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Elfstar, please don't be put off by the pompous ramblings of people such as me! The more people that comment the better, and the most fundamental reactions you have to a poem are the most important things of all - don't worry about all the poncing around with literary analysis!

 

That said, you make a very astute observation. The opening half-rhyme is, I think, deliberate. He is discussing his situation of becoming a poet, and it feels fairly comfortable ('snug') but not completely. There is a slight awkwardness (all the implications of 'gun') and this is shown by the half-rhyme of 'thumb' and 'gun'. We feel this more strongly as he then moves on to the sound of his father digging, which is presented with an exact rhyme, showing that this is 'right' and feels even more natural than the writing. But look how the last line of that second stanza then becomes fractured and awkward:

 

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.

 

Under my window a clean rasping sound

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:

My father, digging. I look down

 

The full stop pulls him short and 'down' is a half-rhyme breaking away from the full rhyming couplet before, as well as bringing the line to an earlier close than the previous ones. His father's at the start of the line, whilst Heaney is cut off from him at the end, suggesting the divisions and inner conflict that permeate the poem.

 

You're right, there's a fantastic use of rhythm in 'Digging', which combines beautifully with the rich, earthy use of language, helping to evoke the strength of these memories of his family.

 

:)

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Bogland

 

I haven’t read this before, so I’ve been churning it over… and over ... and over. I’ve been waiting for somebody to give me more clues and stop the churning (that butter can go on for years). I’ve done that with some of the poems posted previously, mulling them over until the discussion finished and not had the courage to post, so here goes.

 

In the end of course Heaney is digging again, finding his historical cultural roots and the important bit is in the middle where he describes some of the links found and how the bog tends these, but it’s not that section I want to talk about just now.

 

The bit that is just coming together in my mind is the framework into which he sets the finds. Ade has already mentioned the relationship between landscape and identity in America and Ireland. Heaney seems to be making a comparison between Ireland and America, subtly based on the words ‘prairie’ and ‘pioneer’. On the American prairies one can see for miles across the flat land, so far that the horizon seems to be the edge of the earth’s sphere and on, to the sunset. In Ireland though, the view is hemmed in by hills and the horizons close in and block the lower levels of the sunset. The eye has no distance to ponder and so is drawn inward to the tarn in the centre – a single blue eye, hence the Cyclops. Could this mean that Americans look outward and ahead whereas the Irish look down, to their roots and their history.

 

I didn’t know anything about peat bogs so I’ve had to look up about them – thanks for the coal link, by the way, Megustaleer. Apparently some peat bogs are raised above ground level, like a large hump and I like the idea that the Cyclops eye could be one of these, large and bulbous with the blue iris in the middle, but it’s just an idea, no evidence.

 

I also played with the idea of the Cyclops, Polyphemus who wooed Galatea and when rejected, killed her lover Acis with a boulder. Acis became a river God. I decided that this was stretching things too far (but it brought back memories of last year’s holiday!)

 

Towards the end of the poem he talks about the Irish ‘pioneers’. I wondered if the word ‘pioneer’ made a similar comparison to that at the beginning of the poem. American pioneers travelled across the land to explore and claim. Heaney is digging down and into layers of history, each layer giving it’s own story and archeological evidence, where different civilizations have camped. Each group of inhabitants was temporary in the eons of time, just as the bog surface is constantly changing. Striking ‘inwards and downwards’ interestingly, gives us the slicing directions of the spade cutting each peat rectangle as well as the stripping of each layer.

 

The wet centre of the eye, the blue boghole (although he uses the plural so it may not be just this Cyclops), he suggests could be bottomless, allowing the Atlantic to seep in and keep the bog wet. Could this be another connection, with America? They are connected by the Atlantic. Heaney ends with a sense of mystery. The hole is bottomless, history is bottomless so there is still plenty to discover.

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I very much go along with your thoughts, Angel - thanks for posting them! The contrast with America is interesting, isn't it, and you deepen that from my original perceptions because I hadn't really thought of the Atlantic seepage in those terms, but I think there's mileage there.

 

I find the comparison with pioneers the most interesting. The American pioneers ride out across the prairies to discover new land, whilst the Irish dig downwards, but as has been suggested in the earlier discussions, what they find is not entirely new, as such, just a re-discovery of previous existence. It certainly strains at the meaning of 'pioneer' and forces us to consider the significance of types of 'discovery'. The contrast between nations reminds me of a comment made by someone a while back to explain the difference in outlook between the Americans and English. To an American, 100 miles is nothing, but 100 years is a very long time, whilst to the English, 100 years isn't long whilst 100 miles is a great distance. Perhaps there's something in that.

 

I agree with you that trying to make the exact details of cyclops myths fit this context is pushing things too far, yet I really want to make it fit in a more significant way than simply a visual image. Eyes as windows to the Irish soul contained in the bog is as far as I can get, but maybe I'm expecting it to be too neat!

 

Interestingly, everything in the bog can be seen as something that sustains mankind: the elk and butter for food and the wood for burning. As the Irish elk, it is also something more closely identified with that specific country's history, and perhaps contrasts once more with America, which has its buffalo. The later series of poems, as has been hinted at earlier, moves on to deepen this definition by the finding of bog bodies, so that people are part of the landscape in ways other than using it. This is also where it gets more political, as the rituals by which these people were sacrificed to the bog links to the troubles.

 

What I can't make my mind up about is the surface of the bog crusting between the sights of the sun. Is that invoking gun sights? I'm a little reluctant to see it like this, but I'm not sure I can see an alternative that fits very well. I'm not sure even this fits satisfactorily. Am I missing something much more obvious?

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I enjoyed the imagery of the rest of the poem, but again reject the idea that the use of the pen precludes the wielding of a spade. Clearly, Heaney doesn't speak to me.

 

I am wondering about Heaney's use of the word 'kind'. Is it perhaps not in the sense of gentle/caring, but perhaps meaning this:

 

Kind (2)

A group of individuals linked by traits held in common.

Fundamental, underlying character as a determinant of the class to which a thing belongs; nature or essence.

A doubtful or borderline member of a given category.

Meant to reply to this earlier, Meg. Sorry!

 

I'm not sure it's a case of saying he can't use a spade, just that his talents so clearly lay elsewhere. His father and grandfather have been brilliant at their labouring work, but Heaney knows he has nothing like their skill, whilst his aptitude is intellectual. It's the dilemma of knowing what you are good at but feeling the weight of family tradition and even expectations pushing you in another direction. In very traditional, old-fashioned communitites, learning would be looked at with some suspicion as being rather 'alien' to their ways, and as for poetry...!

 

I find your thoughts about the meaning of 'kind' fascinating. I think the surface meaning is still the adjectival one, which the sentence seems to lean towards: the ground/butter is caring and sustaining (see my previous response). But the slant given by seeing it also in noun form fits very well - the ground is 'kindred' to the Irish and therefore part of their very identity.

 

This for me is part of the joy in poetry: finding how language can be pushed to its very limits, expressing a wealth of unexpected meaning.

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I think there's mileage there.

Nautical miles? Fathoms even?

 

This time I didn’t even think of guns. I don’t know much about gun sights. Is that when one lines up two viewers and looks through to take aim?

 

I had taken it to be the crust of the bog, including the surface of the Cyclops’ eye, drying out whenever it ‘saw’ the sun. Then the wet bog underneath shifts and causes the ground to ‘melt and open’. However this does not really fit because ‘between the sights of the sun’ sounds more like the bit in between when the sun shines, i.e. the night.

 

I like the saying about 'To an American 100 miles in nothing ......'

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Nautical miles? Fathoms even?

:D

 

It's the plural form of 'sight' that makes it so difficult for me - it's just so awkward in this context!

 

The saying was an anecdote from one of the guides at Mary Arden's House near Stratford. It's a fantastic place for an educational visit - all the guides are chock-full of fascinating knowledge about the origins of everyday sayings.

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As in the use of a sextant, Angel?

 

It is a strange word to use. If it was 'sights' like gunsights would it not be 'in' the sights, rather than' between'? Are we thinking of that meaning because of what we know about Irish history...and is Heaney being deliberately ambiguous? There is nothing else in the poem (that I've picked up) referring to guns.

 

Then again, if he means 'sights' as in glimpses/visions, it seems strange that the bog

keeps crusting

Between the sights of the sun

.

That is, during the hours of darkness, rather than in the heat of the sun.

 

I am finding these poems as deep as those bogs!

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As in the use of a sextant, Angel?

That’s right. Apparently navigators did take sun sights (sights of the sun) in order to find latitude or longitude (a sun sight is the angle between the sun and the horizon). The easiest sight to take is at noon and it is possible to take one mid morning and one mid afternoon, if the sun is out.

 

I’ve nothing neat to offer, but it seems that villagers used to set their church clock by the noon sun sight – no fancy sextants needed, just a rough recognition that it was noon. If noon was the regular local reset (local time not mean time) then between the sights of the sun, could simply mean from one noon to the next i.e. day after day.

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Excellent, Angel! Yes, that would work. It would add to the feel of the ancient and traditional being preserved in the bog and might also link with the seemingly growing references to America and pioneers finding their way.

 

Thanks, as well, I presume, to your brother. These navy chaps have their uses, eh!

:)

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Thanks, as well, I presume, to your brother. These navy chaps have their uses, eh!

:)

 

Indeed. He was thrilled to bits to give me a lecture an sextants ....... and I think he was pleasantly surprised him that poetry can be so earthy. I can't remember discussing a poem with him in years, even though we are close.

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I'm a bit with Flingo on this one, I tend to lurk in the Poetry section without saying anything! So my observations are going to be very pedestrian, but I'm enjoying reading everyone else's.

 

The first poem was on my GCSE exam, so its hard for me to look at it afresh. Looking back at it I can't actually remember anything I thought or said about it at the time which is very likely a Good Thing. I'm struck by Heaney making himself a child in this poem, and how this puts himself in a inferior position to his father and grandfather even though he is now an adult.

 

The second poem and the comments afterwards just made me think of Irish-Americans, and maybe that is why he is comparing the two countries.

 

Would it be harsh to call the poems sentimental? They seem a bit mushy to me. :o

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Thanks Cathy. Your ideas set me off on a few hours self-analysis and evaluation – most of it just for me – I suppose we all interpret in the light of our own experience but here is the gist of what struck me.

 

Would it be harsh to call the poems sentimental? They seem a bit mushy to me. :o

That could be a little harsh in the sense that ‘sentimental’ is often used in a derogatory sense, a deliberately worked up, maybe shallow, emotion, but it can also just describe a thought tinged with emotion. I get the feeling that Heaney’s feelings are genuine but I agree they are emotional.

 

I’ve always thought that I had little time for sentimentality, so this idea made me stop and consider my position re Heaney’s. I always find nationalism difficult, being a bit of a mongrel myself. I can empathize, and yes I agree; I find him a little sentimental here.

 

However, when it comes to family, to me the emotion seems justified. When I look at my own family and trace it back down the various bifurcating branches - our children to us, to the grandparents and great grandparents – the pattern is the same as Heaney saw. Each generation back had it slightly harder – less education, therefore, regardless of ability, less choice, more work, less money. I confess that it does bring a lump to my throat, the way each generation, as parents, worked flat out to give the next generation the best start possible. I don’t just mean financially, but in this context that is the main reason why parents work – to feed and provide for the family.

 

We have just helped 3 girls through 16 years (some running concurrently) of university. I know the girls appreciate this and they have honoured us in the way they used the money. Yes it was sacrifice but it was also privilege to be able to help compared to what our parents could have done had there been no grants (bring back grants) and for the grandparents the option wasn’t even there. I can see so many more vital sacrifices made out of love, down the line. As far as I can tell Heaney wasn’t poor, but he could probably still see his family supporting him and his father before him.

 

I'm struck by Heaney making himself a child in this poem, and how this puts himself in a inferior position to his father and grandfather even though he is now an adult.

In a way, that brings me to your point about Heaney putting himself in an inferior position to his father and grandfather. Perhaps it’s a mixture of gratefulness, respect and love making him want to do his best for them. I doubt that he thought writing per se was inferior or he wouldn’t do it, but he does want to honour them in some way. Could it be that interpreting his career in their terms did that?

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  • 2 years later...
Seamus Heaney- grr, I hate his poems! They're so annoying! :mad:

Fair enough, but it's helpful to discussion if you can explain what it is about them you don't like, otherwise it's hard to understand where you're coming from.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Perhaps Kelby Lake your feelings arise from your experience at GCSE,(I know I have said this before, and I am not trying to be patronising) where Heaney appears almost ad nauseum, a clue I get from your saying he always writes about the same kind of things.

 

I think he is a hard poet for teenagers to get their head around, particularly inner city teenagers, whose experience both in life and in setting is very different to that portrayed in the bulk of his poems. Having said that, my previous Head of Department is a Heaney scholar and managed to engage pupils very successfully in his poetry - I am sure that his absolute passion for the subject must have helped.

 

In 10 years of teaching I have yet to meet a pupil skilled enough to write as well as Heaney. Maybe I am teaching in the wrong kinds of schools. ;)

 

I have really enjoyed reading everyone's thoughts on these two poems. Perhaps David it may be time to set us off on another discussion?

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Perhaps David it may be time to set us off on another discussion?

Well, I'm probably going to sound a bit churlish but people asked for a new one before then when I put it together there were barely any contributions.

 

Anyway, I'm just a guy who can't say no, so I will, but give me a few days!

 

(Needless to say, if anyone else wants to set one up, do go ahead!)

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Well, I'm probably going to sound a bit churlish but people asked for a new one before then when I put it together there were barely any contributions.

 

Perhaps that's because we all feel a little like Cathy where discussing poetry is concerned :rolleyes:

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I've only just found this thread. I've never read anything by Seamus Heaney before. I have to say I enjoyed the second piece more than the first. Is the change from a personal to a more national choice of subject matter how his poetry developed?

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Is the change from a personal to a more national choice of subject matter how his poetry developed?

To a degree. Certainly as time went on there was a more obvious take on political issues in Ireland and the like, but Irishness was always at the heart of it. Even in a poem such as 'Digging' the thinking is intimately wrapped up with the Irish traditions of working with the land, potato farming and so on, such that he feels departing from that connection with the soil is like abandoning not just his family heritage but his identity as an Irishman. Then the resolution is that he'll dig into the national soul with his writing, thereby keeping that connection, even if it's a cerebral one as opposed to the physical immediacy of cutting into the soil.

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Perhaps that's because we all feel a little like Cathy where discussing poetry is concerned :rolleyes:

Yes, I understand that. I suppose it's similar to the discussions we've been having recently about book posts. People have the common experience that they don't think they've got much to say so they don't post about it. I sympathise with that, but then on the other hand no posts means no discussion.

 

Anyway, the Heaney did work well and I will post another soon.

 

Another reminder to everyone interested, of course, that there are other examples of these further down the poetry board and you're welcome to add to any of them! ;)

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How good it is to see an old thread resurrected. Following recent discussions about getting 'books' back into BGO I have been looking at older postings on books, but had not thought to look through the poetry - yet!

 

Sadly my knowledge of Heaney's poetry is nil. Having spent a very enjoyable hour reading through this I now feel more in tune with the pieces used here.

So far I have only read the two poems a couple of times now so I am still digesting them - as well and the wonderful discussion.

 

At the moment, I can appreciate the deep feelings that Heaney has put into his work and for me that is a good beginning. I find I need time to feel the rhythm and depth of poems, and to re-read them several times to start to peel off the layers of meaning within them.

 

This thread has taught me a lot this morning. Thank you to everyone who contributed back in 2005, and the recent additions.

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Perhaps Kelby Lake your feelings arise from your experience at GCSE,(I know I have said this before, and I am not trying to be patronising) where Heaney appears almost ad nauseum, a clue I get from your saying he always writes about the same kind of things.

 

Perhaps, although one of the reasons (which I'm afraid is pretty snobby) is that we didn't get to study anything which I would consider a classic poem. Something you could read and actually admire. We did The Road Not Taken which I've always liked and that was really the only one. Oh, we did To His Coy Mistress in Year 10, which I really liked. It reminded me of a Duran Duran song I love :o

 

I have really enjoyed reading everyone's thoughts on these two poems. Perhaps David it may be time to set us off on another discussion?

 

 

I like reading everyone's thoughts too! :)

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