Seamus Heaney Essay

How is the idea of parent/child relationships presented in Digging by Seamus Heaney a poem by Gillian Clarke and two poems in the Pre-1914 poetry bank? In Heaney’s poem Digging the poet demonstrates his affection and respect for Father and Grandfather. Clarke, in her poem Catrin demonstrates that parent/child relationships can provide a battleground a battleground for positive and negative feelings. Ben Jonson in On My First Sonne shows that pride and love are a father’s most obvious feelings for a young son, yet Yeats seems to suggest, in The Song of the Old Mother, that parents often feel frustrated by their offspring.

In Digging, Heaney makes extensive use of alliteration to bring the reader closer to the rhythm of digging. In line four of the poem this is particularly evident: “…spade sinks into the gravelly ground. ” The repetition of the ‘g’ and ‘s’ sounds provide the reader with an understanding of the noises that they might encounter in the garden whilst near a “digger”, but the repetition of these sounds creates a rhythm that helps to emphasise the idea that Heaney regards his father and grandfather as being masters of a skill that he does not possess.

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However, Gillian Clarke in her poem Catrin, makes strong use of metaphor to emphasise the complex nature of the relationship that exists between the poet and her daughter. The “red rope of love” which both mother and daughter “fought over” reminds us that each seeks to dominate the relationship that exists between them. They are attached to each other, literally at Catrin’s birth, and in their relationship they seem to fight to be free. Clarke makes use of simple two stanza form in her poem Catrin. In the first stanza the poet reflects upon her daughter’s birth and the effect that it had upon the mother’s life.

In the second stanza of the poem the poet considers her daughter later in life and finds that “she is still fighting” with her daughter, but now she is given to admiring, and yet being jealous of, her daughter’s “straight, strong, long brown hair. ” The second stanza indicates a moving forward in time of the parent/child relationship, yet the old conflict between love and hate still remains. Where as, in Catrin, the poet does not make use of a rhyme scheme to present her ideas, Jonson, in his poem, employs rhyming couplets to help give the suggestion that the poet is making an attempt to pray to his son, or to God.

The pairs of rhyming lines also help to give the poem a lighter positive feel: “Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy My sinne was too much hope of thee young boy. ” The lighter tone links appropriately with the poet’s final belief that his son’s death has not been a total personal disaster, and he has escaped the pains associated with living. Jonson in On My First Sonne is anxious to demonstrate his affection for his son: “Farewell, thou child of my right hand…” The poet’s sadness at the death of his son is immediately evident, and the poem’s poignant tone is immediately established.

The reader recognises that, as the child of his “right hand”, the son was especially important to the father. On the other hand, Yeats, in his poem Song of the Old Mother demonstrates that relationships between parents and children are not always positive. The Old Mother complains that the young person’s day “goes over to idleness”. The Old Mother does not look positively upon her children (and we can safely assume that the young people who feature in the poem are related to her). Where as, Jonson concerns himself with the idea of “hope” for perhaps all the things his, now dead, son might have come to achieve in life.

The “Old Mother” seems disappointed and frustrated at the young people in her life, who seem frivolous and more concerned with their hair than helping out their mother: “And they sigh if the wind but lift a tress” In conclusion, it is clear that both Heaney and Jonson recognise the positive nature of parent/child relationships. Yet, Yeats and Clarke demonstrate that dealings between parents and children can bring difficulty and complication. I find Heaney’s poem Digging the most satisfying because it presents strong, easily understandable images of warmth between members of the same family.


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