Heaney and Clarke poetry GCSE English Literature

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Heaney and Clarke & Pre ­ 1914 poetry
Seamus Heaney
Storm on the Island
Humans prepare for a storm.
The storm can neither be seen nor touched.
Its effects are profound.
Structure
This poem opens with a simple statement storms are not unusual and the
people who live on the island are prepared for them. The earth is their
sanctuary. They ` sink walls in rock' (line 2) and describe the slate that roofs
them are `good'. The earth is not fertile, it is `wizened' and has never produced
hay. At least there is no danger that this could be blown around. The wind is
their enemy, the threat comes from the very air that we breathe you cannot
even see it. You can only see its effects on trees, for example, but there are
none on the island. As a result you cannot `listen to the things you fear'. If there
were trees you could imagine that the wind beats only them but without them
the wind appears to be everywhere. There can be no escape as the air and
danger are all around you. The effects of the sea cannot be contained either. It
transforms the sea into ` a tame cat / turned savage' the sea doesn't just beat
the cliffs. The spray is thrown up on the houses all they can do is to `just sit
tight' whilst they feel as if they are under attack from the wind which behaves
like an enemy fighter that drives strafes and bombs. The closing line sums up
the absurdity of the situation all that preparation, all that power, yet when all is
said and done, it is a `huge nothing we fear'.
Style
Seamus Heaney speak to the reader directly, the poem has a conversational
as if he is by our side, sharing his thoughts ` you know what I mean' he says.
The verse itself is broken up , reflecting the effect of the storm . Long
sentences are set against short phrases. Lines 511 are a good example of
this and can be compared with the short sentences that end the poem.
Themes
At the of the poem we are reminded that the force of the force is unseen. It
has no substance yet it is everywhere . It cannot be touched or contained `It is
a huge nothing that we fear'. The air is everywhere. It surrounds us. It is an
essential part of our lives, we breathe it. Yet in a storm something turns it
savage. All humans can do is hide away by burrowing into the ground. When
one elementthe airturns against us all we can do is to take shelter in another
the earth.

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Page 2

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Links
Elements of air, earth and water.…read more

Page 3

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Death of a Naturalist
Seamus Heaney would visit the flax dam to collect frogspawn
He particularly enjoyed watching it develop under the guidance of his
teacher.
However on a return visit, he is overwhelmed by a sense of fear.
He feels threatened by the frogs that live there.
Structure
The title is significant. Because of what he sees at the dam, something in him
dies ­ his innocent uncomplicated view of nature is destroyed. Nature is not
what he thought it was.…read more

Page 4

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They are `slime kings ... gathered there for vengeance' against
the boy who collected the spawn.
Style
The first verse is similar to the image presented by ` John Clare' in his ` Sonnet'
but as the poem develops there is the sudden intrusion of a different
perception. Like Gillian Clarke, he employs close and informed description of
the world and relates it to other issues.…read more

Page 5

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He cut the peat that
keeps his family warm. The sloppy way that he took him his milk is contrasted
with the neat precision of his work. It was the work which kept him in touch with
the earth. This is emphasised by the single word ` digging' that repeats the title.
As he remembers this his other senses are reawakened.…read more

Page 6

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They
hope that the machine that reveals the potatoes will keep the famine away and
so they will serve it . The hard physical labour of bending and picking is
described. The earth is the `black mother' , might turn against them once more.
So their act of homage is repeated every year and the ground they turn over
becomes like an altar before which they bow and upon which they offer the
potatoes that are revealed, to keep the `famine god' away.…read more

Page 7

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The doubt however is always there, the ground is `faithless'. The blight
could return and devastate their lives once more, so their careless spills are
like and offering to god to help the famine stay away.
Style
The metrical arrangement of the poem serves to underline the poet's meaning.
In the first section, set in the present, there is a clear pattern representing the
steady repetitive nature of their work.…read more

Page 8

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I wrote/ all over the walls with my words.' Birth
creates two separate individuals where previously there was one, but the
struggle is a tender one, because their love will always connect them. Birth is a
physical separation but iis not an emotional separation. The idea runs on into
the second verse. It was not a struggle that could end in victory or defeat. It
was more properly a starting point in a new relationship.…read more

Page 9

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This is connected with the Good Friday peace negotiations in Northern
Ireland.
Gillian Clarke helps deliver the lamb.
She is surprised when a second lamb appears unexpectedly.
Structure
As usual with Clarke the first sentence clearly establishes the context of the
poem. An old ewe is about to give birth for the first time. This is a metaphor for
the emergence of a peace agreement in Northern Ireland. After a long and
barren time, there is to be new birth, a new chance for life.…read more

Page 10

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Suddenly on Good Fruday there is
promise of new life. Everything could have gone wrong . The lamb could have
died the peace process could have collapsed but `the stone rolled away' just
as the stone rolled away from Christ's tomb, indicating his resurrection.
Themes
The huge significance of burth that we have seen in `Catrin' is explored once
more. Any birth is difficult and painful ­ whether human, animal or political ­ but
remains a positive life ­ giving experience.…read more

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