Follower seamus heaney analysis essay

This description continues to characterize the speaker as a man who takes pride in his work, is dedicated, and works hard day in and day out. The reader can quickly begin to acquire the same respect for thisman that his son has for him. His sweat went back into the land, so he put his sweat into his work quite literally. With this stanza, the speaker reveals that he is different from his father. This gives further insight into both the father and the son.

The son, on one hand, did not seem to be inclined to the same kind of work his father seemed to love and thrive in. His father, however, was devoted to his son enough to take on the extra weight of the boy riding on his back as he ploughed the land.

Example research essay topic: Sense Of Place Seamus Heaney - 3,501 words

This reveals and devoted father and an admiring son, different as they may be. However, in the second part of this stanza, the speaker reveals that he never did grow up to be a farmer. This implies that the speaker grew up to do something other than farming, even though he had always wanted to be like his father. It appears that he had always known that he was inherently different and not meant to be a farmer. Looking back, he was aware that he never could have made the kind of farmer that his dad was.

Now, as an adult, the speaker is the one to whom his father looks up. In whatever the speaker has found to do in life, it is now his father who looks up to him. In this turn of events, the two have switched roles. Subscribe to our mailing list and get new poetry analysis updates straight to your inbox. In Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The following anthology, Spirit Level , was awarded the prestigious Whitbread Prize, an honor of nearly the same rank in British letters as the Booker Prize, which, being awarded exclusively to novels, Heaney is ineligible for.

His translation of Beowulf won another Whitbread in He has won innumerable lesser prizes and been awarded honorary doctoral degrees by Fordham University, Harvard University , and other schools. Of Heaney's later poetry anthologies, perhaps the most important is Station Island Organized around his reenactment of the medieval practice of pilgrimage, Heaney considers in this volume the place and character of the poet in the modern world.

One section of the book is devoted to poems inspired by the medieval Irish myth, The Madness of Sweeney , of which Heaney had published an interpretation, Sweeney Astray , the previous year. Of these the most important is undoubtedly his rendering of Beowulf , which is recognized as one of his most significant and influential works in any genre.

Each stanza follows an abab rhyme scheme, meaning the first and third line of each stanza rhyme, as do the second and fourth. No particular metrical scheme is followed, and the length of the lines is determined by the ideas they contain and by grammatical breaks. Heaney takes as his subject a description of his father plowing a field. He does not use a tractor. No modern device intrudes on the scene. His father cuts through the field with an old-fashioned hand plow drawn by a horse.

The use of horses most likely a team indicates some level of prosperity since a less successful farmer would be forced to use a cheaper draft animal such as an ox. The plough horses are well trained and respond to the plowman's voice command. The metaphor of the second and third lines is somewhat odd. The speaker views his father in profile and describes the curve of his body bent over in the act of plowing as the curve of a sail billowing out from attachment points at the handles of the plough and at the trench being cut into the sod by the plough blade. But, of course, the billowing shape in this instance is coming off the back of the plow and would suggest motion contrary to the forward progress of the plough.

But, no doubt, the image is not used for its literal applicability but for its suggestion of the smooth motion of sailing, propelled by nature rather than a man-made device such as a tractor engine. The transformation of the plowman into a sail suggests that the plough as a whole is sailing over the field like a ship, and one cannot help but think that it is a vessel for the preservation of tradition, modeled, perhaps on the metaphor of the ship of the Church as the vessel preserving the faithful and Catholic tradition on the storm-tossed sea of the world.

The fact that the father is stretched between the plow and the cut he is making in the ground also suggests the special connection of the farmer to the earth. The second stanza develops the theme of the father's expertise as a farmer.


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The process being described is a plough running over the earth to create a fold in which seed can be sown to germinate and hence produce a crop. The specialized blade that cuts into the soil and turns it over is called a moldboard. This is supported by a wooden framework with handles that allow the farmer to guide the plowing and a rigging at the head to enable the horses to pull the plough. The blade and framework together make up the plough. The trailing part of the moldboard that actually turns the earth is likened by a conventional metaphor that is really a technical term to the similarly shaped anatomy of a bird.

As his father plows, he leaves a solid swath of turned over soil, as opposed to a trail of broken clods of earth. This emphasizes again his father's special skill at his work, as does his control over the horses. There is a striking enjambment between the second and third stanzas.

Enjambment is the continuation of sense and grammatical units across the boundaries of metrical or formal units in poetry. In this case not only a sentence but a clause extends across the stanza break.

This is a poetic representation of the continuous action of plowing: just as the plowman leaves a continuous path of sliced up earth, the poet keeps going smoothly across the stanzas. Given Heaney's love of the archaic, probably the effect he had in mind was the boustrophedon style of writing. When alphabetic writing was first introduced into Archaic Greece from the Near East, there was considerable uncertainty among scribes about the direction of the writing itself.

Some chose to start at the left and write toward the right in the way that is standard in European languages probably because of the prevalence of right-handedness. Others, however, preserved the Semitic practice of writing from right to left.

Heaney's Poem Follower Essay

A few examples survive in boustrophedon, in which the first line of a text reads from left to right, but the second from right to left, the third from left to right again, and so on, the scribe always writing the first letter of the next line directly underneath the last letter of the previous line. This type of writing is called boustrophedon from Greek words denoting the motion of plowing oxen back and forth across a field.

The third stanza reiterates the early themes of the poem: the father's skill and perhaps the nautical metaphor of the first stanza, if there are references to the age of exploration under sail in the sense of navigating through the field requiring the making of a new map. The sense of repetition itself is important since once the plowman has crossed the field he must turned around and exactly repeat his procedure over and over, back and forth, until the entire field is plowed.

So far the speaker has viewed his father's plowing through the eyes of memory. In the fourth stanza he suddenly sees and shows the reader his younger self, perhaps four or five years old, before he would have entered his parish school, playing in the field where his father is working.

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In the traditional society that Heaney was destined to leave as soon as he attended a prestigious boarding school in Derry, this is how children would have learned the routines and skills of labor on the farm, by playing and then working with their parents as they performed their age-old tasks. The likening of the long cuts made into the ground by his father's plowing through the waves left by the passage of a ship may be taken as a reemphasis of the earlier nautical metaphor.

Heaney describes his young self as awkward and uncertain, unable to follow in his father's footsteps. But his father picks him up and lets him ride on his shoulders. These are powerful metaphors establishing the relationship between father and son. Heaney is unable to go forward in the tradition of his family and his father, but he is nevertheless supported and uplifted by that tradition.

The fifth stanza deals with the speaker's incapacity to imitate his father's way of life.

Analysis Of The Follower Poem

This is his desire, but his imitation is childish and exaggerated. He cannot become a plowman but can only follow behind the plowman. His father casts a shadow larger than his young body, a reference to the idea of being overshadowed by one's predecessors. In the first sentence of the last stanza Heaney characterizes his young self as a positive distraction, getting in the way of his father, and never able to keep up with him owing to his unstable awkwardness.

Then, changing his perspective and tone, the speaker says that now the situation is reversed; his father is the awkward follower.


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  6. Heaney's father was a peasant farmer, a man of tradition, who cannot make his way in the modern world as Heaney—a professor, writer, and poet—can do. His father's tradition is dead and his father with it, but yet it stands behind Heaney in his encounter with modernity.

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    The fit between the two worlds is as awkward from the viewpoint of the modern as it was from the viewpoint of tradition: Heaney's childhood gracelessness was a foreshadowing of this. Young Heaney would not leave his father's footsteps, but playfully and haltingly dogged him.

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    His father will now, however, stay behind Heaney, supporting him as a bridge to an imperishable tradition, however haltingly. Much of Heaney's work is devoted to what, for want of a better word, may be called tradition. Tradition is the set of customs that are inherited by a culture and give it its identity. In "Follower," Heaney makes the particular craft of farming—his father's excellence at its tasks, as well as the close association between father and a son made possible by the traditional way of life in which a son was essentially apprenticed to his father for education—stand for tradition as a whole.

    A great deal of Heaney's later work has involved the adaptation or translation into modern English of works vital to the Western tradition including stories from Irish mythology, Greek tragedy, and the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf. In his own poetry Heaney often laments the loss of tradition. It describes in loving, idealized terms the agricultural way of life that represents tradition for Heaney, in particular his father's way of life as he knew it in his own childhood.

    In the last stanza of the poem, there is a stark transition to Heaney's adult viewpoint, where his embrace of modernity and progress has jarringly pulled him out of the traditional way of life and left it a staggering wreck shambling behind him. In the fourth stanza of "Follower," Heaney describes his young self riding piggy-back on his father's shoulders while the elder is plowing. This is probably unlikely as a physical fact though not impossible , but it is best taken as an allegorical reference to one of the most important themes of Western literature and culture, the idea that if modern people see farther than the ancients, it is because they are pygmies standing on the shoulders of giants.

    This slogan was first developed during the little Renaissance of the twelfth century when Western Europe received a great mass of Greek literature in Arabic translation, immensely enriching medieval culture.