I found the work on these poems quite interesting, as the topic they covered, child/parent relationships is something we can all relate to as it is something we all have, or wish we have. I have never read any poem by either of these two poets, even though Seamus Heaney is quite a well known local poet. Both of these poems are quite memorable and well written. Both poems have a lot of feeling and both seem to seem like they are based on the poet’s true feelings towards the parent he was writing about in the poem. Seamus Heaney is a local poet, born in 1939 on a small farm in County Derry.
At the age of twelve he was awarded a scholarship to St. Columb’s College in Derry. He went on to Queens University. The first verses he wrote was when he was a young teacher. Years later in 1995, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature and in 1996, he was made a Commandeur de L’Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture. “When all the Others” is a poem written by Seamus Heaney about a memory of his mother that he found special and still remembers to this day. The poem is titled “When all the Others” as it is the beginning of the poem.
The poem is laid out as a Sonnet and in the octave the memory is told, and in the sestet the theme is developed and the poem jumps forward to the death of his mother. The octave and sestet are connected closely as in the octave we learn of a memory he had where he felt close to his mother and in the sestet we learn that had been the closest to his mother he had been and I believe that by writing of her death, he is telling us how special he finds that memory, even though it is so simple it can be written in eight lines. The memory he tells us isn’t something I would find special as it is about peeling potatoes with his mother.
However, as you read it you realise he finds special the fact they were working together, and even though not a word is said you can tell he believes he and his mother bonded more in that one simple task than they had ever done. Throughout the poem there is a linking of sound with the last word of the first line and the last word on the second line. It becomes more accurate in the sestet. In the first two lines of the octave the events of Heaney’s memory are established; we learn that the rest of his family were away at mass and that he was “all hers” as they peeled potatoes.
The alliteration here could have been used to draw attention onto what he and his mother were doing. The words “all hers” give us a good idea of how he felt about the situation; that he was delighted to be alone with his mother. On the third line we learn that he and his mother weren’t speaking (as the falling of the potatoes broke the silence). “One by one” could be there to emphasise how the chore is repetitive. The fourth line seems out of place and could of simply been added so “weeping” was there which could been a link to the sestet. Alliteration is used again here on “cold comforts”.
This I believe means that he and his mother had some comfort in that each one of them were doing the same cold task. The end of line five gives us another insight into how he felt about this chore; he was sharing the memories with his mother. Describing the splashes as “pleasant” in the sixth line could be Heaney’s way of putting his mood and feelings into the poem. The ending of the octave could mean that as the work went on, they became more aware of each other. In the sestet the poem leaps forward many years to the bedside of his dying mother.
In the first two lines describing the priest as going “hammer and tongs” tells us possibly he was slightly annoyed that the priest wasn’t putting more care into the prayers and that the priest maybe had no emotional attachment to his mother. The fact he mentions the Priest could possibly be a link to the octave and the fact he and his mother only had that time together because the rest of his family was at Mass listening to a priest. The eleventh to thirteenth lines tell us that he neither responded to the priest nor cried instead he recalled the memory he wrote about in the octave.
The last line; “never closer the whole rest of our lives” makes it clear to us that he never felt more close to his mother than he had while peeling the potatoes with her all those years ago. I found this poem quite moving in a sense it is a grown man writing down the memory in which he was the most intimate with his mother, the parent many of us are the most closest to. I also think he was quite brave to publish this poem as the memory is quite personal to him, Robert Hayden was an African American poet who grew up in a Detroit ghetto which must be where the memories from his poem came from.
The strange thing is Hayden didn’t live with his family but instead a foster family who lived next door. He finished school in 1932 and got into Detroit City College through a scholarship. He enrolled for an English Literature masters in 1941 and graduated in 1942. He went on to teach until 1969. “Those Winter Sundays” is quite a depressing poem. It tells us of Hayden’s father who self sacrificed his day off and went through pain to get up early and light the fire for his family, yet he was never thanked for it. It goes onto tell us he’d wake his family only when the rooms were warm.
Hayden does mention once a reason as to possibly why he never thanked him in the line “fearing the chronic angers”. So it could possibly be he never thanked his father and spoke indifferently to him as he was scared of being shouted at or worse. What’s worse is how the poem ends, with Hayden realising his father showed the love for him through getting up early and polishing his shoes for him, but now it is too late to thank him. Also even though it doesn’t exactly keep to all the traditional rules of a sonnet e. g. having an octave and a sestet, but it is one as it is fourteen lines long and tries to keep each line ten syllables long.
The first two lines of “Those Winter Sundays” simply set the scene. That his father got up early every day including Sundays and got ready to face the “blueblack cold”. This adjective is there to describe the darkness of the morning. The third and forth lines of the poem tells us that he had a manual labour job during the week that was out side as the weather cracked his hands. “Cracked” and “ached” have a rhyme to them that could be there to stress the pain his father was in. The last line tells us what his father was getting up for; to make “banked fires blaze”. Alliteration is used here to make the task his father done stand out.
He got up early to make the house warm for his family. The ending of the first stanza has a shock to it; “no one ever thanked him” even though throughout it Hayden has been writing of the trouble his father went to. In the next stanza, he focuses on that Sunday, and how he awoke to hear the fire that was part of his fathers routine mentioned in the first stanza. The first line of the second stanza seems to have two meanings, when he awake he’d hear the fire, but as well as that the cold was being “destroyed” by the fire; as you can’t hear the “cold splintering, breaking”.
When the rooms were warm he’d call”; this line hints at the care his father had for Hayden and his family, only waking them to a warm house. The last two lines of the stanza have yet another surprise ending but may explain the ending of the first stanza. The ending here could explain why he lived with a foster family later on, that anger in the house is as part of the routine as the fire itself. The “chronic angers” mentioned here are not built on, so we don’t know what has been happening.
The beginning of the third stanza seems to point at the father as being the cause of the “chronic angers” as Hayden spoke indifferently to him even though we have learnt of the trouble his father has gone to for him and his family. Through out the poem there is a sense of the house slowly heating, from the fire being light to the “cold splintering breaking”. That ends on the tenth line; “the man who had driven out the cold”. We then go onto hear about extra trouble his father had gone to for him; in the line “and polished my good shoes as well”.
The final two lines there is a feeling of regret on Hayden’s part. What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices? ” This rhetorical question seems like Hayden is pleading he knew of how love doesn’t have to be expressed as emotionally as it often is. It was only now that when he was older and his father was dead that he realised that his father didn’t have to go to the trouble of lighting the fire and polishing his shoes, these acts were out of love for his son and family. Before this assignment I have never had to look at poems in such a detailed manner before and I have only realised now at how much work is put into poems and that many have hidden meanings and allegories in them.
Of the two poems I have looked at my favourite has to be “When all the Others” by Seamus Heaney as it is more uplifting while “Those Winter Sundays” as Robert Hayden ends his poem with regret and remorse. I also prefer the poem by Heaney simply for the story it tells. Although I found both poems moving for the different messages each one contained. Both poems however make me realise that the time I have with my parents is special and when I can, I should make the most of it.