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AS and A Level: Seamus Heaney

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Seamus Heaney's biography

  1. 1 He is a Northern Irish poet and playwright. He was born in 1939.
  2. 2 He is the eldest of nine children and was brought up on a farm.
  3. 3 His childhood provides material for a great deal of his poetry.
  4. 4 The Troubles (ie: the conflict in Northern Ireland) are also alluded to in his poetry.
  5. 5 He won the Nobel Prize for Literature and his books account for two thirds of sales of living poets in the UK.

Heaney's ideas and expression

  1. 1 A lot of Heaney's poems are autobiographical and he draws upon the experiences of his childhood.
  2. 2 He describes the local surroundings in his poems and the natural world. Heaney often uses specialist farming lexis to give his poems greater authenticity.
  3. 3 Mid-Term Break describes the death of his four year old brother and The Barn shows how terrified he was of the dark barn with its weapon like tools.
  4. 4 An important theme is his father and the respect and admiration he has for him this can be seen in both the Follower and Digging.
  5. 5 He uses descriptive imagery and evokes the senses. Although he uses free verse at times the power of Heaney’s poetry lies in rhythm created by alliteration, enjambment and repetition.

Top tips for writing essays on poetry

  1. 1 Embed quotations to show understanding and knowledge of poems.
  2. 2 Refer to the essay question in conclusion, introduction and topic sentences.
  3. 3 Use poetry terminology to show understanding of the techniques Seamus used in creating the poem.
  4. 4 Avoid describing the content - analyse the poem.
  5. 5 When comparing and contrasting two or more poems use the language of comparison and similarly discuss the similarities and differences of the poems.

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  1. Most, if not all, of Heaney's poems in 'Wintering Out' describe Heaney's uncertainty towards religion and his home land, Northern Ireland - "The Tollund Man" and "Westering" best illustrate these uncertainties.

    He even -..could risk blasphemy because he compares the Tollund Man with God. Heaney uses religious imagery throughout the poem, perhaps to show that he is replacing Christ wit the Tollund Man. - Those dark juices working Him to a saint's kept body... He even uses a capital letter at the beginning of 'Him' when talking about the Tollund Man, as you would do with God. He then goes onto talk about Northern Ireland. He not only feels lost in religion but his bond with his mother land has also weakened. - Consecrate the cauldron bog, Our holy ground and pray Him to germinate....

    • Word count: 1932
  2. "Violence is never far from the surface." Discuss with reference to three of Heaney's poems.

    England has effectively raped Ireland in the way it treats it creating the multi-cultured society that we call Northern Ireland. All three poems have very dissimilar themes, portraying and exploring violence in very different ways. The poems look at mental and physical violence such as in A Constable Calls where the child is very fearful of the intimidating police officer - mental violence: "Arithmetic and fear" The child does not show his fear of the police officer but constantly looks at the way the constable acts and perceives these actions to be menacing and intruding: "On the floor, next his

    • Word count: 1136
  3. Comment on Heaney's treatment of the theme of conflictand explore how it is used in the four collections - Explain whether his use of poetic devices varies according to his useof the theme.

    There is a strong use of imagery throughout all the poems and this poem is no exception. "Green and heavy headed", this is describing the flax in the flax dam that he used to visit as a child. The structure of the poem is in two stanzas with a definite change between the two. The first section is the actual memory and how it happened and then the second section is where he sees the frogs copulating. The use of this form of structure is the same as the structure in "blackberry picking" which also shows the same change between each stanza.

    • Word count: 883
  4. We looked at the poems The Behaviour of Dogs and Flying to Belfast, 1977 by Craig Raine.

    Raine describes the teeth of dogs like "Yale keys" suggesting that they are serrated, jagged and sharp, Raine also uses imagery to describe the way a dog's tongue slips out as it pants, "joke-shop Niagara tongues," this line also includes an element of humour if you imagine a massive joke-shop tongue! In the third verse Raine starts focusing on the different breeds of dog, and certain characteristics that make them different to one another. He mentions a whippet and how it "jack-knifes across the grass", implying that the whippet is sharp and quick.

    • Word count: 1239
  5. It Matters to Me

    On arrival in Ireland, North or South these people worm their way through airport security using false documentation where they usually meet a representative of the people who are orchestrating the crime. When the immigrant workers arrive at their final location they use the excuse that they are tourists if confronted by the authorities. You may be wondering how this issue affects us. The immigrant workers are giving local employers the opportunity to employ workers for a cheaper wage, which leaves many local employees unwanted, and in the cold, thus saving the company huge costs.

    • Word count: 670
  6. Show how the Writer deals with the social consequences of emigration on the live of the characters portrayed in the Irish short stories studied in class.

    The party has been paid for by an uncle, this and the fact that the money for the travelling has been sent by an aunt emphasises on the interdependence of families in rural Ireland at that time. Despite the singing and dancing the atmosphere in the house is melancholy. The gaiety of the celebration is tinged with sadness. "Forced boisterous gaiety failed to hide to the their real purpose of being there." The father regularly leaves the house and tells others it is to check on a pig but really there is no pig to check.

    • Word count: 1338
  7. "Wintering Out" and "Bye-Child" by Heaney.

    Because of the lack of light he has had, he has turned pale and skinny due to the lack of food. At this point Heaney begins to use animal imagery to describe the little boy trapped in the henhouse. He can still remember the little boys face, perhaps from all the newspapers at the time. His face was thin and pointy, like a crescent shape, as of a moon. -..kennelled and faithful at the foot of the yard... The little boy has learnt to become disobedient and not make any noise. He accepts what he is given. -..stirring the dust...

    • Word count: 1744
  8. Drawing examples from a range of poems discuss Heaney's treatment of what he has called History, Memory and Attachemetns.

    In Ireland when he was growing up Heaney was the first generation of working class people to have access to extended education, and the reader sees the difference between the poet inside by the window writing while his father still needs to labour on the land. In one sense the literal positions of father and son - one high at the window, the other low on the ground - shows the cultural distance between them. Similarly, the shift in the speaker's class position, having changed from the difficult circumstances of small farm life to educated middle class security, is registered

    • Word count: 2425
  9. What influence of history can be seen in Seamus Heaney's work?

    Again Heaney reiterates that he was involved in this Battle, by writing 'We found new tactics happening each day: / We'd cut through reins and rider with the pike'. The 'people' with Heaney had to live by their wits, they had no modern artillery or machinery to fight with, just old spears. Here Heaney brings home just how violent it was, they'd 'cut through...rider' in order to win their country. Most of the people fighting were from the country, and they used the tools they had, in the most part 'cattle', which they used to 'stampede...into infantry'.

    • Word count: 1839
  10. With close reference to at least two poems, discuss Seamus Heaney's presentation of his childhood in Ireland.

    "...like clotted water..." Heaney describes the Flax-dam as, "festered" and "heavy-headed" this creates an image of dirt and danger, in his childhood. He also describes the sun as, "...the punishing sun..." This is a dramatic use of pathetic fallacy, which adds an unusual twist to the poem because the sun is usually associated with beauty and life bringing issues, but in Heaney's poem the sun is causing death and decay. This creates a sense of uncertainty. Although the flax-dam is described in this way, in the first stanza there is still a sense of innocence and unawareness.

    • Word count: 1767
  11. Heaney's poems explore by varied poetic means the enduring significance of family and childhood in human life. Discuss.

    The poem is littered with various poetic devices, which help to bring the poem and the poet's feelings alive to the reader. Firstly, Heaney uses the simile, "snug as a gun" to describe the way the pen feels when he holds it. This suggests that it fits his hand well and is very powerful. It could also mean that, whereas his father and grandfather use the spade as their weapon, Heaney uses the pen. Some have also proposed that the image of the "gun" is a reflection of the violence in Northern Ireland.

    • Word count: 1755
  12. Explore the theme of growing up in 'The Early Purges' and 'Death of a Naturalist', by Seamus Heaney.

    In death of a naturalist, the first stanza shows how the child saw the flax dam, a clearly ugly thing, as being a place where 'bubbles gargled delicately, / bluebottles wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.' Heaney glorifies nature in the way of a small child, to give the readers an idea of how it was. The sentimental view of the child in 'the early purges' also shows this. He sees the kittens as beautiful creatures, and so is 'suddenly frightened' when they are killed.

    • Word count: 549
  13. Death of a Naturalist - Heaney

    The omnipresence of the sounds, smell and thoughts (???) typifies a powerful imagination and this confirms to us, the readers, the positive, free roaming and un-questioning attitude to nature and life possessed by a young child. There is, to a degree, some symbolism in this poem. Heaney, with the frogspawn which is both mystifying and phenomenal: 'and this was frogspawn' mystifying sinks a shaft in the child's subconscious, and this causes him to become wary regarding nature and enquire about it. It is a window, through which the child gains perspective and peeks through on the way towards his adulthood.

    • Word count: 1158
  14. Digging Analysis

    Then there is a flashback to twenty years earlier, where the poem changes to past tense. The persona thinks of his father working on the fields digging for potatoes. It tells us that his father was very skilful and was probably an expert at digging because of the phrases "in rhythm" and "potato drills". The word "digging" pops us again at the end of the third stanza as it is at the end of the second. The word seems to haunt or irritate the poet because he feels he is letting down his ancestors.

    • Word count: 3087
  15. An Introduction to The Great Famine

    "Our accounts from the northern parts of this country are most deplorable. What the poor people earn on the public works is barely sufficient to support them. All their earnings go for food; and the consequence is, that they have nothing left to procure clothing. Since the extreme cold set in, sickness and death have accordingly followed in its train. Inflammation of the lungs, fevers, and other maladies, resulting from excessive privation, have been bearing away their victims. Many have died in the course of last week; and the illness in every case was traceable to the want of clothing and firing, if not of sufficient food."

    • Word count: 702
  16. Compare and contrast the treatment of emigration and rural life in “The Country Boy” by John Murphy and “Philadelphia, Here I Come” by Brian Freill.

    Although, Curly seems to have a better relationship with his father than Gar has with his father. The reason for this is, although Curly and his father can't really agree on anything, they seem to talk more and communicate on some sort of level, whereas S.B and Gar have the exact same routine every single night. S.B comes in and says exactly the says and does the exact same thing and at one point, Private Gar is mocking him and predicting everything that he is about to say and do. Gar says; "OK, time for our nightly lesson of the English language."

    • Word count: 1785
  17. Belfast Confetti - Ciaran Carson

    The use of punctuation words means there is a running theme through out the poem "raining exclamation marks...an asterisk on the map....hyphenated line....punctuated". A meaning that could be taken from this is that sentences are one of a few things that differ us from animals.

    • Word count: 294
  18. Casualty, Limbo, Graubelle Man, Tollund Man, Mid-Term Break and Funeral Rites offer us varying representations, interpretations of and attitudes towards death.Compare Heaney’s poetic treatment of this theme across the poems.

    None the less Heaney still seems to care greatly for this Bog body and elaborates on the condition in which the body was found. He uses these details to create himself his own story of their life leading up to their gruesome murder. In the last section of this poem Heaney refers to the "sad freedom" that comes with death, and how now he will be grouped as a statistic with Bog bodies found in the various other locations. The Tollund Man now has his freedom, but at a high price.

    • Word count: 1810
  19. Write a comparison of ‘The Grauballe Man’, ‘Punishment’ and ‘Field of Vision’ by Seamus Heaney.

    'Small calves with their backs to the wind' provides the reader with an image of youth and the vitality of youth, however the next line, 'the same acre of ragwort, the same mountain' gives the impression of age, toughness and strength. Perhaps what Heaney is trying to tell us is that the woman has two aspects to her personality, reinforcing the dual image of 'un-leafing and leafing'. The image of the strength and staying power are reflected in the woman, 'she was steadfast as the big window itself.

    • Word count: 1040
  20. In what ways do these two poets tell their stories so that readers will be shocked and moved?Which poem shocked and moved you more and why?

    setting off three bombs on the morning of July 31st 1972 killing nine people. "The Eviction" is simply about a village being evicted by their landlords and it shows the reactions of the people to this. "Claudy", however, describes what the people were doing at the time of the bomb and it shows their desperate attempts to fight death. In "The Eviction" we immediately see that it is in iambic pentameter. For example, "In early morning twilight, raw and chill." This is to give the effect of a relentless and methodical march, coming towards the village.

    • Word count: 2220
  21. The poem Digging by Seamus Heaney explores themes of identity, ability and family relationships and values

    Using this tone as the speaker relates his inner thoughts and memories, Heaney establishes a close connection between the speaker and the reader. An array of vivid imagery is used to further engage the reader in the memories that are being illustrated. The speaker shows that even though he may not wish to follow the path of his forefathers, he can convey his respect for family tradition through his writing. Phrases such as ?The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft against the inside knee was levered firmly? (line 10)

    • Word count: 676

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