Consider Heaney's presentation of relationships in Act of Union and one other poem
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Consider Heaney's presentation of relationships in Act of Union and one other poem The poem Act Of Union is an allegory and focuses on the theme of relationships. It has a surface meaning of a relationship between a man and woman and the underlying meaning of Ireland and Britain. Its title is from an act passed in parliament in 1800, England's response the 1789 rebellion. This created from January 1st 1801 onwards, the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland'. The extended metaphor used throughout the poem describes what took place between England and Ireland but also a sexual act taking place between a man and woman. The flow of the poem using enjambment also represents the sexual act taking place. The language used in the 1st stanza points toward this being a case of rape, "To slip and flood; a big burst," "And arms and legs are thrown" The use of alliteration and consonance represent the pain and harshness of the act of rape and the invasion of Ireland by England.
In stanza two the man/England talks of, "I am still imperially Male, leaving you with the pain," this implies a painful, unhappy union between the two. This is both negative for Ireland and the woman. In the following lines the phrases, "Battering ram" and "boom burst from within" further reinforce this idea with the use of alliteration and consonance like above. They describe the woman's waters breaking and also the invasion of Ireland. "His heart beneath your heart is a wardrum, Mustering force." This line tells us of the second heart beating inside her and also that Ireland may be gathering energy again to fight with England, possibly by the IRA. Violence is then continued onto the next lines, "And ignorant little fists already Beat at your borders" as the UK again continue to attack Ireland and the baby "attacks" its mother by kicking it. The final lines leave the poem with its original pessimistic and hopeless tone, "And stretchmarked body, the big pain That leaves you raw, like opened ground, again."
In stanza four Heaney personifies England as a woman, "I hold my lady's head like a crystal" He then puts himself into the poem and uses topography to describe her features and also describe England and that of chalk pictures seen in the English countryside, "ossify myself by gazing: I am screes on her escarpments... carved upon her downs, soon my hands on the sunken fosse of her spine" he uses sexual imagery here to personalise the poem, perhaps to seem closer or "in love" with this woman as the English language. He continues to personify England throughout the fifth stanza, "...cradling each other between the lips of an earthwork." "...of the elbows, the vallum of her brow and the long wicket of collarbone," In the final stanza of the poem he discovers England is not as intimidating as he thought, he personifies England again as a mole, "I had thought the mole a big-boned coulter but there it was small and cold..." he uses hyphenated and pre/post modifiers here to say how he feels about England now, the use of alliteration all emphasises this. Laura Williams
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