Seamus Heaney Poems
The Value of Indigenous Language in Literature: Seamus Heaney and Grace Nichols
The study and value of indigenous literature has been increasing in the past years and regional literature is now getting more attention and praise than ever before. The value which indigenous language brings to the variety of our literature is impeccable. With greats such as Seamus Heaney, Grace Nichols and Bob Marley, it can be seen that their literature is being credited for and appreciated all around the world due to the use of their own language, dialect, and style of writing.
As the world evolves, so does language. We are constantly moving towards speaking very similarly depending on where we live, grew up, and got educated in. When it comes to modern Standard English that is in use today, we have actually forgotten the value that indigenous, cultural language brings to literature and it is an aspect that many of us have never looked in to.
Seamus Heaney, a Nobel Prize winning author for Literature in 1995 “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.” was infamous for his use of traditional Irish language as well as Irish imagery in his poems. Heaney expresses a deep concern with landscape as well as language in his collections, and regards art as a way of expressing being Irish as well as being a metaphor of identity. In Heaney’s poetry, the language with distinct Irish characteristics represents landscape, showing the Irish local world, echoing the claims of Irish cultural nationalism, resisting the colonial rule of Great Britain. This shows the importance of traditional language as it is a form of identity and helps preserve the originality as well as traditions of a culture that can be often be forgotten with modern day use of language. In Heaney’s poem Blackberry – Picking, he writes, “We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.” Byre refers to a cowshed in old English. Through the use of byre, the poem achieves a flow, which could not be attained if another word, such as shed was used. As well as that, byre creates a visual image in the reader’s mind that places you subconsciously in the Irish suburbs and allows you to immerse yourself in the poem. It places you in Northern Ireland, which is what the poem is trying to do, and is an art of writing using regional language.
In addition, Grace Nichols is a poet whose work has been essential in understanding the British – Caribbean culture for over 30 years. Nichols was born in 1950 in Guyana, and moved to the United Kingdom in 1977. Her work is largely influenced by the history and heritage of her hometown, especially the oral story-telling tradition with its fantastic folk tales, its history and the landscape.
Moreover, her poetry is profound for combining the rich Guyanese – Creole dialect with Standard English to produce pieces of art that are unique, distinct, and fascinating. The effect this has on the reader is quite immense. When reading her poems, it is quite easy to spot grammatical errors and language mistakes that you would never see in published articles. However, one has to look over this and see the bigger picture in order to understand the message and intention of the poem. In her poem, I Coming Back, she starts with the line, “I coming back Massa”. Primarily, this line places the poem in context exemplifying the Caribbean’s vast history of enslavement, which delves us into the purpose of this poem. What Nichols has remarkably done is use the language to place us into Guyana. It does not take long to spot that the line is not grammatically correct but when read out loud, the correct way “I am coming back master” would not do justice to the rhythm, flow and tone of this poem. The value regional language brings to this poem is exponential as without incorporating the indigenous feel into the poem, it would not be as meaningful as it is. As well as that, throughout the poem Nichols uses “yuh” instead of the Standard English version “your”. Guyanese, along with other West – Indian dialects have a strong traditional accent that often makes the word “your” sound like “yuh”. Using “yuh” makes the poem flow easier and distinguishes it from other poems when read out loud also. If this poem or any other one of Grace Nichols’ poems were to be written in Standard English, they would lose their boldness and spirit and go down the very long path of similar style, standard poems as we have seen in the recent past.
All in all, without diversity and culture influencing or shaping us, modern day literature would all be too similar to distinct between. What Seamus Heaney and Grace Nichols have remarkably done in their lifetime is to reject the status quo and incorporate their culture, history, and heritage to produce works of art that are recognized around the world. Works by such greats emphasizes the importance and value that regional, indigenous literature brings to our portfolio of renowned literature. Having diverse cultures present in modern literature allows different styles of writing, language, and vocabulary to be seen opening up a new dimension of literature that is needed in the world.
The Parallels Between because I Could not Stop for Death and Mid-term Break
In the poems ‘Mid-term Break’ by Seamus Heaney and ‘Because I could not stop for Death’ by Emily Dickinson, the persona’s experience with death is an important factor that contributes to the overall theme and tone of the poems. In ‘Mid-term Break’, Seamus Heaney portrays the concept of death as being haunting and traumatising through illustrating a boy coming home and finds out about the devastating death of his baby brother, as well as the reaction of his other family members. Contrastingly, in ’Because I could not stop for Death’, Emily Dickinson personifies death as a mannered young man, something that does not need to be feared.
‘Because I could not stop for death” stands out from other poems about death because in this poem, the writer personifies death as a well mannered young man, she further supports this by capitalising “Death”, like it is a name. By personifying death, the author attempts to make the subject less terrifying or abnormal, theres is also no tension being built in the poem. The tone is mostly calm and serene which relates to Dickinson’s attitude towards death.
The readers know right away this poem is about death as Dickinson starts poem with “Because”, which seems like an explanation or an answer to a question, this is more intimate and personal for the readers. When the personas says “I could not stop for death” it is as if she is unprepared for death or that she did not have time for death. Dickinson hints that it is not up to us to choose when to die. The diction “ourselves” connotes the relationship between the persona and death is tight and close. Once again, Dickinson reveals her attitude towards death by writing “immortality”, death is seen as the road to eternal life or maybe an afterlife for her. Death is often associated with mortality, with an end, not immorality, of a different beginning. The writer makes this last line of the stanza stand out by contrasting death with immortality. Using foreshadowing in the line, “We slowly drove- he knew no haste” the writer foreshadows about revealing the twisted sense time in the stanza six, this is shocking for the readers because stanza one to five seems like a fairly short encounter between death and the persona. Audience is kept on edge when death and the persona is “taking their time”, this causes the reader to want to know more. Death distracts the persona from her work and entertainment with his politeness, here Dickinson implies we all have to give up our “labor and leisure” when death arrives. In the third stanza, they go pass pass school see children “strove at recess”. This scene is oddly normal and familiar for the readers, once again the author indicates that dying should be an ordinary and normal part of life. Third and fourth line of the stanza includes more imagery, “field of gazing grain”, gazing is defined as looking steadily and intently, this is as if the grains are staring at them as they pass the field. Dickinson symbolises “the setting sun” as the end of life- death, because the sun sets in the end of the day. The writer not only symbolise the sun, she also personifies the sun by writing “he passed us”. The two dashed lines in the start of stanza 4 signifies the transition from the living world to another world where the persona is going to be buried. Many dashes are seen throughout this poem and it acts as an arrow that pulls readers to the next line. The atmosphere suddenly shifts to a much more cold and spooky atmosphere, the sun goes down and she only have her “tippet”, the temperature is dropping, it is getting colder just like the atmosphere. In this poem, using metaphor the writer describes grave as “home”, this way, it is much more welcoming and calming. Another important contrasting image is how the “cornice”, defined as the highest pointy part of the roof, is “in the ground”. The last stanza reveals the most important information about the poem, Dickinson brings to the reader’s attention that the persona actually died centuries ago, and because the time is so stretched in the ‘world of death’, to the readers it only seems like a short encounter that don’t last more than a day. This catches the readers off guard and creates a strong impression.
In ‘Mid-Term Break’, the main themes are death and family grief. The writer provides first hand observation of his family including his dad and his mom’s reaction towards his little brother’s death. Heaney starts off the poem with foreshadowing sickness and death of his little brother using the diction “sick bay”, he is waiting at the sick bay though he’s not sick, at this point, the readers are wondering the reason why he’s there. Once again, Heaney connotes death by saying the bells are “knelling classes to a close”, odd choice of diction once again confuses the readers. As the persona meets his father crying on the porch, he is taken aback because his father has “always taken funeral in his stride”, this is a shocking scene for the audience as well as the father, is the man of the family, the patriarch. More questions raises as even “Big Jim Evans’ is justifying his dad crying. A depressing and tense atmosphere surrounds the family, the baby laughing and cooing creates a contrasting image and makes the audience feel uncomfortable. The old men embarrasses the persona because they are standing up and shaking his hand and treating him as an equal and respecting him. He is not used to being treated like an adult, this is a significant scene because it shows that he still don’t quite understand or comprehend what is happening. Whispers and quiet sighs further builds up the tension as when people are being out in that situation they feel pressured to break the silence. The persona’s mother is holding his hand for comfort as she is coughing out “angry tearless sighs” taking out the grief as anger, this is especially heartbreaking and relatable for audiences who has either lost a loved one or is a mother. Mother and father contrasts each other, it is as if they switched roles because mothers are normally the ones that are more emotional and sad when it comes to situations like this. When the ambulance arrives, the phrase “stanched and bandaged” makes the scene feel technical and the atmosphere is emotionless, this also relates to Heaney’s lack of emotion due to his age. “Snowdrops” are white flowers that symbolises purity, which is relevant because of the dead boys young age, four. The “poppy bruise” that he is wearing on his temple gives the impression as it the bruise is something that is already a part of the dead boy, and can’t be taken off. Poppies are also often associated with death and most of the time they are red, symbolising blood. Using the alliteration of ‘f’, the author ends the poem with a shocking one line stanza imagery.
Depiction of Human and Natural Worlds in the Poems Mid- Term Break and Travelling Through the Dark
“Mid- Term Break” by Seamus Heaney” and “Travelling Through the Dark” by William E. Stanford these two poems are emotionally packed with the human and natural world. Both the poems have a similarity of life and death which means life is related to our human world and death is related to our natural world because after death we are buried into nature. In the poem of “Mid-Term Break” Heaney shares about an incident of Heaney’s life. It is about him and his family heartbroken from the tragic death of his younger brother. And in the poem “Travelling Through the Dark” is about the death of the deer and its alive, still, never to be born fawn. Stanford has no idea what to do with the animal, a one-man choice to decide whether to move the deer to a side to avoid further accidents or leave the deer in the same place. In this case, a vehicle hit the deer and it was dead with the human attack of the wilderness, and with the individual’s responsibility to do what is right.
Heaney gives a brief explanation of each stanza of the poem, how people reacted to Heaney’s family situation. The title, “Mid-Term Break”, we imagine this to be a happy poem as it specifies a holiday but later in reading this poem, we realized that this is not a happy poem about a young boy’s holiday. In the first stanza, the word “all” implies that the anxiety he was undergoing while waiting for his neighbor to pick him up from boarding school. In the second stanza Heaney’s father “had always taken funerals in his stride”, meaning that he was used to death. But this incident had given a massive shock to his father and he was not able to console his father.
In the third and fourth stanza, “I was embarrassed by old men standing up to shake my hand and tell me they were “sorry for my troubles” whispers informed strangers”. Heaney clearly states that when he enters his home, his first emotion is an embarrassment because of handshaking received from the old men who do not really know how Heaney feels or how they themselves should react. The emotion of embarrassment is uncommon for a young boy of Heaney’s age to experience at this time for his brother has just died and most people would be disappointed and miserable. In supplement to this humiliation, in a very quiet atmosphere, Heaney noticed that strangers were whispering about him which made him felt very uncomfortable. In the fifth stanza, “the ambulance arrived with the corpse” when the day has passed and night falls, the child’s body is returned home, however, Heaney sees this as a “corpse” and not a person. This, therefore, proves that Heaney has not come to terms yet with the fact that he has lost his brother forever which strains how heartbreaking the situation was. Heaney ends the poem with a single sentence saying, “A four-foot box, a foot for every year” describing the life of the victim in years. It reminds us that God gave us life only for a small period, but it is challenging for the family and relatives because the grieving process that must certainly follow.
In this poem, “Traveling Through the Dark” Stafford describes the sight of seeing a death of a pregnant doe along the side of a Wilson River road when he was driving a car along the mountain road at night. The road was narrow. So, he thought it was best for the deer to move into the gorges formed by the river. He stopped his car and moved back to see the deer. She was a doe and she had recently been killed. Her body was already stiff and almost cold. He pulled her heavy body to the side. Her belly was large. It made him think that she was pregnant, and her fawn was waiting inside. Although it was alive, it would never be born. He was disappointed and was reluctant because he was not able to do anything. The parking lights of the car were on and the engine was making a low constant sound as if it was uttering its desire. The drain emission of smoke was warm and red. He felt as if the cry in the wilderness was being heard. The last two lines of the poem complete both types of action: mental and physical. As he thinks hard on behalf of the nature lovers, he concludes that the right place for the doe is the river. Then he throws the dead body into the river. The last two lines of the poem try to solve the problem of environmental damage. Instead of worrying about the problem, one must accept the things as they are. Or the poet may be mocking that the nature-lovers are responsible for the environmental damage.
Though both the poem has a certain unpleasantness, the words and their implication add a sweet feeling of love and awkwardness making the audience feel self-conscious yet showered with bittersweet frozen warmth. This seems to be how the speaker feels during this series of event and therefore the poem makes the readers live through the experience rather than just reading or hearing it. We must respect the both human and nature without life without nature and it is not complete without us.
The Analysis of the Poem “Mid-term Break” by Seamus Heaney
“Mid-term break” is about childhood memories. This poem shows how a child perceives a death, and the thoughts he encountered during this time of tragedy. At first glance, the poem has the child-like feel. Seamus Heaney portrays his emotions without directly referring to them. He has subtly incorporated various elements and techniques to depict the theme of death. Specifically, by use of imagery and tone, Seamus Heaney in his poem “Mid-term break” sets up the atmosphere of grief and helps a reader to empathize with the speaker during his journey from detachment to acceptance of death.
The use of imagery helps to enhance the poem’s depth of feeling and reveals dismal settings. The first stanza tells us that the boy sat all morning “in the college sick bay”(1). He is personally detached from his reality since he is focusing on the bell sound. The imagery “bells knelling” (2) immediately suggests an ominous atmosphere. The use of word “knelling” to describe bells, implies a funeral bell. The atmosphere and tension are building up by the second stanza as we learn of the father The proceeding scene seems emotionless as the poet, on seeing the corpse does not experience an outflow of emotions, unlike his mother’s “angry tearless sighs”. The poet’s impassive description of the corpse “stanched and bandaged by nurses”, further asserts his lack of comprehension, inability to react to such situation.
The last image in the poem makes the reader believe that the older brother is going to show some emotion, but he does not. This truly shows how the brother is unable to react to the death. He is still in a state of shock and has not realized what is going onWe also see another member of the family who does not know what is going on and is impassive towards the death of his brother. Heaney states, ” The baby cooed and laughed and rocked to the pram” (7). The older brother and the baby show detachment from brother’s death. The older brother had been away at college and was not spending every day with the little boy. During the second and the third stanzas, the reader can sense a change of tone from impassive to mournful. In the final stanzas the atmosphere has changed to one in which the author appears to have understood the tragic circumstances of his brother death.
In the last stanza the narrator uses phrase “A four foot box, a foot for every year”.By this quote, the boy is saying that his brother was four years old when he died, the image gives a certain relief and acceptance of his brother death, instead of crying for him, he analyzes mathematically the situation. This image is very effective, it immediately make the reader feel that death is not chaos. “Mid-term” break is clearly a poem about a tragic event in the poet’s life. In order to fully express the grief, he uses imagery and tone to snow the change in his emotions about brother’s death: from isolation to realization. The descriptions and the underlying emotions make the reader feel the desolation and dismal settings of the entire poem.
A Speech by Seamus Heaney, an Irish Poet
Mrs Collins, Secretary Brady, distinguished members of the village community and guests.1 I would like to thank our honourable head Mrs Collins, my delightful neighbour for allowing me to be a part of this village meeting. I am Seamus Heaney, and I am 10 years old. For those of you who don’t know me, I live in your village right around the next block behind the school. I am a responsible citizen because I do my homework every day so today I would like to express my thoughts regarding the annual Blackberry picking ritual.
Since all of you are much older than me you must be aware that every year our entire village collectively works to pick up some delicious blackberries before the winters commences. However, as you might have noticed we never receive fresh food or cash crop. Ever wondered why? Well let me make it clear to you, because most of our blackberries are rotten and stale. As much as we want to ignore this topic I would like you to address this matter seriously. I want this year’s crop to be different; I want fresh berries and not just some handful of them I want all our vessels to be filled with gleaming purple berries. But it will not be possible without your cooperation and support.
The annual blackberry picking ritual has always been one of my favourite activities of the year. Everyone enjoys this activity from little kids to elderly people; it is fun and is definitely beneficial. I really appreciate the entire village going on a search for berries each year. Infact, late August is my favourite time of the year simply because of blackberry picking day. After heavy rain we all march together in harmony, crossing various farms, rivers and wet grass. We take a rough path only to reach to a beautiful field of bushes where we always pounce at the first sight of berries. It’s a fun time.
What I fail to understand is, why do we not have patience while doing this? I understand the walk to the bushes is long but if we could only wait a few more days we would be welcomed by a field filled with shiny purple blobs of berries instead of being greeted by judgemental and gross berries. No one looting us; we have all the berries to ourselves. Instead we choose to violate the norms of nature and arrive early to the field for collecting the berries and then act surprised when things do not work out our way. After tasting that one particular fully mature berry we can’t control our greediness at all that we start plucking all the berries. Last year, we all harvested blackberry ripen or otherwise and then we bore the consequences, only a handful of berries lived. We did not leave a single berry on the bush. I understand that sometimes we all make wrong choices but I am frustrated because this happens every single time.
My mother says that humans are funny creatures, they do not learn from their mistakes. They tend to talk high about mistakes, how one must not repeat the same mistakes, blah blah blah. However, when it’s upon implying that philosophy they turn their backs on it and pretend it never happened. What good is the knowledge which cannot be expressed in our day-to-day activities? It’s been my fourth year going for blackberry picking and I do not see any changes in our method. We all repeat our mistakes which leads to blunders, such as lesser berries, rotten berries, no cash crop etc. Under the influence of human greed we lose not only money but also our time and effort along with our food.
Most of us are farmers here and it is slightly embarrassing when our crops turn out stale and unhealthy. Even though we don’t grow it, but we know all about it. It isn’t the nature’s mistake; it is a human error. Not the first error but repetitive errors simply because we are not patient.
Following the natural law is a piece of cake we literary have all the instructions we would ever need, still we do not take any precautions. We would have had plenty to eat and surplus to sell and raise our economy, but no. I was taught in school that ‘Slow and steady wins the race’ and ‘haste makes waste’, these two proverbs made no sense to me then however now you are teaching me the real meaning. We should let the berries ripe before plucking them, give them time to process only then will the sweetness and freshness great us.
The fault is not just us violating the nature’s laws but also how we treat our berries. After we come back from our raid, we store our berries in horse trough. The thought of it makes me want to puke rivers. If we want to consume the berries it must be stored in safer surroundings. By storing the berries in a trough we are disrespecting the privilege of berries that we get.
I remember how last year, not long after we stored our berries we were greeted by some white substance. It was slowly spreading on to all the other berries. No berry survived. It was all for nothing. All the excitement and craze was for nothing.
For our betterment, we need to learn to follow the natural laws. We should also change our storing vessels into something more sanitary. I will need you all to spread some awareness, tell you neighbour, your dog, anyone you find just spread the word. I hope you all understand my points and try your best to avoid the wrong decisions this year. Thank you so much for your time and cookies.
I have chosen to write a speech from the point of view of Seamus Heaney pleading to the village community to improve on their reoccurring mistakes during the annual blackberry picking. It is based on my part 4 of the IB literature and language course, it’s based on one of our poems by Seamus Heaney “Blackberry Picking”. In this writing I am the young poet fed up with the repetitive careless mistakes of the village community.
Seamus Heaney, as a young child was clearly upset due to the greedy and foolish village community who did not respect the gifts of the nature. He recollected his memory in his poem “BlackBerry Picking”. So by this task I try to express similar feelings that Heaney would have felt during his time in the village. I used the same setting in this task, pointing out most of the flaws that Heaney mentioned in his poem. I also tried to further elaborate the story by adding some minute fiction details that weren’t mentioned in the poem.
The target audience is his village community which explains my usage of informal and formal language. I added humour to diminish the effect of formal language and to maintain the child-like behaviour and act in his speech. I choose speech as a text type because someone had to educate the villagers regarding their mistakes.
Seamus Heaney. Early Life and Literary Influences
“Old yew, which graspest at the stones / That name the underlying dead, / Thy fibres net the dreamless head, / Thy roots are wrapped about the bones” (Lord Tennyson 1-4). As a budding college student at Queen’s University Belfast, Heaney was introduced to authors such as Tennyson, Keats, and Wordsworth. This quote, by Lord Tennyson, acted as a turning point for Seamus Heaney in that it pushed him off the precipice of ambivalent writing into a chasm of emotion-based poetry. During his last year of college, Heaney read another poem by Louis MacNeice and was struck by the words, “The pier glittering with crystal lumps…” and “the hard cold fire of this northerner” (O’Driscoll 50). Borrowing from these famous poets’ techniques and incorporating a bit of his own panache, Heaney began to develop his own literary and poetic style which, combined, grew to make his poems the striking works that they are today. However, not all of Heaney’s experiences at Belfast were overtly positive. Throughout and after his schooling at Belfast in the Republic of Ireland, Heaney lived amidst war, and thus was inevitably introduced to the atrocities of murder and brutality. His later encounters with bog bodies helped Heaney release the emotions trapped inside of him because of the war. He compiled those emotions into poems and, in “The Grauballe Man,” focused those feelings into one idea: society does not deem the sanctity of human life worth preserving, especially during times of war.
Heaney’s experiences with injustice and war at Belfast shaped his feelings about human violence, and thus, the disregard for the sacredness of human life. He wrote of his feelings about the war, “the weary twisted emotions…are rolled like a ball of hooks and sinkers in the heart” (Heaney 30). The horror of surviving explosions and seeing families torn apart by death and suffering, and living with the Army constantly watching with pointed guns took its toll on Heaney. Raising a young family during all of the surrounding turmoil was extremely difficult. Constantly worrying about his wife, children, and his own life, Heaney came to abhor the agony and savagery of war, but had very few ways to express his feelings. In Feeling Into Words he wrote, “I felt it imperative to discover a field of force in which, without abandoning fidelity to the processes and experience of poetry as I have outlined them, it would be possible to encompass the perspectives of a humane reason…” (Heaney 56).
The inspiration for that “field of force” struck Heaney in 1969 while reading about the bog bodies of Denmark in a book he had bought himself for Christmas. He read the words of P.V. Glob in The Bog People: Iron Age Man Preserved, pouring over descriptions and images of the mummified, leathery, human remains. Imagining the lives of these mud-caked bodies, and concocting in his mind tales of their fates, Heaney was enthralled by these mysterious remains. He determined to travel and see the bog bodies which so inspired him.
Before he could visit the museum, however, Heaney was just another viewer of the photographs of the bodies. In the beginning of “The Grauballe Man,” Heaney shows the public’s portrayal, and his own original dehumanizing opinion, of the bog bodies. He describes the remains as aquatic, vegetative, mineral, animalistic, and lastly, fetal material. Line five of “The Grauaballe Man” reads, “the black river of himself.” Heaney here depicts the Grauballe man as a river, a non-living entity, dirty and disgusting. Lines 6-7: “The grain of his wrists / is like bog oak,” characterizing the Grauballe man as a plant or a tree with a wood-like grain apparent on his wrists. In this line we can see Heaney imitating Tennyson in using organic matter to provide imagery of the body, just as Tennyson wrote “Thy roots are wrapped around the bones,” (Lord Tennyson 4). Then, in lines 8-9, “the ball of his heel like a basalt egg:” here Heaney shows the Grauballe man as nothing more than a hard, porous, black rock. With the word “egg” he also moves towards describing the remains as animalistic. He then writes “his instep has shrunk cold as a swan’s foot or a wet swamp root” in lines 10-12, moving further into the animalistic characterization and reminding the reader of the vegetative aspects of the body as well. In this part of the poem Heaney metaphorically removes any trace of humanity from the body. This dehumanization is a reflection of the way the British dehumanized the Irish during The Troubles. The British treated the Irish just as they would a log of oak in a bog or a black rock on the side of the road: they would kick them with a boot or trample them without a second thought.
The next lines, 13-16 read, “His hips are the ridge / and purse of a mussel, / his spine an eel arrested / under a glisten of mud.” Continuing his animal comparison, Heaney describes the body as sea creatures—his hips like a mussel, and his spine like an eel encased in mud. Later in the poem Heaney depicts the body, “And his rusted hair, / a mat unlikely as a foetus’s…a head and shoulder / out of the peat, / bruised like a forceps baby.” He here exhibits the body as fetal matter, as if a baby, roughly grabbed in the doctor’s forceps as he’s plucked from the womb and exposed to daylight. Heaney composed these lines to portray a potent opinion: that the world views the bog bodies as England viewed Ireland, and as the world views all victims of war and violence—as less than human and unworthy of respect, meant only to be put on display and exhibited to the world.
At the end of the poem, Heaney compares the dehumanization of the bog bodies to the dehumanization of the Irish citizens victimized during The Troubles. The archeological history of the Grauballe man paralleled some of the injustices of Operation Demetrius, a British army operation in the course of the war (Operation Demetrius 1). For example, the last words of “The Grauballe Man” are “each hooded victim slashed and dumped.” During Operation Demetrius, 14 men were captured and tortured. As part of their torture, each man was hooded, and exposed to loud hissing noises, deprived of sleep, denied food and water, and finally, were taken on a helicopter, told they were far above the ground (when in reality they were only a few feet above the earth) in order to scare them, and then were dumped off the helicopter (Operation Demetrius 1). The poem also mentions “the grain of his wrists.” Operation Demetrius involved hand-cuffing the prisoners, which left deep bruises on their wrists (Operation Demetrius 1). These 14 men, just like the Grauballe man, were seen as mere bodies instead of actual human beings.
As a representation of the continued dehumanization of the Irish citizens which occurred as the British troops overtook Ireland and the citizens were forced to militarize, Heaney also characterizes the Grauballe man as a knight. As a soldier, or a knight, one’s humanity and individuality is lost as war is thrust upon them. They must succumb to the violence, fighting for survival. In lines 17-20, he illustrates “The head lifts, / the chin is a visor / raised above the vent / of his slashed throat.” The Grauballe man has been so completely militarized in these lines that his chin is described as a visor. And not at all referred to as a person, his body parts are noted individually: “the head,” “the chin.” Almost as an afterthought, it is written that the Grauballe man’s throat is slashed, showing the British army’s utter disregard for human life. Heaney continues to use the craft of poetry to further impress his opinion that people are completely disregarded and disrespected during times of war.
At the Mosegaard Museum in Aarhus, Heaney saw the Grauballe man in person. Scribbling words on a paper which happened to be in his pocket, Heaney wrote the notes which later were transformed into “The Grauballe Man.” For the first time, he realized the Grauballe man, and all the bog people, were individuals with unique stories, just like each of the Irish victims of the war. The media and news portrayed the Irish citizens as mere showpieces and stories to create profit. The museums exhibited the bog bodies in that same light. In his poem, Heaney addresses this media and public dehumanization of real people as if it were the same as the British dehumanization of the Irish.
Towards the end of the poem he compares the body to the Dying Gaul, a famous sculpture of a fallen gladiator. Here Heaney changes the mood of the poem. In depicting the body as a wounded gladiator, he brings a sense of majesty and valor in direct juxtaposition to the disrespect and flippancy shown to the Grauballe man (and thus, Ireland) by the world throughout the rest of the poem. Later, in lines 25-28, Heaney wrote “Who will say ‘corpse’ / to his vivid cast? / Who will say ‘body’ / to his opaque repose?” As if in response to this question, Heaney’s characterization of the body as a gladiator instead of a knight seems to scream “I will!” and portray his respect, respect which was so thoroughly denied the Grauballe man by the public.
Through “The Grauballe Man,” Heaney composes a representation of his realization of the horrors of war-plagued reality. He used the poetic skills he learned while studying at Belfast to show that the exhibition of the bog bodies is akin to the dehumanization and militarization of the Irish citizen during The Troubles, and further, all victims of war. This exhibition is essentially the public preying on the lives and deaths of people fallen victim to the tragedies of human violence, which is unacceptable. The poetically described fate of the Grauballe man cries out as an emblem of the fate of many fallen victim to war and terror. His remains are a symbol of the injustices of humanity throughout generations.
The Prosody of Scaffolding by Seamus Heaney. Poetry Analysis
Rhythm, meter, and overarching sound effects – also known as prosody – bring the words of a poem to life and offer readers a deeper understanding of the piece overall. To best grasp a poem’s prosody, the reader must first analyze and interpret the poem through the process of scansion. Analysis of scansion allows the reader to understand why a poet might establish particular patterns of rhythm and meter, perhaps uncovering the true tone of a piece or newfound significance in the verse. In Seamus Heaney’s poem, “Scaffolding,” the benefits of scansion become clearly visible. A conscious reader notices that the poem’s prosody actually supports and compliments the semantics of the poem in ways invisible prior to proper analysis. On the poem’s surface, Heaney uses metaphor to establish a connection between a well-built bridge and a well-built relationship. After analysis of the piece, an attentive reader will notice that Seamus Heaney’s use of rhyme and iambic pentameter bring consistency and structure to his poem, mirroring the overall motif of the work. Heaney’s ability to parallel the poem’s structure alongside its story is significant because it creates a confident relationship between the poem and the reader. By understanding this correlation between the poem’s semantics and prosody, readers of “Scaffolding” may begin to appreciate the beauty within this poem that lives beyond the page.
Many readers would classify “Scaffolding” as a loving and uplifting poem, a piece of art that eloquently transforms a person’s passion into verse. Yet, many of these same readers might not know why they find this poem so powerful. The answers to why this poem functions as a meaningful work of art become apparent through proper scansion. In this poem, Heaney utilizes an easy to understand couplet rhyme scheme. Through rhyme, Heaney forms trust and comfort between himself and the readers of the poem. Rhyme creates rhythm. Rhythm generates feelings of security because it gives readers a sense of familiarity and consistency with the poem – when the words consistently rhyme, readers know what to expect. This familiar relationship between poem and reader helps Heaney express the type of relationship he explicitly mentions within the poem – a relationship involving familiarity, confidence and stability. By integrating rhyme throughout the poem, Heaney creates a firm foundation for the reader to move confidently between lines. Heaney mentions this firm foundation using ideas such as “never fear” and “confident that we have built our wall.” Through rhyme and rhythm, Heaney establishes a foundation that helps the reader feel instantly familiar with the piece, creating a sense of understanding of what may come in the future. Heaney writes of a lasting relationship built using the precision of a master mason while also constructing the physical poem with an equally satisfactory attention to detail.
Heaney again utilizes his mason-like precision while constructing the meter of the poem. Following analysis, the astute reader notices that Heaney “built” this poem using the foundations of iambic pentameter. All lines consist of ten syllables except for the last and many contain feet that follow the iamb structure of alternating stresses. Heaney uses words such as “careful,” “solid,” and “confident” to describe the relationship within the poem. These same words mirror Heaney’s construction of the poem itself. His use of iambic pentameter creates a sense of confidence in the reader because – similar to the scaffolding described within the poem – it lays a foundation for the reader to use. This foundation enables the reader to continue through the poem feeling secure in what they read.
In the last line of the poem, Heaney breaks away from the comfort of pentameter. He writes,
“So if, my dear, there sometimes seems to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me
Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.”
The last line includes only nine syllables, breaking the ten-syllable pentameter. Heaney uses words such as “breaking” and “fall” and then commits such actions by withdrawing from his pentameter. By doing this, Heaney again constructs a situation in which the prosody of the poem compliments the semantics of the piece. Readers see Heaney testing both his poem and his readers in the exact same way he tests the relationship in the example above. Without fear, Heaney breaks the scaffolds that have established the poem’s meter, confident that his poem and his relationship with his readers will stand just as confident as before.
Heaney’s use of prosody compliments the poem’s semantics with a unique sense of intelligence and true beauty. Simultaneously, Heaney creates a relationship between the poem’s story, structure, and the readers of the poem. His use of rhyme and iambic pentameter establish a rhythmic relationship with the reader, similar to the relationship explicitly stated in the poem. With the final line, Heaney “lets the scaffolds fall” and breaks his pentameter; however, he seems confident that he has “built a wall” using prosody that enables readers to feel a profound connection and understanding with this poem. A connection that brings readers to understand emotionally what Heaney explicitly stated within his poem.
The Harmony of Realism and Idealism in Heaney’s Poetry
The universal image of childhood that is ‘rang[ing]’ frogspawn on ‘window-sills’, ‘wait[ing] and watch[ing]’, with a fervent curiosity and admiration, until the ‘fattening dots’ dynamically metamorphose into ‘nimble swimming tadpoles’ is one, very relatable and nostalgic aspect of Heaney’s poetry that extols the carefree innocence and idyllic nature of youth. However, as these fascinating dots transfigure into ‘angry’ ‘slime kings’, Heaney’s poetry displays an underlying duality, as two spheres of thought pervade the collection; this idealistic sphere of childhood and positivity, and another more pragmatic, realist sphere which concentrates on the saddeningly scarce ‘last gruel of winter seeds’ in the Tollund Man’s stomach and the achingly ‘swollen feet’ of his mother, despite her eminent and radiant ‘light’ that indicates she deserves more than a life of cheap ‘elastic stocking[s]’.
In ‘Death of a Naturalist’, a sensory experience is created for the reader as the effect of striking thermal impact of the ‘punishing sun’ is felt by the ‘swelter[ing] flax’. The poem indulges every sense of the reader; the ‘smell’ of the ‘rott[ing]’ flax, the impenetrable mesh-like ‘gauze of sound’ that is, in contrast, delicately ‘wove’ around; this oxymoron creates a complex sound that is both invasive and strong, but also undulating, nuanced, and that it is almost alive and breathing. Heaney evidently marvels at the fecundity of diversity that lies before him. He is entranced whilst others may simply see the mundane; the oxymoron of the bubbles who ‘gargle delicately’, emphasizing Heaney’s overarching inquisitiveness, a gift honed by childhood.
However, this innocence is eventually violated by the stark revelation that confronts Heaney on the ‘one hot day’ that punctures this dream-like ritual of visiting the dam ‘every spring’. This is signposted by the short and abrupt final line of the first stanza – ‘In rain.’ – which diverts from the sing-song, steady iambic pentameter of the opening lines, before the division of verse provides the ultimate sense of separation. The humanized ‘mammy’ and ‘daddy’ frogs (which also serves to evoke the child-like voice that permeates the first verse of the poem) are now replaced with dominant ‘slime kings’ with a ‘coarse’ abrasive croaking. Where the minute ‘tadpoles’ were once confined to the boy’s ‘jampot[s]’, they are now capable of energetic, abrupt and threatening movement compared to a gun as the frogs sit ‘cocked’ like ‘mud grenades’, ready to fire or explode. The underlying ominous tones dominating the stanza, like the ‘punishing’ sun and ‘rott[ing]’ plants, now take precedence over the childhood innocence, which is lost forever, as the realist influence of adulthood overwhelms this idyllic childlike world, and Heaney is thrust into a challenging and confronting world, perhaps prematurely.
It is this epiphany, and consciousness of these two contrasting domains, which later enable Heaney to explore the vast foci of his collection, expanding into more pertinently adult realms. The “bog poems”, to which ‘The Tollund Man’ belongs, draw parallels between the social and political violence of modern Ireland and the sacrificial violence of earlier pagan civilizations. ‘The Tollund Man’ demonstrates Heaney’s ability to blend both the realist and idealist spheres; the idealist presence forthcoming in the description of the bog body as ‘saint-like’ and a precious ‘trove’. The body is depicted as carefully fed and doted, worked upon by nutrient-rich ‘dark juices’, cared for by the transcendent ‘goddess’ of the earth to whom he will be cherished as a ‘bridegroom’. This idealism makes for a powerful ‘pray[er]’; that the ‘labourers’ ‘laid out in the farmyards’ will somehow mirror this stillness and purposefulness in death. The realist sphere of Heaney’s being however, contradicts this; he knows that their flesh is ‘scattered’, contrasting with the wholeness of the bog body, and that they were ‘ambushed’, sprung upon and unprepared to be unnaturally propelled into death. This duality allows Heaney to reflect upon the pathos of the event, but in an idealistic light that also consoles these atrocities. This idea is paralleled by many of Heaney’s other poems, notably ‘Requiem for the Croppies’ in which the striking realist notion of the ‘blushing’ hillside stained with blood, is comforted by the peaceful image of the barley growing out of the soldier’s shallow graves, acting as a motif for new life and a symbol to keep the flickering flame of nationalist rebellion against the oppressive British rule alight. ‘
The Swing’ sees the transition from innocence to experience come full circle; the older Heaney is able to reflect on childhood in a new, far more retrospective and reminiscent light. The scene is dream-like, religiously tranquil, as the ‘light of heaven’ shines off lush, vivid ‘green grass’, to paint a ‘Nativity’ scene. This idealism emphasizes the beauty of the child-like state, which is almost utopian. His mother is like a Madonna figure amongst all this heavenly imagery; she is an ‘empress’ whose majesty imparts a value to the most commonplace of objects; boiling water from a kettle becomes ‘an opulent, steaming arc’ whose ‘plout’ is ‘music’. Again, Heaney’s sense of realism reveals more to this situation; she exhibits a duplicity, as her feet are contrastingly ‘swollen’ and painful, and she is unjustly denied what she as such a ‘majestic figure’ is owed; she imperatively ‘should’ have the luxury of ‘fresh linen’, the doting attention of ‘ministrations by attendants, procession and amazement’, but is instead left ‘roll[ing]’ the ‘elastic stocking’, suffering a disjointed state of existence as she is burdened by the life is ‘not meant for’, but she determinedly ‘would not fail’.
The swing likely acts as a metaphor for the very transition which acts as an undercurrent to Heaney’s work; a rite of passage of sorts that breaks the barrier between this heavenly child-like, and the sometimes unpalatable adult world, as the children swing ‘sky high’ into a new existence, where the worldly concerns of ‘Hiroshima’ and ‘Concorde’ swamp the comparatively meaningless ignorance of childhood. Heaney poses a question to the reader; ‘who were we to want to hang back there in spite of all?’. The phrase ‘in spite of all’ takes on a summative dualism here; its first use, in conjunction with ‘who were we’ refers to these events which are so significant we are forced to impelled to involve ourselves. Its second use however, is in contrast to this, conferring a sense of reluctance to swing, ‘in spite of all, we sailed above’; this may be a final attempt to cling onto this childhood oblivion and peace, and in this way a sense of limbo is conveyed, fragmented between two choices.
Through the swing, Heaney implies to the reader that the only logical path is to enter the adult world, despite its challenges, but to nurture and tend to the idealism so synonymous with childhood. Heaney asks ‘Who [are] we’ to be selfish enough so as to deny ourselves a wider knowledge of the world, and the troubles that go on, challenging as they may be? (In comparison to the peachy and idyllic state of childhood). The intermingling of these two spheres ultimately allows Heaney to reflect, as the realism reveals the pathos of the deaths of the common ‘labourers’, and the injustices inflicted upon figures like his mother, and the idealism acts as a mitigator amongst all this, a soother that reveals beauty and peace amongst the pain and pathos that permeates his reality.
On Criticizing Familial Love
One of the most universally acknowledged beliefs states that there is no bond as strong, forgiving, and irreplaceable as a mother’s love for her child. On the contrary, poet Seamus Heaney challenges this conviction throughout his poem “Bye-Child” in which the presence of social norms and religious doctrines takes priority over dignity and affection. Based upon a true story, “Bye-Child” is a testimony of seven-year-old Kevin Murphy’s tragic beginning as an illegitimate child born into a strictly Catholic Ireland where children out of wedlock were socially unacceptable. Panicked, his mother hid him for seven years inside a chicken coop in hopes of forever concealing her secret. Through his extended use of semantic fields, similes, and shifts in tone, Heaney conveys the importance of hope and patience to emphasize the omnipresence of love even in the darkest of times.
The young boy’s solitude and exile from society are recurring notions throughout the poem. The fact that the poem is structured in six stanzas with exactly five lines per stanza and no rhyme scheme indicates that social norms in Catholic Ireland were extremely rigid, unforgiving, and subject to traditional Christian beliefs. The semantic field of light in the first stanza “lamp”, “glowed”, “light”, and “chink” suggests that the only signs of life that he sees are extremely limited while the line “the child in the outhouse” directly proclaims his status as a social outcast. Even the use of the personal pronoun “their” to name his mother and her husband creates a distressing distance that emphasizes his isolation from the entire world, including his own family. Moreover, the second line “a yolk of light” creates a disturbing allusion to hens with whom the boy lives due to the noun “yolk”, the central part of an egg that nourishes an embryo. The last line of the first stanza, “put his eye to a chink–” further exemplifies the boy’s status as a social outcast since there is a definite contrast between the darkness in the chicken coop in which he lives and the light he sees from the exterior; in effect, his curiosity demonstrates an animalistic behavior consistent with his forced isolation and seclusion from society.
Hence, the boy’s confinement is equally so tied to his experiences of physical abuse and neglect. There is a rupture in tone from the first to the second stanza whilst Heaney suddenly adopts a profoundly compassionate attitude and switches from a third-person to a second-person point of view. Heaney’s use of the personal pronoun “you” for the boy creates a sense of intimacy and unsettling empathy for him since it allows Heaney to directly address readers whereas the metonymy “little henhouse boy” to name Kevin is virtually derogatory because it makes a reference to his prison: the henhouse. Furthermore, the first simile “sharp-faced as new moons” provides strong visual imagery of his malnourishment while in the second simile “glimpsed like a rodent / on the floor of my mind,” Heaney imagines the boy as a tiny animal huddled inside the henhouse which is made particularly vivid through the figurative use of the noun “floor.” The boy’s appalling physical features are further accentuated in the lines “your frail shape” and “weightless” in which Heaney suggests that years of malnutrition made the boy subject to illness, starvation, and deformation. The third stanza reiterates how the boy lives on the lowest brink of existence by calling him “kennelled and faithful” and thus compares him to a dog— paradoxically, an animal which much like Kevin himself remains faithful to his master despite atrocious treatment. Heaney establishes a heightening sense of pity where he describes how “at the foot of the yard,” Kevin was confined to live in unbearable conditions. Finally, the use of the present continuous tense in “[he] is stirring the dust” emphasizes the duration of the boy’s long-lasting agony in his squalid environment.
The extent of abuse stems beyond mere physical neglect but encompasses emotional deprivation too. By forcing him to live in a shed fit for hens in filthy conditions and feeding him “dry smells from scraps”, the boy’s mother purposely rejects him and refuses to integrate him with the rest of the family, let alone the rest of the world. In fact, the use of the pronoun “she” to name the mother creates an enormous distance between her and her son to prove that she was a cold, heedless woman. The fact that she put food through the boy’s “trapdoor” demonstrates that she fed and treated her own son like a prisoner in solitary confinement which presents an enormous paradox since Kevin was abused by his own mother, a figure nearly always associated with warmth and protectiveness. The semantic field of abuse “silence”, “vigils”, “solitudes”, “fasts”, “tears”, and “puzzled love” reveals that the lack of human contact resulted in an accumulation of physical and psychological conditions that will haunt Kevin in the long-term and rob him of understanding love. Additionally, the fact that his tears were “unchristened” indicates that by not being baptized, he becomes a nameless figure without an identity. The subsequent presence of enjambment and the line “morning and evening” reflect on the difficulty of the boy’s life and how emotional abuse made all of his days endless and painful.
Nonetheless, by employing another rupture in tone in the fifth line of the fifth stanza, Heaney introduces an impossible concept: hope. The semantic field of the universe “new moons”, “luminous”, “weightless”, “light”, “lunar distances”, and “travelled” alludes to the skepticism in the 1960s concerning the possibility of space travel, a reference which is directly applicable to Kevin; in spite of his isolation from the rest of the world (much like space itself), there is hope for his integration in society and the general restoration of his wellbeing. For instance, the line “but now you speak at last” conveys a promising tone since Kevin has finally learned to communicate, whereas the semantic field of speech “speak”, “remote mime”, “patience”, and “gaping wordless proof” demonstrates that while his progress remains a lifelong journey, there is hope for Kevin. Likewise, the semantic field of the universe is paradoxical since Heaney worships the moon and not God while it is religion that put the boy in his situation. The use of the present continuous verb tense as well as the fact that he doesn’t understand most affection received do not necessarily condemn him to a failed life, but rather imply that an eternal memory of his dark childhood will often haunt him in the process of his progress. On the contrary, Heaney glorifies the boy for his endurance and survival of severe mistreatment as well as his capability to remain loyal and faithful to a mother as phlegmatic as his own.
In spite of contradicting the common notion that all mothers love their children endlessly, Heaney’s poem is still a powerful affirmation of the power of love and patience even in the most inhumane situations. Young Kevin Murphy has embodied everything that a child should never withstand: confinement and abuse in all its forms. Regardless, his loyalty to his mother and baby steps towards integration and communication reiterate the values of positivity and patience in reintroducing love in an individual’s life. While Kevin’s journey is an undesirable one, it is nevertheless an unbelievable testimony of a single individual’s strength and resilience even in the face of a living nightmare. Guiding Questions:How does the poet create empathy and compassion?How does the poet emphasize the child’s physical and emotional pain?Word Count: 1227 words
Life, Death, and Fatherhood in “A Call”
“A Call” Commentary“A Call,” by Seamus Heaney, traces the growing import of death, and therefore appreciation of life, on the speaker. By making a simple call to his father, he is thrown into a series of reflections on his father, as well as time, which force him to deal with the inescapability of time and unpredictability of death. The speaker’s intense reflection on his father, his joyful yet rueful process of weeding, and the inevitability of time and death, leads him to realize the brevity of human life and the suddenness of death’s “call,” producing an intense feeling of love for his father.
In the first stanza, the trivial nature of the call, and the mother’s rhetoric, reflects the lack of concern the speaker has for his father. Presumably after the speaker has asked to speak to his father, his mother replies “hold on” (1), stressing the lack of urgency in the interaction, and revealing that neither party on the call is concerned about time. While the father is about to be summoned, the mother makes some small talk with her son, noting that the “weather here’s so good” (2). These trivial bits of conversation again highlight the two’s lack of concern for time, and the calm, serene nature of the weather reinforces the expectations of this call being a simple check in to see how his father is doing. However, the word “here” reveals that there is a distance between the speaker and his mother, and when the mother has to “run out” (1) to reach the father, the speaker begins to reflect on his father once their separation is highlighted. This state of reflection is accentuated when the mother mentions how his father “took the chance” (3) to do work, showing that he is not capable at all times to do the hard work that weeding entails. Though still quite healthy, he is not in perfect condition, leading the speaker to begin pondering the state of his father, however unjustified this worry may be given the lack of urgency or worry in the nature of a simple “check up.”
In the second stanza, the speaker, intimately reflective in his recollection of his father’s weeding process, imagines the saving yet destructive nature of weeding, causing him to grapple with life and death. The indentation of the first line, which seems to literally stem off of the previous stanza, is a key piece of structure, which reveals the speaker’s constant flow of thought and progression towards reflection. Though the speaker does not literally see his father, he is so close to his father in spirit that he is able to perfectly picture him weeding, “[seeing] him” (4) in his mind. Still, the speaker is still not concerned about his father’s health, as his father is able to preform the difficult processes of “touching, inspecting, [and] separating” quite successfully (6). Despite this sense of normality and content, as he reflects further, he finds his father pulling the plants up which are “not tapered, frail and leafless” (8). This, albeit gentle, ending of lives firmly plants the idea of death in the speaker’s mind, an idea that he will become extremely preoccupied with as his reflection continues. His father, in this situation the bringer of death, is both “pleased” (9) by the removal of weeds, but also “rueful” (10). Though the father, by this weeding, is bringing about life and growth for the garden, highlighting the necessity of this process, he is also taking life away, which is inescapable in weeding and leads the father to feel regret. This necessity for death begins to instill worry in the speaker, and begins to manifest itself in his increasingly moribund thoughts and reflective progression, stressed by the ellipsis that links the poem to his next, grave train of thought.
In the third stanza, the speaker’s inundation with the incessant ticking of time causes him to realize the unceasing and ultimate power that time, and therefore death, holds, no matter how tranquil a life may be. As mortality overtakes the speaker’s thoughts, he notes that he “found himself listening” (11) to clocks. This passive action shows the powerlessness of the speaker to ignore death, and its inevitability in both the mind and in life. However, the active verb, “listening,” works to reveal his current awareness of time’s passing, and his recognition of the relevant threat it poses. Furthermore, the “amplified grave ticking” (12) shows that the passing of time has taken a greater significance to the speaker, as when he hears it, it is “amplified.” The description of the ticking as “grave” shows how uncontrollably morbid his thoughts have become: death has invaded his mind, and its inevitability is all too apparent. However, all of this has happened in a place of “calm” (13), full of “sunstruck pendulums” (14). This is even more ominous for the speaker, as the unavoidable call of death can penetrate even the most serene, beautiful, and ordinary situations. This has a massive import on the speaker, as he realizes that although his father’s life seems to be in no apparent danger, which certainly will not prevent death from calling, when the time comes. This leads the speaker to feel intense fear for his father’s life, which is compounded in the next line as an ellipsis again connects the two and highlights the morbid flow of thought which the speaker is a victim of.
In the 4th stanza, the speaker’s comparison of the suddenness of death in morality plays and the graceful nature of time and death at his father’s home instills fear in death’s unpredictable inevitability, highlighting the great significance of the “call.” Again, just as in the third stanza, the speaker is both active and passive in his reflection, noting that he “found himself then thinking” (15). His passive nature once again reveals death’s envelopment of his mind as he loses control to escape his macabre reflection. However, the “then” shows the constant flow of thought which is overtaking him, and the active verb “thinking” shows that not only is he again actively dealing with this frightful subject, and taking in its unpleasant implications, but also beginning to understand the significance of the call. This significance is made explicit with the allegory of “Death summon[ing] Everyman” (16) introducing the truly morbid idea of the unpredictable nature of death. In the morality play to which the speaker alludes to, when it is time for the unknowing Everyman to die, he gets a tap on the shoulder from death, and is instantly dead. This is the climax of the speaker’s fearful reflection, as he now fully comprehends the importance of the phone call he has made. Everyman being tapped on the shoulder stresses the suddenness and unpredictability of death, and the speaker connects this to his father, as his death could be just as sudden and unpredictable. Thus, the significance of this call is that it is not simply a “check up,” but could in reality his father’s death, because of the suddenness with which death calls. Once the true significance of the call is appreciated, the speaker can stop his process of reflection and deal with the unsettling reality of what he has just come to terms with.
The final line’s intense outburst of passion reveals that the minutes of deep reflection the speaker has gone through has caused him to be overwhelmed by an powerful appreciation and love for his father’s life. The speaker’s thought process has been abruptly interrupted by the “Next thing [his father] spoke” (17), revealing that this intense willpower that he used to reflect has now been replaced by the pure emotions that follow. However, the speaker refrains from expressing his true emotions, and notes that, “I nearly said I loved him”. This abstention from brining up the speaker’s important revelations shows what he has truly learned, as if he had told the father of death’s unpredictable call, which could occur at any moment, this would frighten the father. The importance of nearly telling him highlights the power in the irony of what is left unsaid, as what is really important is to appreciate the beauty of life, and the mortality of human life is what makes it even more special, and worthy of being appreciated. Thus, the purpose of the reflection is to show that what should be focused on and reflected upon is not mortality, which the speaker has been consumed with, but rather the importance and beauty of life, which remains for the speaker to appreciate in a silent fortitude.
The speaker’s intense reflection and understanding of the significance of the call truly show the meaning of life. Despite his increasing worry over his father from stanza to stanza, in reality, his father is perfectly fine, reflected by the calm tone throughout, especially in the beginning, and instead of worrying about his father’s possible death, the speaker learns to appreciate the beauty and meaning of his life. Life indeed does end, but this is what makes it so valuable and necessary to focus and cherish its beauty while it still exists, and live everyday with an intense sense of appreciation for the life humans are allowed to experience with each other.