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The Poetry of Seamus Heaney

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Essay title: The Poetry of Seamus Heaney

The poetry of Seamus Heaney

Year 12 Coursework

“ From the first poem in his book, Heaney is fascinated by the craft of writing and the impact of his chosen career on his life and thoughts.” Write a response to this observation, referring in detail to two poems.

When we look at the two poems “Digging” and “Follower”, we are given an insight into Heaney’s world. He tells us of his life growing up on and working around the farm. Heaney does this by uses different techniques; by using vivid imagery he is describing his personal experience and childhood memory for the reader.

In the first poem, “Digging”, Heaney starts off with using a simile to describe his pen,

“As snug as a gun.”

By using this simile Heaney could be referring to, the fact that he is comfortable with using the pen. He could be saying that the pen is like a gun in a way that the pen is shooting out the words, as if the pen is Heaney’s weapon.

Throughout the poem, Heaney tells us of how proud he is of his father and grandfather,

“By God, the old man could handle a spade.”

Telling the reader that his grandfather was very skilled at his job. The colloquial language shows the admiration Heaney has for his grandfather and father foe their jobs.

Another significant line in Heaney’s poem,

“Bends low, comes up twenty years away stooping in rhythm through potato drills.”

Shows that this could be different time periods where the person Heaney sees, could be Heaney predicting seeing himself doing the same job in twenty years or, his father just as his grandfather was before.

Heaney also lets he reader know that digging is a tradition in his family, and he is almost, expected to carry it on. He tells us about how famous his family are for their tradition,

“My grandfather could cut more turf in a day than any other man on Toner’s bog.”

Heaney seems very proud and almost willing to carry on the tradition, until he goes on to say,

“ But I’ve no spade to follow men like that.”

Implying that although he is proud of his father and grandfather, he has another career path in mind. The use of the word “But”, changes the mood of the poem and we realise that there could be a twist at the end.

Heaney closes his poem with a metaphor,

“ Between my finger and my thumb the squat pen rests. I’ll dig with it.”

It is a change in structure from the beginning with the use of a full stop. Heaney has worked through his life and the poem until a stage where he is comfortable with the use of the pen, telling us that his new career choice is writing. Heaney challenges the stereotype of farming as a simple lifestyle by going into detail about simple jobs such as digging as if it where an art. He plays homage to the farming lifestyle, but realises that it is not for him. By choosing a writing career Heaney is starting his own tradition and leaving the farming behind,

“ I’ll dig with it”

Tells us that the pen is Heaney’s tool, not the spade. Heaney will not be digging the earth, but using his pen to dig up the words to write his poetry.

In the second poem, “Follower”, Heaney is telling the reader about his life as a child always following in his father’s footsteps, until he realises his calling is not for farming, but for writing.

Heaney begins this poem comparing his father to a ship, telling the reader to imagine him as a strong powerful man, Heaney is only a small boy and he is looking at his father as this huge man, who seems very strong and able. His father is Heaney’s whole world and this quote tells us that,

“ His shoulders globed like a full sail strung.”

This could also be Heaney’s way of telling his readers that his father was the centre of his world.

Throughout the poem Heaney shows great admiration for his father.

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