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Comparing and contrasting "Digging" by Seamus Heaney, and "He was" by Richard Wilbur.

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Introduction

GCSE ENGLISH COURSEWORK 2002 >> POETRY COMPARISON Comparing and contrasting "Digging" by Seamus Heaney, and "He was" by Richard Wilbur. 'Digging' and 'He was' both examine father-son relationships with a sense of pride and admiration. However, both poems can also be read as an exploration and a challenge to what is considered to be "art". Throughout the two poems there are repeated references to the artistry of poetry and working in the field. The essay will explore how this is achieved, the similarities and differences of two poems. The connection between the poetry writing and working on the field is repeatedly linked in both poems. Indeed a variety of poetic devices are used to reinforce this, for example, the "hoe" in 'He was' is the father's tool, just as the "squat pen" is the writer's tool in 'Digging'. This emphasizes the closeness between writing a poem and digging. Stanza three of 'Digging' and stanza two of 'He was', both refer to the physical labour of their father's work. Indeed the connection between digging and poetry is once again reinforced by the "rhythm" and "sound" of the father's work. The father's work has a rhythm to it just as it is often necessary for the poet to find a rhythm through his or her choice of words. For example, in 'Digging', the poet describes the movements made by his father as "When the spade sinks into gravelly ground" and "Nicking and slicing neatly", and in 'He was', the poet describes the sounds of his father working, "The chug, choke, and high madrigal wheeze". ...read more.

Middle

This interrupts the fluidly of the poem, and conveys a sense of interlude, just like the way a person stops to think about the past memories, and there is also a hint of underlying sense of deep pride, emphasized by the word, "By God". This stresses the fact that writing and digging can not be achieved through one standard process with just no thought attached to it. 'He was' focuses upon religious imagery in order to compare how Jesus' work still lives on through Biblical stories, just as his father's work lives on through the orchard, and the speaker's work lives on in poetry. The last stanza is also reminiscent of the resurrection, just as Jesus rose from the dead, so does the speaker's father through the "livening clay". The effect of religious imagery is uplifting and rejoiceful. There is no sense of sadness or of closure, because the poet believes his father's voice lives on. Indeed even though both poems appear at first to be commenting on the break up of the male line, after studying the poem my response changed, and I read it as a description of past male voices which can still be heard and consequently this becomes a cause or reason for commemoration. Both poems recount memories of the past, but they do so in different ways. 'Digging' draws on historical recollections in order to accentuate his father's skill. The poet refers to the Irish famine and the way in which "My Grandfather cut more turf in a day than any other man on Toner's bog". ...read more.

Conclusion

I think one of the major difference in two poems are that in 'He was', the speaker's father is dead where as the father in 'Digging' is still well and alive, even though he has now retired. The death of Richard Wilbur's father is suggested by the phases, "He was a brown old man" which is clearly a past tense and "Until he went in the dead of fall" which clearly highlights that the speaker's father is deceased. I think this is the reason there are more uses of religious imagery and the writing is more poetic, where as 'Digging' is more conversational and direct. In 'Digging', the speaker ends the poem with the words, "I'll dig with it". I think the poet reflects on what he can do as an individual. I think the poet is trying to illustrate the connection between his father and grandfather digging and himself, that they are all skilled in what they do as a job. In 'He was' however, the ending of the poem has some sort of cathartic feeling and atmosphere. The fact that he links his poem to the religious imagery has an effect of cleansing the mind of the speaker, rather than firmly deciding what the speaker is going to do as demonstrated in 'Digging'. Both poems express a true sense of awe and respect for their 'father' work, and there is a very real sense of celebration running through each poem. This theme lends itself to very powerful historical and religious images which emphasizes the legacy of fathers work to the soil. The closeness between father and son is repeated in the connection between writing and working in the field. 1 ...read more.

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