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What do the poems “Churning Day” and “An Advancement of Learning” tell us about Seamus Heaney’s childhood Essay

Seamus Heaney was born to a rural family, in 1939, in Northern Ireland. Heaney grew up on a farm, as his father was a great farmer. Heaney had great admiration for ordinary farming folk, but did not want to be a farmer himself. His poems often celebrate the skills of the ordinary rural people like the poem “Churning Day”. He also deals with the loss of childhood innocence and move to adulthood like in “An Advancement of Learning”. These two poems deal with simple experiences but important. His language is very sensuous. Experiences are evoked by sounds especially onomatopoeia and alliteration.

The themes in these poems include family relationships, closeness and security in the family, nature, the love of nature but also the negative view of nature, and moving from childhood to adulthood. For Seamus Heaney’s family, “Churning Day” is an important “Day”, I say this because Heaney gives the title “Day” which emphasizes it’s importance, (for example “New Years Day”,) it does not happen or occur everyday, (this is just like “Churning Day”,) it does not take place everyday, so it is special. It is not only the day that is important, but also the time the family spends together.

For them “Churning Day” is the time to make butter but also to spend quality time with their family. It is also a valuable process, because as the title says “butter” is being made, which is very valuable to them, it is like “gold” and “sunlight” to Heaney’s family, this is because they can sell the “butter”, when it is made, and also they can eat it, as they worked very hard to make it and their “arms ached” and “hands blistered”. He remembers the day very well, as he describes it in great detail. Heaney gives us a vivid image of what is going on.

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For example when the butter is made Heaney describes it as “gold flecks”, which is sight imagery, this goes through the whole poem. And he also takes us through the process (All Stanzas). It is obvious Heaney is writing the poem after the event – when he was an adult. This is because he uses complex wording such as “gravid ease” and also uses past tense “moved” this shows us that he is narrating the poem after the actual event. And because it is in such detail we can see it was a special day to him, it was one of his memories from childhood. Heaney lived in a simple rural area, in Ireland.

His family did not have any machinery to make the butter, they “slugged and thumped for hours” whereas if they had machinery the work would have been done quick and easier. Heaney had a simple upbringing. Heaney had what he needed and what was necessary, this was because Ireland was slightly behind in Heaney’s time. Heaney is exposed to nature quite a lot. “Churning Day” is all natural as there is no machinery used it starts from the “hot brewery” which is the cow, this is a metaphor as the cow is not really a “hot brewery”- but it is what starts the process- to the person churning the butter.

Heaney’s environment is full of nature “coarse-grained as limestone rough-cast” this is a simile showing how the thick crust was as rough limestone, which there is a lot of in Ireland. There are no machines to make the butter with; everything is done by hand. They have to do everything by themselves. They put all their hard work into “Churning” the “butter” which makes it more valuable. Heaney even contrasts the setting milk to clotting blood, “coagulated sunlight”, this shows that the milk is beginning to set just like when blood is clotting.

There is also a realistic view of the “butter”, “house would stink” – this shows the smell in the house after the “butter” was churned, this shows that it was done by hand as if machinery was used then there would not be any smell left over. In “Churning Day” we can see Heaney is fond of nature as it brings good things, after the hard work, as the butter was made after all the hard work put into it. “An Advancement of Learning” is very important memory for Heaney as it was when he confronted “a rat”. We can see it is a very important event, as he would always be “deferring” the bridge, because it would mean coming face to face with “a rat”.

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This also shows that he would be “deferring” the move from childhood to adulthood. For Heaney it was important to cross the bridge because he would always put off the path of the bridge. But when he crosses the bridge he feels better. We can see Heaney remembers the event clearly as he describes the rat very well, “tapered tail”, “raindrop eye, the old snout”. This shows that even when he is an adult – after the event he still remembers the event and the rat very well. We can tell Heaney is narrating the story some time after the event as he “walked” across the bridge, he uses past tense. An Advancement of Learning” is also an allegory.

This is because he is not only confronting his fear about “a rat”, but also crossing a bridge to adulthood. The bridge is the main part of the poem, which shows he is actually growing up, it the walk across the bridge that could change his life. It also means leaving the childhood fun behind to become a more mature adult. He is walking the bridge to confront his fear about the rat, but I think it is an excuse. I think this because Heaney knows by this time that it is time for him to cross the line from childhood to adulthood, and that the rat was the only thing stopping him.

In my opinion Heaney knew he could confront the rat, and he knew he was ready, but the move from childhood to adulthood was the thing that was stopping him. Heaney realises that the rat is nothing compared to him, and that it is smaller than him, which means it is of no harm to him. Because Heaney had never seen the rats just heard them when they “scraped” “Behind the hen-coop” and also above his bed on the “ceiling boards” he never really finds out that they are harmless, he doesn’t know what they look like, but when he comes face to face with one he realises that having a fear of rats is for Children.

When Heaney decides to cross the bridge he is leaving all his childhood innocence and also fears. By crossing the “bridge” he brings more responsibility to himself, and also more independence. “Churning Day” and “An Advancement of Learning” have a few similarities but are also very different in many ways. “Churning Day” is a very happy and joyful day whereas “An Advancement of Learning” is very tensed and in suspense. In “Churning Day” the tone is conveyed in different ways in every Stanza. Each stanza has a different tone. In the first stanza the tone is excitement as everything is being laid out. Pottery bombs” this is a metaphor, as the pots are not really bombs; this shows the excitement in stanza one.

There is also excitement in stanza two, as the process has started, but in addition there is pain, “hands blistered” this shows how much work was going on, but it was worth it. In stanza three the excitement builds up as the “gold flecks began to dance”, this shows the butter forming. Also in this stanza a lot of “gold” is being mentioned, this shows the butter is precious. And finally in stanza four there is relief, “we moved with gravid ease” this shows the relief and the weight taken of everyone’s shoulders.

Churning Day” is all about family unity whereas “An Advancement of Learning” Heaney is on his own and has to face his fears by himself with no one there to help him through. The narrative technique in both is different; this is because in “Churning Day” Heaney is narrating as the 3rd person but he is present as he says “we”, whereas in “An Advancement of Learning” he is narrating as 1st person as he says “I”. But both poems have been narrated when he was an adult, we can see this because he uses complicated words, such as “gravid ease” (from “Churning Day”) and “Insidiously” (from “An Advancement of Learning”) meaning secretively.

We obviously know that children do not use words like that. Although in “Churning Day” Heaney uses “plash” which sounds childish, or one that he has just made up. Which shows he remembers the event clearly. In both poems Heaney has to do a lot of hard work, mentally and physically, we can see “Churning Day” is hard work because they “slugged and thumped for hours”, this shows that they had to work really hard to make the “butter”, and in “An Advancement of Learning” Heaney has to work really hard to walk the bridge, he has to build up his bravery and courage, to confront the rat and also to move from childhood to adulthood.

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Churning Day” has a slight bit of religion in it, as Heaney uses “purified”, this is not only for religion but it does remind us of religion. Whereas in “An Advancement of Learning” there is no mention of religion or there are no words that fit in with religion. Also churning day is like a ritual. And the family is united in the butter making ritual, just like people are united in the church. Heaney appreciates nature in “Churning Day” as it brings good things, for example butter. Whereas in “An Advancement of Learning” Heaney does not like nature, he does not appreciate it as much as he does in “Churning Day”.

He thinks of nature as “dirty”. The atmosphere is very different. Both poems show us that Heaney is from a farming family. There is also a lot of difference in the structure. In “Churning Day” Heaney uses a full stop at the end of each stanza, his could be to show us the next stage of the process. Also in “Churning Day” the third stanza is indented, this could be because the butter has gone from liquid to becoming a solid. In “An Advancement of Learning” Heaney uses a lot of enjambment such as “wearing” in stanza 1. This could be to continue the poem. But I think he does this to let us imagine the scene before anymore is added.

When he uses enjambment in stanza 4 “Incredibly then”, this builds up the tension and the reader wants to read on. “An Advancement of Learning” is an allegory. It has two different meanings behind it, not only confronting the rat, but also crossing the bridge from childhood to adulthood. “Churning Day” is a slight allegory as it brings out ideas of family unity. It shows family closeness as well. There are quite a few differences in the structure of each poem. “Churning Day” there are only four stanzas, with nine lines in the first and the third and eight lines in the second and last.

Whereas in “An Advancement of Learning” there are eight stanzas with four lines in each stanza. Every line does not start with capital letter and there are very few full stops, they are only there at the change of a stage. Whereas in “An Advancement of Learning” each line begins with a capital letter. There is an intendment in stanza three this could be because the butter has now turned from liquid to solid. There is not a certain rhyme scheme but the noise and the movement makes up the rhyme scheme, “plumping kettles”. There is a rhythm but it is difficult to describe.

It varies according to what is being described. That is the same as “An Advancement of Learning”. The poems do not tell us much about Heaney’s childhood. Although they do tell us a few points such as his family unity and also his fears. The poem “Churning Day” does tell us that he is happy in the simple rural life. Both the poems are very different as in “Churning Day” Heaney is with his family and they go through the whole process together. Whereas in “An Advancement of Learning” he is alone and has to come face to face with the rat himself. Heaney shows his childhood to be secure in “Churning Day”.

I can slightly relate “Churning Day ” to myself, and that is only the family unity. But I cannot relate “An Advancement of Learning” to myself, as I have not really come across anything like it. The best element of “Churning Day” is the family unity and also security because it shows the love the family has for each other. The best element of “An Advancement of Learning” is when Heaney crosses the bridge and confronts his fear and moves on as it shows bravery and courage, and victory because he stood up to the rat. Both poems are good in their own ways.

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What do the poems "Churning Day" and "An Advancement of Learning" tell us about Seamus Heaney's childhood Essay
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Seamus Heaney was born to a rural family, in 1939, in Northern Ireland. Heaney grew up on a farm, as his father was a great farmer. Heaney had great admiration for ordinary farming folk, but did not want to be a farmer himself. His poems often celebrate the skills of the ordinary rural people like the poem "Churning Day". He also deals with the loss of childhood innocence and move to adulthood like in "An Advancement of Learning". These two poems deal with simple experiences but important. His l
2017-10-17 07:01:07
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