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How has Seamus Heaney's childhood affected his poetry?

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Introduction

How has Seamus Heaney's childhood affected his poetry? Seamus Heaney was born in the North of Ireland in 1939 on a farm with his mother and father and nine other siblings. Generally Heaney's poems are influenced by animals through his childhood experience, specifically within 'The Early Purges' and 'An Advancement of Learning'. Heaney grew up near Belfast, during the time of 'The Troubles', the Irish civil war. Although Heaney left at the height of the war, it is obvious his work reflects his experiences of that time. For an example 'The Early Purges' illustrates this. "Where they consider death unnatural". Growing into an environment where Heaney will appreciate that death does exist, the extract interprets killing to be artificial. Many of Heaney's early poems dealt with experiences of childhood and a frequent theme is how these experiences affect us. One poem that deals with a childhood experience is "The Early Purges". The title immediately suggests that the poem is about getting rid of undesirables. ...read more.

Middle

The words, "For days I sadly hung round the yard, watching the three sogged remains" and "the fear came back" suggest he was affected by the carnage and murder he witnessed. However, toward the end of the poem he is forced to accept the killing and torture. Heaney became numb, unfeeling and almost deadened. This is shown in the words, "I just shrug, 'Bloody pups'. It makes sense". He is almost imitating Dan Taggart at this point to justify his actions, so he doesn't feel guilty. Heaney is deceived by Dan Taggart to protect him from his compassion. Towards the end of the poem he seems to understand the killing, but his description of the kittens throughout the poem suggests differently. He seems confused, saying two separate things at the same time. The poem is ambiguous and vague, as Heaney changes significantly and considerably towards the end of the poem. This childhood experience allows him to express two different feelings. He feels guilt, but is also pressurised to become accustomed to the killing of the "pests". ...read more.

Conclusion

This theme may reflect Heaney's life as he lived in the time of the Irish Civil war. The poem may therefore have been affected by his childhood experiences of war. Poem is about how we lose innocence. It is ambiguous and ironic - poet appears to endorse the view that "sentiments" displaced by "living" are "false", but ends with an unconvincing clich�: "Pests have to be kept down", and a cheap jeer at townies. In fact the young Heaney's reaction is the one the poet really approves. The Poem recalls a particular incident (the "first" time Heaney, as a boy, witnessed the farmhand killing kittens) and how he (the poet) became used to this in time. Now, he writes, he has a similar indifference to the death of animals. Dan Taggart justifies action by suggesting the kitten have no values "scraggy wee shits" and adult Heaney does the same, even swearing like Dan Taggart "bloody pups". We see older person try to deceive child to protect him from his compassion ("Sure isn't it better for them now?" - but the child is not convinced). ...read more.

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