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    Comparative Essay Heaney-Clarke

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    In ‘Mid-Term Break’ Seamus Heaney writes about a painful memory. Compare this poem with two others from this collection in which poets write about memories. Include one poem by Gillian Clarke and one poem from the Pre-1914 Bank. The painful memory that Seamus Heaney writes about is his brother’s death and funeral and how it affects his family and social life.

    Gillian Clarke’s poem is not about a painful memory but is more about the wonder of “inherited” memory (a memory which is passed down through the generations like a story) her poem though like Seamus Heaney’s is about near death and its effects, even though Gillian Clarke is of no relation to the girl who nearly drowned, she is only included once her mother interferes. Ben Johnson is another painful memory and like the other two poems is about death, the death of his first born son.

    Cold Knap Lake’, Gillian Clarke’s poem and ‘Mid-Term Break’ by Seamus Heaney are both structured loosely and irregularly, they both use the technique of “stream of consciousness” this creates an effect that the poets are writing down what they feel at that precise time, the same effect is created by ‘On My First Sonne’ by Ben Johnson his structure is strict because it is in the form of a sonnet but it is not a traditional sonnet because it does not have 14 lines. Sonnets in that period were a great way of expressing feelings such as love and grief. Cold Knap Lake’ is a narrative which in the second part explores about memory; it has an alternate 4 and 6 line stanza and ends in a rhyming couplet. ‘Mid-Term Break’ has an irregular structure with some regularities it has a 3 line stanza and ends in an isolated line which rhymes with the last line of the last stanza.

    ‘On My First Sonne’ its structure is of an irregular sonnet because a traditional sonnet has 14 rhyming couplets written in iambic pentameter, which means 10 syllables per line. ‘On My First Sonne’ has only 12 rhyming couplets. Cold Knap Lake’ and ‘Mid-Term Break’ are 20th century poems which are written loosely, ‘Cold Knap Lake’ is mainly about confusion because it is part rhyme and also loose rhyme. The Language in all three poems is completely different but all achieve the same effects. All three poems end in a rhyme on the final two lines this creates a strong, memorable, dramatic ending to the poem. ‘Mid-Term Break’ at the end of this poem there is an isolated line which makes the poem very dramatic. The conclusion is formed in that isolated line and it also summarises the poets feelings clearly.

    In ‘Cold Knap Lake’ the first three stanzas narrate the story of the girl nearly drowning, the last 2 stanzas explore Clarke’s feelings and ideas about memory. ‘On My First Sonne’ the end rhyme couplet is following the structure of the traditional sonnet and has regular rhyme and rhythm. In ‘Cold Knap Lake’ and ‘Mid-Term Break’ the end rhyme is the “final piece of the jigsaw” by explaining how old his brother is, or leaves a riddle like Gillian Clarke does by saying very vaguely ” all lost things lie under closing water in that lake with the poor man’s daughter” this is open to interpretation on different readers.

    All three poems ‘Cold Knap Lake’, ‘Mid-Term Break’ which are modern poems and ‘On My First Sonne’ which is a classical form of a sonnet, all these poems use literary techniques such as alliteration in ‘Cold Knap Lake’ some examples of this and the meanings behind them are “we once watched a crowd. ” The repeated sound of “w” and “ow” create a feel of water which is one of the main themes of ‘Cold Knap Lake’, there is also “drawn by the dread of it” creates a feeling of horror and fear, also the fact that people are curious about death. Mid- Term Break’ also uses alliteration such as “counting bells knelling classes to a close” which is like the sound of bells, knelling is the sound of funeral bells so the poet being able to hear the sound of funeral bells all ready and it being near the beginning of the poem means that there is a strong atmosphere of tension and sorrow already. Also “four foot box a foot for every year” is a repeating of the “f” sound which is soft and sorrowful.

    There was also many uses of sibilance which is a form of alliteration but is the repetition of the “s” sound and is used to give a sense of evil or as in ‘Cold Knap Lake’ it is used to give a sense of water “troubled surface something else shadowy” in ‘Mid-Term Break’ it is used as a sense of whispering, “whispers informed strangers I was the eldest. ” and in ‘On My First Sonne’ Ben Johnson is using it to describe that his son has “so soone scap’d worlds”. There is also a lot of use of Onomatopoeia such as in ‘Cold Knap Lake’ Gillian Clarke uses the words bleating to create a sense of innocence, a lamb and life.

    Also the word whistle which is used to describe the swans, and trying to draw attention towards memory. In ‘Mid-Term Break’ the words used are “knelling” which describes the funeral bell sound. “The baby cooed” which shows the innocence of childhood and the obliviousness of youth to death. In ‘On My first Sonne’ there is no onomatopoeia. ‘Cold knap Lake’ uses rhetorical questions and statements to give a sense of confusion whereas in ‘Mid-Term Break’ the poet records the timing exactly and in a direct statement, he remembers small details such as the names of people like his father’s friend “Big Jim” this gives a sense of clarity.

    Both poems ‘Cold Knap Lake’ and ‘Mid-Term Break’ touch on the ideas about the transition of childhood into adulthood. In ‘Mid-Term Break’ Seamus Heaney is embarrassed and feels scared of being respected by the adults especially by the “old men who stand up to shake my hand” he realises he must mature quickly but shows that he is still a child as he holds his mothers hand who coughed out “angry tearless sighs”. ‘Cold Knap Lake’ is about memory, the poetic personal or ‘voice’ of the poem is an adult looking back at childhood.

    It is mainly about the loss of memory and childhood because as soon as “dipped fingers” touch the memory it changes into something else. It possibly touches on the powerlessness of youth and the power of adults, like he mother who was a “heroine”. ‘On My First Sonne’ is mainly about losing something that is deeply loved, and the fear of loving something that much again only to be hurt. All three poems are about grief, death or near death. ‘Mid-Term Break’ is the death of his 4 year old brother and the personal close family.

    Cold Knap Lake’ is about the near drowning of a young girl; it is impersonal, because the girl is a stranger and is distant. ‘On My First Sonne’ is of the death of his firstborn son. ‘Mid-Term Break’ and ‘Cold Knap Lake’ is about memory , it is a theme of ‘Mid-Term Break’ and is a central theme of ‘Cold Knap Lake’ the memory is sometimes elusive and full of “cloudiness” as portrayed in ‘Cold Knap Lake’ or is forever stuck in the mind as shown in ‘Mid-Term Break’, ‘On My First Sonne’ is about his son’s death and he is never likely to forget it as he has promised to love nothing as dearly as he loved his son.

    In ‘Mid-Term Break’ another theme is death which is seen as cold and harsh by the words he uses such as “corpse” and “hard blow”. Death in ‘Cold Knap Lake’ is described as beautiful and life as beautiful by words such as “rosy” or “dressed in waters green silk”

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    Comparative Essay Heaney-Clarke. (2017, Oct 17). Retrieved from

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