Collated notes- Heaney and Clarke

Detailed notes collated of Heaney and Clarke poems 

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Babysitting by Gillian Clarke
Main Ideas
Tells of when she was babysitting and how as the baby is not her own she cannot
love her, and how she cannot replace her mother, as the baby will still feel abandoned
The powerful tie between a mother and child which cannot be replaced
Fear for this child with whom she cannot bond with, and the feelings of
abandonment which the babysitter cannot prevent
Sympathy with a baby who will not be able to understand her suffering, making it
Two stanzas, first tells of babysitters feelings, second of baby's.
Relaxed rhythm, some iambic pentameter e.g. lines 17-18 gives thoughtful sound,
adds to emotions in the poem.
Told in first person, and present tense, so reader feels as if they are there, and gives
a sense of panic as it is a current situation, the ending is unknown
Repetition of "wrong" emphasises how strange the situation is, and that there is a
right baby
Enjambment over lines 2 & 3 suggest she doesn't love at all, then next line reveals it
is just this baby she does not love
Alliteration of "s" sounds soft and loving, showing a knowledge of babies and general
acceptance of them
Caesura after statement "I am afraid of her." Allows reader to pause and reflect on
this strange statement, following a gentle description
Long sentence (enjambment) over lines 7-10 gives a panicked sound, like the poet
trying to deal with the screaming baby she does not love
"Perfume/ of her breath will fail to enchant me" suggests something pleasant she
wants to but cannot appreciate, not that it is horrible. Implies Clarke knows the
experience of being enchanted by a baby's breath
Enjambment over lines 11-12 means "Abandonment" comes as a shock to the
reader. Alliteration of "absolute / Abandonment" shows a complete feeling of loss
Comparison to adult experiences of loss, perhaps suggesting that the confused pain
of the baby is worse than the knowing pain she may experience as an adult.
Repetition of "It will not come. It will not come." Shows how the baby will find
neither milk nor comfort as Clarke is not her mother

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A Difficult Birth, Easter 1998 by Gillian Clarke
Main Ideas
Tells three stories together
o The birth of twin lambs
o The Easter story
o The making of peace agreements in Ireland
The struggle of bringing life
Determination to succeed without intervention from others
Giving up hope, and then refreshed hope, or birth, peace, and Jesus' resurrection
Four equal six lined stanzas, no rhyme pattern
Set out structure seems to contrast seemingly unplanned events of the evening, but could
suggest how everything has…read more

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Cold Knap Lake - Gillian Clarke
Gillian Clarke faintly remembers a crowd pulling a drowned child from a lake in Barry, South
Wales. The poem emphasises her childish adoration for her mother as she rescues the
almost dead child, she is "a heroine". This love for her mother is contrasted with the acts of
her father, who takes the child home where she is thrashed.…read more

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· "The child breathed, bleating" - alliteration and assonance, the long vowels create a sense
of breathlessness while the comma symbolises the beating of the heart, its rhythm
stopping for a moment, but then continuing to the next line through enjambment. Bleating,
like a lamb, shows the child's dependence on Clarke's mother.
The lake symbolises Clarke's childhood, more specifically her memory as a child. As a child
Clarke lived by Cold Knap Lake and always watched the swans beat their wings.…read more

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The Field Mouse
Main Ideas:
Set at harvest time in the early 90's; there's a war going on in the former-Yugoslavia. Throughout the
poem Clarke feels guilty because the UK didn't help with the war.
Stanza 1: Describes a peaceful summer's day, the poet's family are cutting hay on a farm
Stanza 2: A child comes over holding a dying mouse this makes the poet thing about the innocent
victims of the war who are often children, weak and vulnerable.…read more

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We are reminded that even a peaceful activity like hay making contains violence. Clarke
acknowledges her guilt as she looks at the mouse "we have crushed". Seems to
suggest that violence can be unintentional, or that we are all guilty for war.
· Parallels between hay making and war run throughout the poem.…read more

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Storm on the Island by Seamus Heaney
Themes: Nature, Danger, Imagery, Politics
Main ideas:
Describes the effects of a fierce storm on the inhabitants of an island. They prepare
for the storm but once it starts they feel scared.
Deeper meaning: The poem describes how we feel when we are threatened. It
talks about; fear, fright and security in the face of conflict.
Despite the confident start, by the end Heaney admits being afraid: "It is a huge
nothing that we fear".…read more

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Direct address: "You know what I mean..." ­ Makes the poem seem scarier as
Heaney is talking directly to you.
Oxymoron: "Exploding comfortably" ­ Mixes the ideas of fear and safety.
Present tense: "But there are no trees..." ­ Creates a sense of drama and
reinforces the idea that storms occur often. Could be a reference to the many years
of ongoing fighting in Ireland.
War-like language: "Space is a salvo. We are bombarded." ­ Used to emphasise
the violence of the storm.…read more

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Death of a Naturalist
Main Ideas
Transition from child to adult- sexualisation of the world, loss of innocence and need
to grow up and face realities of life
The death of childhood dreams and interests
Attitudes towards nature- fear, love, interest
War between man and nature, and easiness of moving from love to fear
Interest, a desire to explore the natural world and learn more of it, like a naturalist
Love of nature, like a naturalist
Fear of the power of nature
Disgust at…read more

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The frogs are described as war like and like the mills hand bomb.
Enjambment shows excitement and fear.
'The great slime kings' Child imagination, and a nightmare: Role reversal. - Similar to
'Follower' as now the frogs are bigger
Thus makes Heaney appear smaller as he is scared of frogs.
Disgusting imagery and description of the frogs make the reader empathise.…read more


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