Compare how Gillian Clarke and Seamus Heaney present different images of the past

Both poets, Seamus Heaney and Gillian have different nationalities and backgrounds. Seamus Heaney is from a traditional Irish Farming background. The majority of his family are also farmers. Whereas Gillian Clarke is Welsh, and was probably bought up in an urban background.

Heaney indicates from his poems that he wants to share his past memories; he wants people to know about periods of his youth life. All his poems are centred on past memories. In comparison to Gillian Clarke whose work in poems are about what memories are, and reasons for respecting memories.

‘Follower’, by Heaney is about his life on the farm. From the first line he starts to discuss his images from the past.

“My father worked with a horse-plough”

The rest of the first verse describes what image Heaney had of his father.

“His shoulders globed like a full sail strung …

… strained at his clicking tongue.”

This verse shows that his father is a strong, powerful figure. It gives a good impression of him.

“horse strained at his clicking tongue”

This implies he is a skilled worker, as all he has to do is click his tongue and the horses strained for him.

In the second verse Heaney talks about his father being “an expert”, and this is emphasised, as this is what this verse starts with. This verse may be saying that Heaneys father was an expert at his profession.

“The sod rolled over without breaking”

In the third verse Heaney gives an image off his father as being a very precise worker.

“Mapping the furrow exactly”

Hence all the work this man did was perfect.

Then form the fourth verse the poet starts talking about the way he used to be on the farm. He talks about himself, at that time.

“I stumbled in his… polished sod”

Again in this verse he shows his fathers strength.

“Sometimes he rode me on his back”

Heaney wanted to be good as his father on the farm when he was young, but he never was.

“I wanted to grow up and plough”

Heaney was never able to do the work on the farm as his father did.

“All ever I did was follow”

This quote is where the title may have came from, ‘follower’.

The last verse of the poem, is probably the most important verse in the whole poem. The first sentence just concludes his personal memories on the farm.

“I was a nuisance tripping, falling, yapping always”

The last sentence of the poem shows how things have changed from the past.

“But today it was my father who keeps stumbling

Behind me, and will not go away”

This quote shows how roles have swapped, how his father used to be strong and how he used to be weak, know the case is that his father is weak and he (Heaney) is strong.

All the way throughout this poem he wrote about his own personal memories. It seems as if Heaney is only concerned about memories of his own other than anyone else’s memories.

‘Wil Williams’, by Gillian Clarke is completely different to ‘Follower’ by Heaney, and this is known before someone even starts to read it. This is known because of the title of the poem.

“Wil Williams (1864-1910)”

This tells the reader that the poems about someone called ‘Wil Williams’, and it was written after this person had died. So this poem was about somebody else’s memories, compared to ‘Follower’ that was about the poets memories.

“He kept a garden like other railway men”

This quote is what the poem starts with, and it gives a lot of information, firstly it starts by saying “He kept…” meaning that it is the past that is being discussed. It also shows he had a nice garden and was a railwayman. I think we then get the sense that things have changed.

“It disappointed her”

This implies memories change; things didn’t remain as she remembered them.

“How sad she said…”

Clarke here uses alliteration; things aren’t the same as she remembered them because parents aren’t here.

“to see my mothers house so shabby….

… the house dirty”

Not what the daughter of the railwayman remembers of the house, it’s different, she is disappointed.

The second verse starts with a point about others memories.

“I can’t see the house in her mind,”

What this quote is saying is that you can’t browse other people’s minds, you don’t know other peoples memories, and maybe that memories are personal. This is very much the opposite to what Heaney thinks about memories, as he tries to share his memories with everyone else, he wants people to see into his mind.

“…the rooms, the women who tended them, the dressers of glinting jugs, the lines of sweet washing between trees.”

This quote may be implying that all this is going to be lost, as no one can see into the mind of the daughter, and experience all this for themselves.

“The stations with their cabbage-patches and tubbed geraniums are closed….”

All that this quote shows is that the poem is set in past tense. To finish the poem an example of personification is used.

“…and the trains’ long cries are swallowed in the throats of tunnels.”

This, the last sentence of the poem has a large message which is that memories are beginning to disappear and maybe something needs to be done about it.

In ‘Mid-term break’, Heaney again presents more images of the past, from his childhood. The title of this poem ‘Mid-term break’ implies that that Seamus Heaney may be taking some time of school, due to some sort of interruption. The first verse starts of telling the readers that Heaney was at the school sick bay.

“At two o’clock our neighbours drove me home.”

This may stat to build suspense, as readers may wonder why the neighbours drove Heaney home and not his parents.

“In the porch I met my father crying…”

This kind of strange, as in ‘Follower’, the father has been described as being a strong figure, so this adds to suspense and tensions, what has made him so weak.

“…taken funerals in his stride”

So we know this is a funeral, but the difference I this funeral is that it’s that of Heaney’s younger brother.

Heaney describes one of the visitors as saying the whole thing was “a hard blow”, as if it was one of those things.

“The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram…”

This is a contrast to everything else in the environment.

“…I was embarrassed by old men standing up to shake my hand.”

Heaney was probably embarrassed because he was not used to this, and by men standing up to shake his hand they where showing him respect and sympathy.

“tell me they were ‘sorry for my trouble”

So this was saying that these men were not sorry for the death but sorry for what Heaney was going through. Heaney also heard whispers, that he “was the eldest”, this may have felt like to Heaney that more responsibility was put on his shoulders, he may have also felt uncomfortable as their may have been people watching him.

“the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses”

Here Heaney maybe trying to make things personal.

The next morning was when Heaney saw his dead brother.

“Snowdrops and candles soothed the bedside; I saw him for the first time in six weeks.”

The word snowdrop describes the moment as being soft, gentle, pure and innocence. Also it created a scene of an atmosphere of peace and harmony. Heaney described the body of his dead brother as being “Paler know,”, this may say that until then Heaney had never seen a body before, and was inexperienced with death.

“Wearing a poppy bruise…”

This is a metaphor Heaney uses to describe the bruise on his brother. His brother

Was described as being asleep.

“He lay in a four foot box as in his cot.

No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear”

Heaney’s brother wasn’t in the state he would’ve expected him to be in.

So all that happened was that the car just hit him, all he had was a bruise.

“A four foot box, a foot for every year.”

So a four-foot box represented everything about Heaney’s brother.

‘Jac Codi Baw’, is another poem by Gillian Clarke where she expresses the importance of memories. The title of this poem ‘Jac Codi Baw’ actually stands for JCB. The poem starts with a violent image, of a demolition site.

“They have torn down in the space of time it takes to fill a shopping bag, the building that stood beside my car”

So in other words a building has just been ripped down, in hardly any time. The building that was there wasn’t in good condition anyway.

“It was grown over with ragwort, toadflax and buddleia, windows blinded with boarding.”

The building was old and not in use so weed grew on it, and with time all the windows where smashed in and hence had to be boarded.

“We are used to the slow change that weather brings, the gradual death of a generation, old bricks crumbling.”

This is what people are used to seeing, and this quote is also saying that each generation brings something different.

“He doesn’t care. It’s a joke to him…”

This is the start of the second verse; the ‘he’ is probably the JCB driver, and this driver apparently doesn’t care what he is doing, as Gillian Clarke expects him to be grieving for the lost of the building. Gillian Clarke describes these buildings as the handwriting of the city.

“Too much comes down in the deaths of the warehouses. Brick dust, shards of Caernarfon slate. Blood on our hands.”

Demolishing these buildings destroys a lot, as so many memories will be lost with the building. People blame for this is our generation.

What Gillian Clarke is trying to say through from this poem is that memories are important and should be valued with respect. But generations are ignoring this so what is happening is that current generations come and destroy the work of previous generations.

Heaney and Gillian Clarke both want to discuss memories and the past. But Heaney wants to discuss memories he has of certain events, and he wants his memories to be very public, this is not the case with Gillian Clarke. As she in her poems discusses why memories are important, and why all efforts should be made in looking after them and also that memories are personal things. Gillian Clarke therefore doesn’t talk about specific events in her life which she has memories about, but instead of memories as general and the importance of them. Both of these poets value and respect memories.

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