Follower Seamus Heaney

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Heaney describes his father at work when he was at his prime. It starts of with a matter-of-fact that his father “worked with a horse plough”. From then on the tone is one of admiration and respect for the strength and skill of his father. His shoulders are “globed”: with connotations of immense rounded size, just like the earth he is tilling. Nautical imagery is employed as these same shoulders are “globed like a full sail” – gaining a feeling of power and energy being harnessed and powered along. His power is emphasised in the last line of the first stanza, where “The horses strained at his clicking tongue”. It’s quite like that passage in James in the bible about the power of the tongue, where the tongue is compared to a rudder that can steer a whole ship. I do not know if this was in Heaney’s mind when he wrote it, but there is a resonance for me there. The point is the same: a click from his tongue can make the horse do as he wished; a small movement to harness power. The second stanza opens with the minor sentence, “An expert” which both sums up the first stanza and leads into the development of the idea of expertise in the second – move away from brute power into the skill of his father in ploughing. “The sod rolled over without breaking”. Echoing the click of the tongue, there is “a single pluck/of reins” which turns the team of horses round. The third stanza continues to give an impression of precision: “Mapping the furrow exactly.” The fourth stanza moves the focus from his father to Heaney himself. There is a marked contrast with his father as Heaney ”stumbled”. There is an imature ineptitude conveyed here, as he “fell sometimes”. He describes being given a piggy-back and he was carried along with him. Heaney states that it was an ambition to plough like his father, and there is a tinge of sadness that “All I ever did was follow in his broad shadow”.

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