In the majority of Seamus Heaney poems, the presentation of a place or setting is very important. In both of these poems, it is evident throughout. In Broagh, the Irish poetic technique named Dinnshenchas is employed, the literal Irish meaning being “place lore”. Through this, the poet explores the naming of the place and can often draw parallels between the name of the place and the setting’s characteristics. In Broagh, the description portrays a wild piece of land, unkept and uncultivated, with phrases such as broad docken.
This image is reflected by the name of the place, Broagh. It has a rough ending, which also happens to be rather hard to say for those not familiar with the Irish tongue, just as they would find it difficult to manage such a wild piece of land. Here is where I believe both the place and its name are becoming one. In The Other Side, Dinnshenchas isn’t used. In its place, a more typical, deep description of the place.
The place itself isn’t actually named, but its apparent it’s farmland, with describing the land as acres(acres in reference to how much land they farm) and the reference to their being a divider(stream) between theirs and their neighbours. This is where I shall make my first parallel between the two poems. Through the description use din both, it is apparent that the land isn’t of very good quality, in Broagh moreso, but perhaps more importantly in The Other Side since that is farmland, providing money for the whole of the family.
In Broagh, there is mould and long rigs, implying the land hasn’t been looked after for a long time, as both of these problems would’ve been eradicated if it had been. In The Other Side, the land is kept, but not of the best of quality. References such as fallow, which is in reference to how the land cant grow those essential crops, because its too wet, shown by him mentioning there being marsh weeds. This is obviously not good for crop growing land. One of suggestion of the land being of not so good quality is the reference of there being next season’s tares.
This is an indication that there have been problems with weeds growing on the land before and next seasons crop is likely to be hampered by the same predicament. Heaney personifies Broagh when he uses the term bruises easily. Bruising is something we associate with humans and it could be in reference with its past, where the English invaded and how it’s just as vulnerable to damage now as then, especially with it being unkept, with no one looking after it. The theme of vulnerability can be seen in The Other Side too.
A young Heaney was undoubtedly intimidated by the neighbouring farmer and thus felt very vulnerable, shown by how he was seen swinging his blackthorn, which could be in an aggressive manner, which perhaps would’ve scared Heaney and also, the word blackthorn, although in this instance only being a walking stick, is a threatening word and would look frightening also. Heaney is both Roman Catholic and an Irish Nationalist, with both of these beliefs shown in The Other Side and Broagh respectively.
In The Other Side, there is a very strong theme of religion, the contrasts of a Roman Catholic’s fortunes and that of a Protestant. A younger Heaney believed it unfair that this neighbouring farmer should have all the fortune, as he had promised furrows, like the Jews had the Promised Land and how those furrows are on the hill, away from the flooding that plagues Heaney’s family, so he can at least have a decent crop. The religious theme in the poem doesn’t stop there though, with various other references such as rosary and texts(religious texts).
The poem climaxes with Heaney having grown up, not being the youngster that was having those thoughts in the first 2 sections. He notes the man’s respect for their denomination, how he’s now not as daunting, not as overbearing as the man that once laid his shadow on the stream, a metaphor used to represent the neighbour’s nature. The nationalism I mentioned earlier is emphasised in Broagh. The English invasion is a theme in many of his poems and his views are well publicised.
Although the English have invaded the country and the land, a crucial consolation to Heaney is that they haven’t made extinct the Irish language, so he can still use the language he loves. The issue of ownership is in both of the poems. In The Other Side, it’s all about how the man whom they border with has got the better deal, how he owns the better plot of land. In Broagh, it’s how the English have invaded the country, where the land is contaminated by the English invaders.
The words Heaney uses in Broagh, like strangers, show in my opinion how the English aren’t accepted by the people of Ireland, just as the English didn’t want to accept the language of Ireland, how they couldn’t cope with it or pronounce words like Broagh properly, so they anglicise it to make It easier it for themselves, showing no respect for the language. In Broagh, the title is explained in the first line, as Heaney knows its not a word commonly used. It is, in my opinion, because he knows the English readers can’t cope with the word, just as the invaders couldn’t many years before.