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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.

  • Peer Reviewed essays 5
  1. Peer reviewed

    Compare and contrast 'Death of a naturalist' and 'Catrin'

    3 star(s)

    But in the second stanza it changes, the tone of the stanza is less happy; it is serious and uses many negative phrases 'Then one hot day when fields were rank' (line 22) 'Right down the d*m gross - bellied frogs were cocked' (line 27) And also fearful is the tone 'I knew that if I dipped my hand the spwan would clutch it' (line33) He shows he now no longer likes nature 'I sickened, turned and ran' (line31) that is the change.

    • Word count: 1306
  2. Describe the qualities in the young Beowulf and later in Wiglaf, that make them stand out as warrior heroes

    of the earth' when in battle with Grendel and his use of the sword ' so huge and heavy of itself only Beowulf could wield it in battle' during his combat with Grendel's mother. Such repetition of course was a key feature in the oral tradition of Anglo-Saxon poetry to establish their important attitudes and values, and Heaney has ensured this is maintained in his translation. We cannot however, award the young warrior heroic status merely as a result of his overwhelming brute strength, both by modern standards and more importantly those of the Anglo-Saxons, there were numerous other qualities required to fulfil this role.

    • Word count: 1166
  3. 'From our study in the "Clearances" collection, what is revealed about Seamus Heaney and his relationship with his mother, and his thoughts and feelings about other members of his family'

    The fact that Heaney remembers this visit to his grandparents so vividly is also an indication of how important his mother and her family background was to him, as he shows a keep interest in all aspects of the visit. Despite this, the true reveal of the close bond shared by both mother and son is seen most apparent in sonnet 3, whereby Heaney describes the activities shared between them on times where it was just the two of them alone.

    • Word count: 1915
  4. Analysis Of Bog Queen

    The use of, "turf face", shows that she is completely enveloped in the deep earth. Heaney uses the repetition of the word, "between", showing again that she is concentrated deep into the earth. However the word, "demesne", meaning land that was owned by a King, could show that because the woman was buried in such land of importance, then this is why she is revered as a Queen, the fact that she should be honoured to be sacrificed in such a place of high significance. This links to the idea that all bog people who were sacrificed were chosen, and therefore they should be extremely happy that they were chosen to be a sacrificial person.

    • Word count: 1703
  5. Follower is a poem about the poets love and admiration for his father. It is also about the changes that occur between father and children as children move out from their parent's shadow.

    The poet uses onomatopoeic words to capture the details of his father as he works the plough. At the end of the first stanza he describes him leading the team of plough-horses, instructing them with his "clicking tongue". In the second stanza his father guides the horses with "a single pluck Of Rains". It is interesting that the onomatopoeia here emphasises the great skill with which the poet's father controls and guides his horses. It shows again his "expertise" and ease with the animals as he ploughs the field into furrowed lines.

    • Word count: 1628
  6. A Comparison Between 'Requiem For The croppies' And 'The Tollund Man', both by Seamus Heaney

    'The Tollund Man' is another of Heaney's poems in which he comments indirectly on the sectarian violence in Ireland. This poem was written after Heaney was inspired by a book by P.V Glob which features recently discovered two-thousand year old bodies, which had been perfectly preserved in a peat bog in Denmark. This poem opens with the poet, Heany, saying how he would like to visit the body of 'The Tollund Man' at a museum in Aarhus, Denmark; something he actually did in 1973. 'Requiem For The Croppies' opens with the lines: 'The pockets of our greatcoats full of barley - No kitchens on the run, no striking camp- We moved quick and sudden in our own country', This

    • Word count: 1347
  7. Death of a Naturalist

    The poem has a fairly simple structure. In the first section, Heaney describes how the frogs would spawn in the lint hole, with a digression into his collecting the spawn, and how his teacher encouraged his childish interest in the process. In the second section, Heaney records how one day he heard a strange noise and went to investigate - and found that the frogs, in huge numbers, had taken over the flax-d*m, gathering for revenge on him (to punish his theft of the spawn). He has an overwhelming fear that, if he puts his hand into the spawn again, it will seize him - and who knows what might happen then?

    • Word count: 1322
  8. The Tollund Man

    There is also no repetition of vowels or consonants which shows a lack in fluency. The repetition of p in the words 'peat' and 'pods' makes the verse sound very pronounced. Moreover, the smallness of his head is defined by the short i's and alliterated p's of the monosyllabic words in the first verse. "The balance of the initial and final p's in the fourth line seals the verse around the repose of the dead man". The description of the Tollund Man, 'peat-brown head' and 'pods of his eye-lids' relates back to the land and nature and the natural 'farmyards' in Northern Ireland.

    • Word count: 1209
  9. Blackberry Picking vs. Ancient Photograph.

    The poet even puts very necessary elements of human body-the blood into the poem for readers to make them see better that blackberry are alive. As a result of the two contrasts is that death will always come and there is nowhere to hide from it. No matter how beautiful, juicy and nice is the blackberry, it will also die (rot in this case), as everything that is alive. What is significant to all Heaney's poems is that he describes and tells all the readers about his family traditions and this poem is no exception.

    • Word count: 1488
  10. Using two of Heaney's poems, compare them for treatment of theme and style, noting signs of the poet's development.

    Heaney also expresses his loss of innocence through this poem, as he develops knowledge and maturity. In the first section of the poem the language used is childlike, to show Heaney's naivet�, such as "jampotfuls", "slobber", and "fattening dots". This is also continued as Heaney talks about his lessons at school, learning about the "Mammy frog" and "Daddy frog", and these simple terms are used effectively to show a young Heaneys innocence. In the second part of the poem, however, there is a change in tone and a realisation for Heaney as he discovers that the "jellied specks" he collects are actually the offspring of the frogs.

    • Word count: 1414
  11. How do Muldoon and Heaney differ in their attitudes towards violence?

    The poet sees a car parked in a well-chosen 'gap'. It may look like two lovers having a quiet evening out or maybe men trying to plant a b**b. The poet notices two people running away from the car but as he is at a distance he cannot see them. He sees the terrorist, not lovers, hurrying over the border and suddenly the reality is clear. It is a car b**b The causes of violence are illustrated in the poem 'Anseo'.

    • Word count: 1071
  12. Compare and contrast two of Seamus Heaney's sonnets, 'The Forge' and 'Strange Fruit'.

    Strange Fruit is one in a trilogy of poems known as the 'bog poems' by Heaney. This set of poems predominantly reflects upon the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, where killings were ritualistic and offerings from the villages to ensure a good harvest the following year. This particular bog poem is filled with images of death and dying. Inter-textuality is seen where the title 'Strange Fruit' refers to a song sung by Billie Holiday about the execution of black men in America.

    • Word count: 1052
  13. 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
  14. "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
  15. 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
  16. 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
  17. "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
  18. 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
  19. 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-d*m 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-d*m is described in this way, in the first stanza there is still a sense of innocence and unawareness.

    • Word count: 1767
  20. 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
  21. 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
  22. 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
  23. 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
  24. 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

Conclusion analysis

Good conclusions usually refer back to the question or title and address it directly - for example by using key words from the title.
How well do you think these conclusions address the title or question? Answering these questions should help you find out.

  1. Do they use key words from the title or question?
  2. Do they answer the question directly?
  3. Can you work out the question or title just by reading the conclusion?
  • 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.

    "I enjoyed both plays and enjoyed reading them but I think that "Philadelphia, Here I Come" shows a more accurate portrayal than "The Country Boy" because I think it shows a more realistic side of what it would be like for a young boy emigrating. Mostly they would've went and the way Gar has nothing to stay for is more real life, whereas "The Country Boy" shows more of a "...and they lived happily ever after" fairytale style ending, where Curly stays, marries his true love, gets the farm and gains his independence. It all just seems to good to be true. So, in conclusion, I think both plays were very good, but I think "Philadelphia, Here I Come" is a more accurate portrayal Sean Mc Quade 11B"

  • Using two of Heaney's poems, compare them for treatment of theme and style, noting signs of the poet's development.

    "In conclusion, it is clear that as a poet, Heaney has developed from his first collection of poetry, written in 1966,to the collection named Wintering out in 1972. I feel his style has become subtler and he has chosen to move away slightly from the conventions of poetry, such as rhythm and rhyme. His themes have also varied throughout the collection, yet it is clear one ongoing theme will be the history of Northern Ireland, and his own religion. Death of a naturalist was the starting point of his collection of poetry, and effectively developed the themes that remain prominent in his later collections."

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