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"an Adavncement of Learning" - Seamus Heaney

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"an Adavncement of Learning" - Seamus Heaney

In Heaney’s poem 'An Advancement of Learning' Heaney uses macabre imagery and 'innocence to experience' approach on tackling fear. The poem becomes very tense and dark, giving the reader a sense of the dirty and grey environment, which Heaney is describing. The title “An Advancement of Learning” is ironic since it suggests a serious educational or philosophical discussion, whereas the actual poem reflects the fears of a small child. The poem details when Heaney is walking the 'embankment path' where he is trapped by his childhood fears in the form of rats. The poem shows how his fears have been overcome where he can see the true threat of these weak creatures. He then goes on to cross 'the bridge' which is a metaphorical boundary of fears and memories. The poem really shows how this phobia of rats turns into a metaphorical milestone that has been overcome in his life.

In order to explore his childhood fears, Heaney uses his personal experience of having to face a fear which he has been 'coloured' by in his childhood memories where he remembers rats being 'Behind the hen-coop' in his yard. The central theme of the poem is fear where he cuts through the pensive atmosphere that he has created to make the reader on edge by vividly describing the dull and grey scene to the reader. The tempo of the poem is speeding up in the third stanza where he has just been faced with this 'rat'. By showing that he has conquered his real life and metaphorical fears, Heaney wants the reader to absorb the morals of the poem, that most fears can be conquered by just looking at their logical threat.

By using the 'dirty-keeled swans', use of rodents also the description of the 'river' further emphasise the murkiness of the environment. He uses the calm and pensive mood to contrast with the fast paced and tense atmosphere, which is created in the third stanza to the penultimate stanza. In the last stanza however, Heaney slows down the pace of the poem restoring the tranquillity, which is seen at the start. We can also observe a sense of accomplishment from the view point of Heaney when he crosses 'the bridge' which retains a metaphorical and literal boundary in Heaney's life.

Furthermore, to reflect his childhood feelings, Heaney uses the military terms to express the scale of his childhood threat - “I established a dreaded Bridgehead”, which is a military term used to describe strong position which is secured by the army inside the territory, hence Heaney portrays the rats as an invaders or the army, which could equally be seen as a reference to the rats being very identical, which is significant, as soldiers usually wear the same military uniform.

The poem has been written in nine stanzas to give the impression of childhood fear by introducing the phobia in the third and forth stanzas, which are interesting not only because it marks the encounter with the childhood fear, but also because of the sounds, which poet has chosen ro bring us a vivid image of his fear. The sibilance – “something slobbered” and “smudging the silence” provides the reader with a sharp awareness of the poet’s sense of outrage at the creature’s intrusion on his walk, striking the poet with a “throat-sickened” feeling as he hurries on “in cold sweat.”, where he also misses the indefinite “a” article to put a further emphasis on his horror.

Heaney faces his childhood fear in the fifth stanza, bringing a term “Bridgehead”, which is a military position secured by the army, suggesting, that his fear of rats, is like a war, where only one side can live, as well as ‘retreated’ as a symbol of his victory over his fear. He also uses a pun “snubbed”, which means to be short, suggesting Heaney’s position as a child, but also means to be

rejected socially, which is brought because he has never engaged with the rat before, hence looks at it “with a thrilled care”, putting an emphasis on his excitement.

Heaney ultimately overcomes his childhood fear in the seventh and eighth stanzas. Heaney uses enjambment in the stanzas three, for example – “tracing its wet” to show the pace of his fear as he sees the rat. He also uses caesura to further demonstrate the atmosphere of tension 'He trained on me: I stared him out'. Moreover, Heaney traces back his fear. He uses a flashback, which is referred to the writer’s childhood in the rural Ireland, where the rats disturbed and scared the writer as they “scraped and fed /

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