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Heaney's poems explore by varied poetic means the enduring significance of family and childhood in human life. Discuss.

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Heaney's poems explore by varied poetic means the enduring significance of family and childhood in human life. Discuss. Much of Heaney's poetry, particularly from his early selections, explores childhood and family. Heaney perhaps uses these themes as a means of discovering his true self by travelling back to his roots. His childhood experiences have certainly had a deep impact and acted as inspiration for many of the poems from his first book, 'Death of a Naturalist', but there are also poems in later books that explore this theme. Aside from giving us an insight into Heaney's early life, his exploration of childhood and family also reflects the rural Irish culture at the time and the political situation in Ireland. The poet also explores the themes of childhood and family through the use of various poetic devices, including vivid imagery and structure. The first poem that I have decided to examine is 'Digging' from Heaney's first collection, 'Death of a Naturalist'. This poem focuses on the poet's father and grandfather, and his admiration for their digging skills. It also shows the great contrast between father and son, in that Heaney has "no spade to follow men like them"; his talents lie in writing. 'Digging' is the first poem in the selection, and certainly depicts Heaney's insecurities about his writing career and his early struggle to define himself as a poet, and break the family tradition of rural labour.


The second poem that I have chosen to explore is 'Personal Helicon', which is also from Heaney's first collection, 'Death of Naturalist'. This poem contains many double meanings. On the surface, it would appear as if Heaney is reflecting on his favourite pastime as a child, which was playing with water and wells. This, indeed, is true, but he is also using the theme to talk about writing poetry. The word "Helicon" in the title refers to a place in ancient Greece where there are springs that supposedly give inspiration to anyone that drinks there. This suggests that, for Seamus Heaney, the memories of his childhood and his love for water and wells are his personal inspiration for his poetry. It is also an interesting choice of word because both sources of inspiration are associated with water. "So deep you saw no reflection in it" describes one particular well that Heaney encountered as a child. However, the image of the bottomless well also portrays what a poem is like, filled with different meanings. A further example of a double meaning can be found in the line, "A white face hovered over the bottom". This refers to the literal reflection of Heaney that could be seen in the water, but could also mean that he is always evident in his poems; each poem connects in some way with the poet, no matter what the theme is.


Another interesting simile within this poem is, "as if party to lovemaking or a stranger's weeping". This is an excellent use of imagery, as it really portrays to the reader the extent of the neighbour's embarrassment at having interrupted Heaney's family's prayers. Another poetic device used in the poem is onomatopoeia, shown through the expression "moan of prayers". The word "moan" really does sound like the chanting of prayers often heard in churches, as it is a rather extended, droning word, reflecting what the prayers were like. To conclude, 'The Other Side' depicts the significance of family and childhood experiences, as Heaney has undoubtedly gained much inspiration from his memories of the division between religions in Ireland when he was a child. Overall, it is evident that a number of Heaney's poems explore the enduring significance of family and childhood in human life, as he openly acquires a good deal of inspiration from his early years. Within these poems, he uses various poetic devices as a means of expressing memories, feelings and objects in a highly vivid and engaging way. His fascinating and intelligent use of language is certainly at the forefront of all of his poems, whether it is shown through imagery, onomatopoeia or realistic descriptions. Heaney once said that, 'Words themselves are doors', suggesting that they can open up new ways of understanding, expressing and interpreting situations and feelings. TJ Cragg 28/04/2007

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