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A Comparative Analysis of 'Digging' and 'Follower' by Seamus Heaney

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Introduction

Coursework Assignment: Poetry Post 1914 A Comparative Analysis of 'Digging' and 'Follower' by Seamus Heaney In considering these two poems, it is important to recognise their context within Irish literature and the history of the country. Many critics, including Robert Lowell, deem Seamus Heaney to be 'the most important Irish poet since Yeats'. The Northern Ireland disputes between the Catholics and Protestants have often inspired Irish literature. William Butler Yeats and Seamus Heaney were both awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for work derived from their experience of the struggles. Yeats believed his poems and plays could 'engender a national unity capable of transfiguring the Irish nation' often through themes deeply rooted in Irish history and mythology. Heaney also had great interest in the conflicts, and felt himself to be 'symbolically placed' deep in the cultural divide, since his birth in 1939. He spent his childhood as the eldest in a strongly Roman Catholic family, living on a farm that bordered a large Protestant estate in Belfast. However, unlike Yeats, who hoped his work would be capable of unifying the Catholic and Protestant cultures, Heaney simply provided a much-acclaimed account of the tragedies, unbiased of any political inclination. ...read more.

Middle

I feel this is a reference to the memory of his father, symbolising Heaney's guilt that he will not fulfil expectations to continue the family tradition of farming, or bitterness that his father's reputation will not allow him to break free from his perception of his own 'stumbling' inadequacy. The sombre heavy sounding assonance of words such as 'furrow' and 'ground' supports this interpretation that 'Follower' is a poem of regret and disappointment. 'Digging' proves to have a more positive tone. It shows Heaney's realisation that he 'has no spade to follow men like them [his father and grandfather]', yet recognises he can wield the tool of his own profession, 'the squat pen'. In fact, his use of the simile of the pen resting 'snug as a gun' 'Between my finger and my thumb' suggests that his literature is more powerful and potentially dangerous. He is determined that his work could have an even greater impact than 'the spade [that] sinks into gravely ground', by its power to influence the mind. Both poems denote Heaney's admiration for his father and grandfather. ...read more.

Conclusion

In 'Digging' onomatopoeic sounds are used to conjure direct images of the 'nicking', the 'squelch', the 'slap' and the 'rasping' of the activity. Heavy sounding words, such as 'lug' emphasise the intensity of the manual work. 'Follower' uses a rolling, unforced rhythm, echoing that of the horse-plough's gentle plod. In summary, study of these poems reveals ideas stemming from Heaney's childhood. His feelings of regret and inadequacy that he cannot continue in his family's agricultural tradition are demonstrated by the use of language, metaphor and sombre assonance in 'Follower'. 'Digging' shows a progression in his thoughts to positive aspirations of success in an alternative vocation, and hope that he will someday achieve the sound integrity and craftsmanship that he admired in his father. Both poems express Heaney's need to disregard 'stumbling' memories of his father and cut 'Through living roots' of past generations, in order to fulfil his own destiny as a writer. His poems offer optimism to many who may feel unworthy in their ancestors' 'broad shadow', that we may all find our own satisfaction in life, whilst honouring the achievements of past generations. GCSE English 2001/2002 SEG EXAMINATION BOARD Jennifer Rose Brown Centre number: 52433 Candidate number: 7061 ...read more.

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