In this essay I shall be examining poems from two famous poets – Seamus Heaney and D. H Lawrence. Both write about their childhood experiences and express their feelings and memories through their poetry and use poetic devices to help the reader identify with and visualise these. The poet’s techniques and memories are similar in some ways, yet vividly contrast in others. I shall begin with studying two poems by Seamus Heaney – Digging and Mid term break, which deal with feelings about his father and the loss of his brother. I shall then compare these to two of D.
H Lawrence’s poems – Piano and Discord in Childhood, which are Lawrence’s recollections about his parents and their relationship. Seamus Heaney grew up on a farm in Ireland, and many of his poems are recollections of his early rural experiences. They are journeys of innocence and changing attitudes as he matured from a child to a man. Seamus used the creation process of poetry as a way of discovery about how he felt and how that impacts his life now. As he writes he paints a vivid picture in the mind of the reader of the characters and places he describes through poetic devices and his use of language.
In the poem ‘Digging’ Seamus Heaney explores the relationship between the previous generations of his family digging and working the land, and how he broke this tradition and became a poet. This must have been a very difficult decision for Heaney to make and throughout the poem; the reader gets an insight as to how Seamus feels about this. In the fifth stanza, Heaney states his father ‘could handle a spade – just like his old man’ showing that this tradition has been carrying on for a long time and therefore emphasising that this was a very hard thing for him to break away from.
Another place where we get an insight into Heaney’s thoughts is in the penultimate stanza where Heaney says he has ‘no spade to follow men like them. ‘ This verse sounds self-pitying at a first glance; however we know that Seamus was capable of becoming a farmer as he is well educated in the subject, which we are aware of due to the large amount of technical language he uses, making it even more unlikely that Seamus would opt out of carrying on the family tradition.
The rhyme scheme supports this as it is inconsistent and Seamus had broken the pattern of his ancestors – making the family tradition inconsistent. He has ‘no spade’ to follow them with, only a pen which he will use to dig in his own way. In the poem Seamus manages to find some similarities between physically digging and poetry. Firstly, poetry is rhythmic, just like digging, as his father is described as ‘stooping in rhythm’ as he works the land. Also, poetry is very technical, as is digging as it is described in stanza three.
Thirdly, symbolism is used when it says ‘to scatter the new potatoes we had picked, loving their cool hardness in our hands. ‘ This shows that there is a good product which arises from digging, and you can be proud of and enjoy this, just as a poem is a pleasing finished product of writing. Seamus is apparently comfortable with writing, as we are told the ‘squat pen rests, snug as a gun’ just as his father was comfortable with digging (‘the coarse boot nestled on the lug’)Finally Heaney links the roots his father struggles to dig up to the ‘living roots’ which he ‘awakens’ in his head by writing.
This is a powerful metaphor linking poetry to digging, and expresses that Seamus feels that his personal form of digging is more important to him, as he is dealing with the ‘living roots’ The poem also explores Seamus’ relationship between him and his father. We know Seamus has a lot of respect for his father as he says ‘By God, the old man could handle a spade’ which exclaims his praise for him. He also admires his grandfather and states with pride that he could ‘cut more turf in a day than any other man on Toner’s bog,’ – he is proud of his grandfather’s achievements.
He also admires the fact that they ‘fell to right away’ and were dedicated to their work. The poem also shows the simplicity of their life (‘corked sloppily with paper’) and the fact that his childhood shaped his life as he likens his memories to ‘roots’ which anchor something and do not allow it to move. The strength of the memories shows that these two people had a great impression on Heaney’s life; however he cannot and does not wish to follow in their footsteps. The poem is a journey ‘down and down’ into Heaney’s mind and feelings.
The rhyme scheme supports this as it is inconsistent – not blank verse, allowing freedom of thought. It was written during a pause in writing as the pen ‘rests’ and he concludes by saying ‘the squat pen rests. I’ll dig with it. ‘ This link between the spade and pen shows that Seamus has reached a decision where he understands that he cannot follow them, regardless of how big an impact they had on his life, nor feel guilty about his decision – he can only dig in his own way. The second poem I have chosen to examine is ‘Mid-Term Break.
It explores the feelings of Seamus Heaney and his family about the death of his four year old brother. Although the poem is not overly sentimental, it contains a lot of emotion, and gives the reader a good insight into Heaney’s feelings and also how his mother and father react to this tragedy. The poem is on a universal theme – loss, and Seamus recalls his first experience of this. It is written in a nai?? ve and unsure way, due to the simplicity of the writing. Seamus Heaney, as a poet, would undoubtedly have a wide range of vocabulary; showing that the poet wanted to convey that it was written from a child’s point of view.
This makes the poem even more poignant and emotionally distressing to the reader. The poem shows how Seamus feels about the loss of his brother. The only emotion Heaney expresses is embarrassment which shows that he did not know how to deal with what was happening – maybe because it was his first experience of loss. However, it is clear that this is not all he felt. The events and the outcome are slowly revealed, implying that Seamus took a long time to come to terms with this.
Although there were a few clues that something really bad had happened; such as the fact his ‘neighbours drove him home’ and ‘Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow,’ Seamus still did not want to believe it. The reader is also given a few clues as to what has happened – for example the bells are described as ‘knelling’ which is reminiscent of funeral bells and the slow and sombre rhythm of the poem sets the grim mood. When Seamus saw the nurses bringing his brother’s body out of the ambulance, he describes it as a ‘corpse’ as he is still in denial over what has happened.
The fact that his brother has ‘no gaudy scars’ merely a ‘poppy bruise on his left temple’ makes it even harder for Seamus to come to terms with what has happened, because in his room where ‘candles soothed the bed side’ and his brother lay in ‘the four foot box, as if in his cot’ it was hard to believe that he was dead. This memory is obviously a very clear one in Seamus’ mind as he remembers times and images very clearly (‘at two o’clock our neighbours drove me home. ‘)This reveals that this event has undoubtably been greatly impacted by this and still can remember all the miniature of the event.
However, some of the events pass as a blur, illustrating that this event was equally traumatic as it was memorable. This is shown by the cross-stanza enjambment used between stanzas four and five. The poem also discloses how his parents felt about the death of his brother. By referring to how his parents felt, shows that Seamus was very aware of them at the time, and also that throughout his childhood he was reliant and dependant on them. This is why it must have been so hard for him to desert the family tradition as he did in ‘Digging.
The father featuring in ‘Mid term break’ is very different to the strong and stoical anchor of the family as he is in ‘Digging. ‘ The sight of his unemotional father ‘crying’ was alarming to Seamus as he had ‘always taken funerals in his stride. ‘ The way his mother reacted was also very revealing. Instead of crying, she ‘coughed out angry tearless sighs,’ giving the sense she had cried all her tears, and was trying to put on a brave face. She must have been experiencing a mixture of emotions as her son’s death was unnatural.
Seamus’ mother held his hand to attempt to keep what she has left close to her, but also showing that they are a very close knit family. Holding Seamus’ hand could also have been an attempt to comfort him too; showing that his mother was brave. Mid-Term Break deals with the theme of loss, and we can tell that Seamus was deeply impacted by the death of his brother. He found hard to come to terms with, but it made it easier that all his family were united in their loss, and helped each other through it. This shows what a close family Seamus came from. D. H Lawrence was born in Nottinghamshire.
He was the fourth child of struggling coal miner and heavy drinker and his mother, a school teacher. His childhood was dominated by poverty and friction between his parents. D. H Lawrence said ‘I was born hating my father’ but developed a deep emotional bond with his mother, who he helped die by overdosing her on sleeping medicine when he was twenty two. He began to write poetry in 1909, mainly about his childhood and how he felt about his parents and experiences. The in the poem ‘Discord in Childhood,’ explores the violence between his parents which is exemplified in a fight, and his feelings about their turbulent relationship.
In the poem, D. H Lawrence reveals how he feels about his parents and their aggressive relationship. Lawrence describes his father voice as the ‘dreadful sound of a male thong booming and bruising. ‘ This shows that he is somewhat afraid of his father, and that he believes that his words can be very hurtful and ‘bruising. ‘ In Mid-Term break, Seamus Heaney spoke about his brother having a ‘poppy bruise’ on his forehead. This bruise however was not caused by anyone in his family, but instead by an unknown driver. The feelings the reader associates with both types of bruising are completely different.
Throughout the poem, D. H Lawrence paints his father in a rather unfavourable light. This is the opposite of the admiration and respect Seamus Heaney expresses for his father in ‘Digging,’ showing the different relationship between the two poets and their fathers. In comparison to the way Seamus describes his father, he seems to be more sympathetic towards his mother. Instead of describing her voice as a ‘thong,’ he calls it a ‘slender lash’ and she is not ‘booming and bruising’ but ‘whistling,’ showing that he does not believe his mother is a completely violent person.
In addition, at the end of the verbal fight, it is apparent that his father has won, as he ‘drowned’ the other voice, attempting to make the audience sympathise with his mother. The poem also reveals how Lawrence feels about the violence between his parents – especially through his word choices. Firstly, the poem is titled ‘Discord in Childhood,’ showing that he believes the violence between his parents is the reason for the disharmony he felt in his younger years. The words he uses to describe the fight, such as ‘terrible,’ ‘hideous,’ ‘dreadful,’ make it very clear that he is horrified by the events which he can hear.
He also uses pathetic fallacy to both set the scene and again express how he feels about the storm within. The poem has a circular structure and the dreadful weather continues even after the fight has finished, which shows that D. H Lawrence knew that this was an ongoing argument – the storm still raging symbolises the ongoing fight. Seamus Heaney uses his word choices to impact the reader also, except his help convey a sense of the character writing the poem – for example in Mid-Term Break, simple language is used to express the naivety, youth and uncertainty of Seamus when this event happened.
However quite a few of the techniques the poets use are similar, such as neither poet writes poems with great sentiment – showing that the two are strong and products of their experiences. They both rely on creating sounds in their poetry through the use of onomatopoeia, assonance and alliteration. Their poems are powerful, concise and full of symbolism. The second poem I have chosen to examine by D. H Lawrence is ‘Piano. ‘ In the poem, Lawrence looks back to his childhood and the way his mother made him feel and the memories he associates with her.
This nostalgic poem is both positive and negative as he fondly thinks of the past – which makes him realise what he had then yet he can never go back there. The poem is very revealing about the emotions D. H Lawrence associates with his mother. The poem begins in a very harmonious situation – a complete contrast to Discord in childhood where the opening stanza sets the scene for the aggression to come. The harmony is symbolic of the close relationship between Lawrence and his mother. He is describes as ‘a child sitting under the piano’ showing that Lawrence is looking up to his mother – perhaps representing the admiration he feels for her.
This is similar to how Seamus Heaney feels for and respects his father, as examplified in the poem ‘Digging. ‘ D. H Lawrence feels safe with his mother and the ‘boom’ which scared him in ‘Discord in childhood’ is now a protective one; not ‘bruising. ‘ The word choices throughout the first stanza are all gentle – such as ‘softly’ and ‘tingling,’ which convey the mood and how he feels in his mother’s presence, and the rhyme scheme is consistent, representing the constant pillar of strength his mother was to him.
The parlour is described as ‘cosy’ with ‘winter outside. In ‘Discord in childhood,’ the bad weather outside is pathetic fallacy for the mood within the house, however in ‘Piano,’ the ‘winter outside’ merely contrasts the love inside the house making is ‘cosy,’ and the protection he feels inside the house. It is clear that his father is not in this poem, which is quite a positive memory. This is significant, as it shows that Lawrence associates most of the happy moments in his childhood with his mother, and the ‘discord’ he felt are memories he links to his father.
This contrasts Seamus Heaney’s poetry, where many positive recollections are associated with his father, and the admiration Seamus felt for him. In fact on the whole, Heaney has written more poetry containing his father than his mother. The singing and playing in ‘Piano’ is metaphoric of how Lawrence’s mother made him feel – just as the fight in ‘Discord in childhood’ symbolised the violent relationship of his parents. The poem also exposes how D. H Lawrence felt about these happy moments in his childhood.
He describes the piano as their ‘guide,’ which could mean that when he no longer could spend this quality and calm time with his mother, he lost his ‘guide’ and now he is lost and deserted. This shows just how important D. H Lawrence’s mother was to him. Although this is a positive memory, Lawrence says ‘In spite of myself the insidious mastery of song betrays me back…….. with hymns in the cosy parlour,’ showing that he does not wish to remember these times, as it emphasises how sad he is now – especially since he lost his mother.
The memories make him upset as it is ‘in vain’ for him to return to his childhood. He says the ‘glamour of childish days in upon me know,’ which is an unusual choice of words, but again means that the best is behind him and that his childhood was very special. It is somewhat odd to think that D. H Lawrence would think of his childhood like this, as another word he used to describe it was ‘discord,’ but tells the reader that the love from his mother and the happiness he felt when he was with her can override the bad experiences he also had in his earlier years.
The strength of these memories is shown through the big passionate words which he uses, and the onomatopoeia strengthens these images in the mind of the reader. D. H Lawrence says that his ‘manhood is cast’ meaning that he is a product of his experiences and he cannot change that. Seamus Heaney too believes that he too is a creation of his experiences, but instead views this as a good thing because it gives him ‘living roots’ in his head which he can turn into poetry.
The circular structure of this poem is similar to that in ‘Discord in childhood’ where the ongoing storm conveys the ongoing violence between his parents. The fact that the poem is not concluded but returns to the beginning shows that D. H Lawrence has not concluded these feelings – he has not yet learnt how to deal with them. D. H Lawrence and Seamus Heaney are both poets who use poetry to express their feelings about their childhood. Both write in different styles and express different emotions.
Whilst Seamus Heaney enjoyed a quiet and secure childhood, growing up on a farm, D. H Lawrence experienced great ‘discord’ in his childhood, however these bad memories are sometimes overridden by the loving moments he shared with his mother. Seamus Heaney had great respect for his father who ‘always took things in his stride’ and was devastated that he could not carry on the family tradition. On the other hand, D. H Lawrence greatly disliked his father and the way his father treated his mother. Few of the memories of his father are positive, and he is described as a ‘booming and bruising’ character.
However there are some similarities between the poets. Both feel a great sense of love towards one (or in Heaney’s case both) of their parents, and have fond recollections of times spent with them. Even so, their poems are not overly sentimental, yet appeal to the reader’s emotions in other ways. Heaney and Lawrence believe they are products of their own experiences and use symbolism and other poetic techniques to strengthen these experiences when they are transferred onto paper in the form of poetry.