A Constable Calls - Seamus Heaney

A Constable Calls by Seamus Heaney revision notes


Content and Themes


The poem's literal meaning is: an officer of the law has come to visit Heaney and his family to assess their crops. The poem portrays the fear he felt, as Catholic families feared and distrusted the Protestant police


Distrust, fear, how conflict can ensue, how powerless people in the face of authority and how overactive a childlike mind can be.

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Stanza 1 Analysis

'bicycle', 'rubber cowl of a mud-splasher', 'mudguard', 'fat black handlegrips' - Heaney associates the police officer strongly with material possessions. This description is ugly and displays a more sickened and disasteful tone. The use of assonance here also reinforces the colour black and the childs fear of it. Furthermore,  Heaney chooses words that tell us how Catholic families on farms viewed the police. The child Heaney imagines that the bicycle was as horrible as the policeman. In his imagination, the bicycle was alive (personification), It was ‘fat’ and it ‘stood ’frightening the child Heaney.

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Stanza 2 Analysis

'Spud of the dynamo'  - a part that you don’t normally find on a bicycle today:. Nowadays, batteries power bicycle lights.

'cocked back'-  That phrase reminds us of the trigger of a gun. It shows that Heaney thought the policeman was dangerous. The policeman seemed to be prepared for violence. The words show us the fear young Heaney had.
Then Heaney shows his feeling that the policeman was a heavy man. He suggests that the pedal was relieved when the policeman got off. This description shows the boy’s fear:

‘the boot of the law’ - The 'boot' is associated with agression and its used in this metaphor to convey the authority. Heaney felt the boot might injure his family. He thought the policeman was violent. Perhaps Heaney felt the law was not on his family’s side. Law existed to kick you or control you if you were a Catholic.

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Stanza 3 Analysis

'His cap was upside down on the floor' - Heaney’s father did not politely take the policemans hat from him. This suggests that he disrespects the policeman and that he has something against him
Heaney also describes the mark made by the rim of the cap on the policeman’s sweaty hair. The description seems to be of an unpleasant nature, showing his view of this intruding police officer

Heaney is focusing on the props throughout the poem, in this stanza it is the police officers uniform. The policeman’s uniform represents the power and authority he has over the Heaney family which is something Heaney evidents that he dislikes.

The policeman may not of been relaxed talking to a hostile farmer as we see his 'slightly sweating hair'. However, it may of just been because he is worn out after his cycle - suggesting that he is overweight or unfit.

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Stanza 4 Analysis

In the fourth stanza, Heaney describes the record book of the policeman:

‘heavy ledger’ -  This is the policeman’s most important prop.
The word ‘heavy’ suggsts a birden on Heaney's family that could cause a lot of trouble to them..
Heaney's childlike language describes how terrified and fearful he is of this police officer.

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Stanza 5 Anlaysis

"Arithmetic and fear. I sat staring at the polished holster" - The word 'fear' conveys the atmosphere within the household that is demonstrated by his family. This also suggests that Heaneyfinds the visit of the officer very stressful and his anxiety is palpable in this quote. Furthermore, Heaney is constantly observing the 'polished holster' in great detail within this stanza as if it is a threat to him demonstrating the tension in Northern Ireland at the time.

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Stanza 6 Analysis

The poet portrays a distrust between a Protestant policeman and a Catholic farmer: 'Any other root crops? Mangolds? Marrowstems? Anything like that? No'. His fathers brevity of speech suggests his hatred of the police officer, making his job as difficult as possible

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