“An advancement of learning” and “Churning Day” both looks back at a memory of the poets past/ childhood

Seamus Heaney has written ‘An Advancement of Learning’ and ‘Churning Day’. Heaney, born in Northern Ireland in 1939 has therefore had quite a difficulty background. Most of his poems are about his childhood. Both ‘Churning Day’ and ‘Advancement of Learning’ look back on a childhood memory that is comforting to Heaney.

In ‘An Advancement of Learning’ Heaney recalls coming across a rat when he was a child and he remembers being afraid of it. Heaney manages to overcome his fear and walk on past the rat, showing him growing a little wiser realising that the rat is no threat and advancing to another stage in his childhood; a braver one. I think the rat experience in the past has helped him in the present and future as he once could overcome the fear of the rat, and he could remember this time and think ‘if I did it then, then I could do it now’ with similar problems.

The poem ‘Churning Day’ also has a similar concept; in looking back at the memory it can help him now in the present and future. ‘Churning Day’ is a comforting poem for Heaney, it celebrates the good times he had when churning as it brought the family together; it was a happy time. So when things get tough in Heaney’s life (with regards to his Irish background) he can escape from it all and remember the good times he has had when churning. Both of the childhood memories in advancement of learning and churning day are good and looking back and remembering them could help Heaney through difficult times in his life.

I have chosen to compare ‘Churning Day’ and ‘An Advancement of Learning’ with the ‘Sick Equation.’ ‘The Sick Equation’, again, is about a childhood memory but it is a bad one. The writer, Brian Patten has a memory of how his parents destroyed him as a child. Similarly to the other poems he did get something good out of it and by looking back on the memory it can help him cope with the present. Patten knows now what happened in his childhood was wrong. He is remembering the bad memory but learning from it similar to ‘An Advancement of Learning’. It says: ‘And however late on I am better off for knowing now/ That given love by taking love can all in time refute/ The lessons that our parents taught/ And in their sick equation not stay caught.’

Heaney’s and Patten’s poems differ in the way they look back on their childhood memories. Heaney’s poems ‘Churning Day’ and ‘An Advancement of Learning’ create an atmosphere that you can imagine being in and the language and style of the poem makes you feel like you are actually there. For example ‘An Advancement of Learning’ uses alliteration when describing the rat: ‘Something slobbered curtly close, smudging the silence: a rat.’ Not only is alliteration used here but small pauses in the poem show that Heaney is hesitant and scared of the rat. When you read the poem the language used emphasises the damp, tense atmosphere.

Personification is used in ‘An Advancement of Learning’ when it says ‘the river nosed past.’ In the poem there are images that are normally associated with a battlefield included such as ‘Bridgehead.’ A bridgehead is the fortified position held on the enemy side of the river. I think images such as these have been used as Heaney thinks of the rat as the enemy as he is afraid of it and to him it is dangerous. Heaney is almost at war with the rat. The poem ‘An Advancement of Learning’ uses words in an unusual way. He turns certain nouns and adjectives into verbs, creating his own words. For example he turns the noun ‘slime’ into the verb ‘slimed’ and turns the adjective ‘nimble’ into the verb ‘nimbling.’ I think he does this to give more precise descriptions and convey his actual feelings of things more realistically to the reader. It also makes the poem a bit more interesting using unusual descriptions.

The poem ‘Churning Day’ also makes us as the readers get a real taste of the childhood experience. It uses personification and makes things sound like they are alive. The churning is glorified by lots of adjectives and short sentences are used to show the rhythm of making the butter. He makes the churning sound exciting: ‘suddenly a yellow curd,’ and celebratory: ‘gold flecks began to dance.’ Heaney loves his personal knowledge of the churning process and uses all the special terms and therefore there is a huge glossary attached to the poem; this again shows his enjoyment of the churning memory. In the glossary there are words such as ‘seasoned’ that could have two meanings therefore have to be explained.

You can tell that the violence in Ireland is on Heaney’s mind and the churning is some sort of escape from this due to the subtle references to violence in the poem. The poem says ‘large pottery bombs’ and ‘the hot brewery,’ almost like fierce trouble is brewing. As an Irish man in the 40’s and 50’s I presume that Heaney was religious. There are some hidden religious references in the poem such as when it says ‘the house would stink long after churning day’ as this could remind you of how a church would retain its smell of incense.

Not only does ‘Churning Day’ use language techniques such as personification to enhance the atmosphere when churning it also describes memories to do with sound and smell. In the last two lines of the poem Heaney uses words that have sounds of the splashing of the churning such as ‘plash and gurgle,’ ‘pat and slap’ and also he smells the ‘sour- breathed milk.’

‘The Sick Equation’ is unlike Heaney’s poems, as though it is not written at the time of the encounter. In ‘An Advancement of Learning’ Heaney writes as if the encounter is actually happening, he writes in the present. The present tense is also used in ‘Churning Day’ where the churning process is happening there and then. This is why the language such as personification and alliteration is used. In ‘The Sick Equation’, Patten is talking about how it felt then, he is talking in the past tense. In this poem there is a lot of imagery used of birds flying free. It is conveying how he wanted to break free from the cocoon his parents trapped him in. An albatross is used to represent divorce, as it is associated as being a curse.

‘The Sick Equation’ uses very straightforward language to convey direct feelings. I think that he does this so that the poem could be accessible to a large audience, I don’t think that the poem was supposed to have any hidden meanings, it was straight to the point. ‘In school I learned that one and one made two […] In the raw cocoon of parental hate is where I learned that one and one stayed one.’ Patten is writing the poem for a purpose; to show that he had learnt from his parents’ mistakes and he had overcome the problems that he had faced and now he can talk about it.

Patten is directly stating how the childhood experience has affected him and how it has possibly helped him. This differs from Heaney’s poems as they indirectly show emotion unlike Patten does. You have to assume the hidden meaning of the poems and the recall of the memory. In ‘Churning Day’s’ case it is an escape route to remember a good time to possibly block out the bad memory of today. In ‘An Advancement of Learning’ it is to look back on a memory that could help him in the future to tackle problems.

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