Follower a poem selected out of Seamus Heaney’s first books of poem like a lot of his other poems is relating back to the memories which he had remember or experienced when he was at a younger age when his father. Through my knowledge about Heaney’s I can to understand that it was a joyful and very rural lifestyle.
He was brought up on a potato farm and in many of his poems relates to this a lot suggesting maybe his enjoyment in farming or expressing the family’s traditions. Follower is a poem, which relates to his past life. Which can be regarded as a big space of time. This gap in time can be noticed by the regularity of the poem. Not only does it have an even number of four-line stanzas and the combination of six stanzas in all but the regularity can also be seen through the regular internal rhyme:
“Strung and tongue…”
“…Round and ground”.
Time can also be implied as one of the main themes due to the enjambment of the lines through the poem.
In a lot of the Heaney poems that I have read it is noticeable that he relates to the past a lot of the time, as though he regrets living in the present age or finds it to hard or painful to speak of it? This can be quite easy to understand due to the violent murderous activity going on in Ireland through out the last 25years.
Back in his youth there was no conflict, well, not as much anyway. Both Catholics and protastens lived in peace. My view of Heaney write about the past a lot, is him trying to relive them days again with the people effected to day. He tries to express it to his people of what it was live and that they could live like that again and stop all the war.
Not only does he wish to succeed in bring his nation to peace, the use of looking back into the past was also to try and follow in the foot set of his ‘father’. Who’s “shoulders globed like a full sail strung between the shafts”. I believe that this maybe the main theme. The alteration of my quote expresses a shape stabbing sound suggesting the power of his father. This could also be an oxymoron between present fighting and killing to the peaceful farm work.
But I am left asking questions weather he did something wrong with or towards his father and wishes to try again or trying to express the joy he had for farming? In Ireland tradition was a high fact in families so I think he wanted to do his father proud but it could be criticized.
The powerful opening to the second stanza express the respect he had for his father its so short and direct it makes me feel like shouting it out with the top of my voice. It’s the shortest sentence in the poem implying its importance.
All throughout the poem Heaney speaks of his father as a mechanical object:
“…setting the wing…”
“…his eye narrowed and angled…”
as if he is jealous of him and wishes that he could be as good. This makes me think maybe this poem is about regret or a way of saying sorry to his father for being a poet not a farmer. You can relate ‘Follower’ to ‘Digging’:
“…pen rests; snug as a gun…”
the pen is mightier than the sword where as in this case the sword is “steel-pointed sock”. I believe here, Heaney tries to reveal to his father that he will never be as big and as strong in the body but he will be a lot stronger in the mind and through words. A horse-plough can dig up a hundred thousand potatoes but a few words can save a nation.
We see in the stanza the smallest amount of punctuation than any of the others because it’s the only stanza we truly get the chance to see some joy of his child hood “dipping and rising” on his fathers back. But this one scene of brightness and joy quickly disappears behind a shadow, which stood over his however much he tried to be like it. His father! “Who never tripped or fall”.
The concluding line I believe is the most power like in a lot of Heaney’s poems. It’s his father who stumbles now I think its due to stumbling of death, Heaney’s is sad to seem his go I think that they were really close and that he “will not go away” his father will always remain in his heart.
Seamus Heaney comes from a long tradition of Irish poets rooted in the music of both English and Gaelic languages. As we see in this poem, it's tough to escape your roots! Though Heaney breaks the mold a little bit in this poem by chucking any sense of a rhyme scheme out the window, rhyme is still abundant throughout the poem, as well as other sound effects. Let's check it out, shall we?
Half Rhyme (a.k.a. Slant Rhyme)
Probably our first encounter with rhyme was nursery rhymes, where the words mirrored each other perfectly for the familiar, hard rhyming sound of cat and hat, dog and hog, pig and wig, book and hook, etc. These rhymes are loud and proud; you can hear them a mile away.
Sometimes though, poets want to be a little softer with their rhyming, so you're not distracted by the rhyme while you're reading the rest of the poem. It's kind of like how you might not want to wear a leopard print jacket if you want people to pay attention to your black pants. Half rhyme offers just the solution. The words sound very similar to one another, but don't rhyme perfectly. Here are a few from "Digging" (they're easiest to identify when read aloud, so all together now):
thumb/gun; ground/down; flowerbeds/bends; bog/sods; edge/head.
Hear how similar the words are? Matching vowel sounds with similar consonant endings, but there's always something a little askew. At first, you might miss the slant rhymes, but eventually your ear will recognize that there's something familiar going on.
So what's the point of all that slant rhyming? Why not just have it rhyme outright? For one thing, it keeps awesome readers like us from getting distracted by all the noise. And for another, it creates a subtle rhythm in the poem, kind of how, say, digging, is kind of rhythmic, but not perfectly so. It's a lovely, if not always noticeable, effect.
Heaney uses full rhyme (the rhyme we're accustomed to, where both words rhyme perfectly) sparingly throughout the poem, and often sets them far apart from one another so they don't echo too loudly. Here are two examples:
These rhymes totally slow us down. It's like a bell tolling slowly at the end of each line. We're forced to pay attention, and revisit the line before, when the rhyme first started.
Internal rhyme just means that both words in the rhyme don't come at the end of the lines. So while one of the words might be the last in the line, the other is somewhere in the middle of the same line, or a different line within the stanza. They can be full rhymes or slant/half rhymes. These are best identified by example, so let's dig some up:
snug/gun; knee/firmly; men/them
In a way, these have a similar effect as slant rhymes in general, because they create a not-too-obvious repetition of sound. They don't beat us over the head with it, but they're there to remind us that there's music underneath all these words.
Alliteration refers to the use of words near each other that all begin with the same letter or sound. Like this: big, bad, banana, or pork with pickled pimentos. When the alliterative words begin with "s," they're also called sibilant. Sibilant words sound like a snake hissing: "Sally sells sea shells down by the sea shore." Those are exaggerated examples, and in "Digging," Heaney is much more careful with his alliteration so his poem in no way resembles "Peter Piper picked a peck..." Thank goodness for that! Here are Heaney's examples:
spade sinks; gravelly ground; tall tops; buried the bright; squelch and slap of soggy; curt cuts
Notice how the repeated sounds in this case make you read a bit faster. They're almost sing-songy.
Consonance is the repetition of hard, consonant (opposite of vowel) sounds in a close area (within the same line or stanza). In this poem, sometimes consonance works together with alliteration to make a big, firecracker of a sound.
- "The squat pen rests" makes use of the "t" and "s" sounds, tied together with the "e" sounds in "pen" and "rests."
- "Cut more turf" makes use of the "t" sound.
- "Nicking and slicing neatly" has a handful of consonant sounds: "ck" "n" and "t."
- "Squelch and slap/ Of soggy peat, the curt cuts" we mentioned because of alliteration and sibilance, but look at the end of the words – the "ch" the hard "p" and "t" sounds. It's alive with consonance. And if that doesn't get your attention, we don't know what will.
Assonance is like consonance, but repeats vowel sounds instead of consonant sounds. Because Heaney is so crafty, sometimes the two work together to pack a double whammy of sound play.
- "Thumb," "snug" and "gun" are all crammed together for some serious "u" moments in the first 2 lines.
- "Twenty years away" uses the "sometimes" vowel "y" in very close proximity.
- "Stooping in rhythm through" offers the very subtle assonant sound of "oo."
- "Loving the cool hardness in our hands" alternates assonant sounds between "o" and "a."
- "Man could handle a spade" gives us some more "a" action.
- "Cut more turf" gives "u" a quick sound cameo.
- "On Toner's bog" brings the "o" back into the picture.
- "Cold smell of potato mould" is perhaps the most beautiful use of assonance in the poem with the combination of the long (cold, mold, and second "o" in potato) "o" with the first, short "o" in potato.
The repetition of all those vowels reminds us of long notes in a song. They cause us to linger as readers, to sink in and revel in the music.
We'll end on that note, but if you continued to hunt, we're sure you'd find more. There are so many small reverberations of sound in this poem: it's like standing in the forest on a summer night listening to all the different tree toads, bullfrogs, crickets, and cicadas chirp out their own symphony, with Heaney as the composer and conductor all rolled into one.