderful he thought they were; a pity that he was not as capable of doing physical activities as they were. “Narrowed and angled at the ground, Mapping the furrow exactly”, this exemplifies to us the Heaney’s father worked exactly and that he would calculate all of the angles and get the lifting of the turf exactly right.
Heaney felt he was a nuisance following his father around all day, but then also felt proud to have a father whom he could follow around like that, “All I ever did was follow, in his broad shadow round the farm”. This is when Heaney would be looking up to his father. Heaney is looking up in not only the literal way, but also in character. He may also look up to his father in an idol – like way. Comparing this to the last line of “follower”, it is like the falling of a god, as if the admiration empire for his father is crumbling. “But today it is my father who keeps stumbling behind me, and will not go away”.
I don’t think that Heaney is being spiteful, but there is a role reversal here. As, we have seen, in the first poem, “Digging”, he had great admiration for his forefathers. Towards the end of the second poem, the roles are reversed to show the change in Heaney’s mind, Heaney now thinks that he is more powerful than his father due to the age difference. The last line can also be a metaphor. The meaning of this metaphor is that his father may be dead and the metaphorical part of this is that he may be dead, and his thoughts may keep lingering behind him, not his physical body itself. On the other hand, his father may be old and requires care.
His father may loiter behind him and question everything he does asking whether he is doing it right or not, getting on his nerves. If he does get on his nerves, then I believe that he was being a bit spiteful, but I think that this is a metaphor and his father is dead, and his memories are lurking behind him. Now I am going to comment on other linguistic features, and the structure of this poem. Rhyme is used to bring out the points further. It helps the reader to enjoy the poem as well as understand the poem. Heaney also used rhythm in this poem. He uses a different rhythm for both Heaney and his father. I was a nuisance, tripping, falling, yapping always”. That is the kind of rhythm used for Heaney. This is the rhythm which is used for Heaney because it is a bit rocky, just as his feelings, whereas the rhythm used for Heaney’s father is “Of reins, the sweating team turned around”. The rhythm is much smoother for Heaney’s father because his work is smooth and neat, whereas Heaney becomes a bit spiteful at the end. Alliteration is also used in both poems. Alliteration is used because it makes the reader work just a bit harder, and it also draws in the reader’s attention better than other devices. Spade sinks”, the alliteration is used here to show the smoothness when the spade sinks into to ground by his father, to depict how good of a farmer he is. Overall, I find “Digging more effective than “Follower”. This is because the first poem is more emotional and he is comparing himself to his father more, and this reflects how he felt as a child. The second poem, “Follower”, is more technical, and readers prefer poems that are more emotional and describing, not technical and too straight to the point.
I think that Heaney is very fond of his past and would like to re-live it; we can extrapolate this from the poems we have read. Both poems reveal that Heaney can remember his past very vividly and that he is a very good writer. He also considered himself as a ‘lesser being’ most of the tie, “I was a nuisance” etc. He considered himself to not be as complex of a character of a being but a very simple person indeed. He was very humble in the way he wrote, not bragging on about himself, but showing the great admiration for his forefathers.
I think that Heaney did not have a very simple relationship with his father. That was because there was not a lot of conversation between the two characters. Heaney was mainly seen and not heard in the poem, and his thoughts were mainly kept to himself as his father was too busy. The only part which I took into consideration was the change of roles at the end of “Follower”. That really showed that Heaney had a bit of a relationship with his father. Dead or not, he still remembers him and his memories will remain with Heaney forever.