What do we learn of Seamus Heaney, both as a child and as an adult, from the selection of poetry studied

After studying a selection of poetry by Heaney I have decided to discuss the poems ‘Mid Term Break’, ‘Blackberry Picking’ and ‘Death of A Naturalist’ to answer the above question.

In particular the poems ‘Blackberry Picking’ and ‘Death of A Naturalist’ are similar in the way that they show Heaney looking back at his childhood, and showing his reluctance to grow up and his refusal to accept reality.

Heaney uses irony is his work, and the title ‘Mid Term Break’ is ironic, it gives the reader the wrong idea. Reading the title makes you think its going to be a nice happy poem about a Childs half term holiday but it’s the total opposite.

In this poem Heaney is reflecting on his past, and at first has created the mood of anticipation with his lines ;

‘I sat all morning in the college sick bay

Counting bells knelling classes to a close’

From the above lines we learn that Heaney was away at boarding school as a child, and on that occasion had been called out to the college sick bay and, unaware what’s going on but senses that something urgent is happening because the bells where knelling, which only happens in a time if crisis.

We learn that Heaney deals with adult issues at a young age and goes through seeing his father in a different light. We learn this from the lines ;

‘In the porch I met my father crying

He had always taken funerals in his stride’

His father however isn’t taking this funeral in his stride because its one of his own.

In the next two verses Heaney shows us the awkwardness in the situation and the line ;

‘The baby cooed and rocked the pram’

made the situation for Heaney worse. It seemed as if things were going to carry on like normal as if everyone hasn’t yet accepted it. The lines ;

‘When I came in, and I was embarrassed

By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were sorry for my trouble

Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest away at school’

shows the awkwardness and embarrassment Heaney felt.

Heaney doesn’t want to admit to himself that its his brother that’s ‘gone’ all the way through the poem. Heaney is still in denial towards the end. The line

‘with the corpse, stenched and bandaged by the nurses’

shows this and it isn’t until the next verse that we have some form of identity.

The next verse ;

‘Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops

And candles soothed the bedside ; I saw him

For the first time in six weeks. Paler now’

tells us that Heaney and his family are of Catholic religion, because they’ve kept the body in the house. However the mood becomes more positive now with the use of words like ‘snowdrops’ and ‘candles’ and it is this verse that we finally have some identity, when Heaney says ‘I saw him’, we learn it’s a male from the family although were not sure yet as to what relation to Heaney he was. This could be Heaney finally coming to terms with what has happened, and getting rid of the reluctance.

In the last verse of the poem we get an idea of how old this person was and how he was killed, although he still doesn’t tell us what relation he is to him, we assume that it’s a younger brother of his. We learn that this person was 4 years of age and was killed by a car. The lines ;

‘He lay in the four foot box as in his cot

No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear’

shows us this.

The tone of the poem really comes together with the last line ;

‘A four foot box, a foot for every year’

and again we are told the age. This line is said bitterly and stands apart from the rest of the poem.

The second poem I have chosen to discuss is ‘Blackberry Picking’. The title ‘Blackberry Picking’ reflects the content of the poem.

In this poem Heaney is thinking back retrospectively to one day Late August, so it’s a nice positive start to the poem.

Heaney uses simile in the lines ;

‘At first, just one, a glossy purple clot

Among others, red, green, hard as a knot’

and here we also learn that Heaney is just a child on this occasion. We understand this due to the ‘monosyllabic language’ used by Heaney e.g. the words red, green, hard and knot. Here we learn that like most other children Heaney enjoyed the summer. We know this from the line ;

‘Like thickened wine ; summer’s blood was in it’

Above Heaney is being tactile, ‘imagining’ what wine tastes like, and giving us another clue he’s a child, because he hasn’t tasted any wine.

The lines ;

‘Sent us out with milk cans, pea cans, jam pots

Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots

Round hayfields, cornfields, and potato drills’

tell us that Heaney was on a farm, and natural that children were picking up anything empty to put blackberries in.

Heaney is tactile in the way he makes the reader feel the wounds the children have, the lines ;

‘Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered

With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeards’

show this. The above lines suggest how many Blackberries the children have picked and the word ‘Bluebeard’s’ suggests steeling, Bluebeard’s being a Pirate. The words ‘Like a plate of eyes’ is the use of simile here, almost like the berries are looking up at him accusingly because they’ve taken too many.

Throughout the rest of the poem Heaney’s mood has changed to be very negative. We now move to the farm where the children ;

‘Hoarded the fresh berries in the byre’

which suggests that the children have taken far too much than they need and are trying to hide it away.

Heaney creates not very pleasant imagery with the lines ;

‘But when the bath was filled we found a fur,

A rat grey fungus, glutting on our cache

The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush

The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour’

All of the rot and decay from the berries over the years is like a big rat eating all the berries. The juice has gone all horrible too as well as the ‘furry’ berries.

For the last three lines of the poem Heaney is a teenager, and the lines ;

‘I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair

That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot

Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not’

Shows us his refusal to accept reality, how he battled with accepting how things are going to be as he grows up, things don’t always go as expected.

The last poem I am going to discuss is ‘Death of a Naturalist’ and has the same sort of idea as ‘Blackberry Picking’. The title is important here, the meaning of the title is someone interested in Nature but isn’t any more.

Heaney writes this poem from the point of view of a child. Heaney starts this poem off positively, thinking back to a nice hot day during the summer, the same as he did in ‘Blackberry Picking’.

In the sixth line of the poem ;

‘Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell’

Heaney uses the senses again, he’s being tactile by allowing us to smell/see/feel and experience for ourselves.

We learn from the next few lines that Heaney is a child in this poem. This is because of certain words that he uses e.g. in line 8 Heaney says ;

‘But best of all was the warm thick slobber’

which tells us he’s a child, because he’s in to all the smelly gruesome stuff that children like.

Two lines later Heaney is talking about what he has done at school in the Spring, which again hints to us that he’s a child in the lines ;

‘In the shade of the banks, Here every spring

I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied

Specks to range on window sills at home

On shelves at school, and wait and watch until’

Heaney tells us how he’s fascinated by the tadpoles, likes watching the tadpoles turn in to frogs and links back to school where he mentions his teacher ‘Miss Walls’ and relates to us what she has told him in the lines ;

‘Miss Walls would tell us how

The daddy frog was called a bullfrog

And how he croaked and how the mammy frog

Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was frogspawn’.

Another clue in the above lines that Heaney is a child is the fact that childish language is used e.g. daddy frog, mummy frog, little eggs and so on.

Heaney uses Imagery and tries to impress us also by what he knows, in the lines ;

‘You could tell the weather by the frogs too

For they were yellow in the sun and brown

In rain’

The second half of the poem starts with a new word and a new day, and also a new mood. The mood is negative here and the words Heaney uses shows us this, words like ‘rank’, ‘cow dung’, ‘angry frogs’, ‘Invaded’, ‘coarse croaking’ which is a horrible sound and also a use of onomatopoeia and alliteration. Heaney is using lots of unpleasant imagery at the moment and is starting to see nature differently now.

In line 26-27 towards the end of the poem Heaney feels as if the frogs are about to attack. He says ;

Right down the dam gross bellied frogs were cocked

On sods, their loose necks pulsed like snails, some hopped’.

Heaney uses a nightmarish simile within the line ;

‘Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting

I sickened, turned and ran. The great slime kings’

and he says that nature has changed, as if it was a threat waiting to happen. He refers to the frogs as kings above, he imagined all the frogs attacking him because he’s taken all the frogspawn. His outlook has changed, he’s developed a very different perspective. In the first part of the poem Heaney was all innocent and in the second part of the poem Heaney has grown up. As a child he saw things as nice and simple As he grew up he became much more cynical and his response was to run away, has developed a different viewpoint on life. Has left his boyhood and realism in the past but he doesn’t want to grow up.

In conclusion I have learnt many things about Seamus Heaney as a child and as an adult. From the poems we learn of Heaney’s reluctance to want to grow up, his refusal to accept reality and leave his boyhood behind. I think I was successful in my analysis of the poems.

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