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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mid-Term Break - Seamus Heaney

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o'clock our neighbors drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying-
He had always taken funerals in his stride-
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were "sorry for my trouble,"
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room.  Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks.  Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year.


Last night, in my considerations of Robert Frost, and how his poetry does nothing for me, I wondered about the dimensions of his poetry.  Prominent among them was rhyme.  Here, I am reminded that a well placed rhyme can add weight and emotional impact to a poem.

The ending two lines, and the rhyme of clear and year, drives home the absence of the poet's younger sibling very strongly, making it impossible to escape the sad reality of his all too early death.  I love the way the Heaney substitutes details of physical aspects of the event for emotion.  It's a coping mechanism many employ (I know I like to be detail-oriented when I'm distraught) and it's conveyed in a very natural way.

In an earlier post, we saw death turned into a chair.  Here, death is a box, likened to a cot (a resting place), but really, death is in the details, for Heaney.  It's a coping mechanism that provides less long-time solace than turning one's dead into a chair, but is valuable in the short tern nonetheless.

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