Seamus Heany uses exciting and original methods to convey his ides and attitudes towards subjects within his poems. He explores many themes including his own childhood, admiration for his father, experiences of living on a farm and life and death from a child’s perspective. Heany’s poetry has been described as a celebration of the living past. His individual approach to the use of imagery, rhythm, ideas and literary effects have earned him great respect and recognition. The effective use of these devices within poems like ‘Midterm Break’ and ‘The Early Purges’ is especially apparent.
Heany’s poem, ‘The Early Purges’ explores his memory of the ways in which animals were treated on a farm and the changing perspective and understanding of a child to an adult. The title of the poem immediately takes us back to Heany’s childhood with ‘early’ and creates unpleasant images with ‘purges’ as this generally implies the disposal of something undesirable. By using this sort of cryptic title, Heany puts the reader in a slightly uncomfortable and expectant frame of mind.In the first line he elaborates on the title; ‘I was six’ and ‘kittens drown’ confirm that the poem is about him as a child, with a slightly shocking early introduction to death.
The words ‘first saw’ imply that this activity later became a regular part of life. This makes the reader feel sympathetic toward Heany because, seeing this at such a young age may be quite traumatic for a child. Although Heany grew up on a farm and this isn’t looked upon as a cruel action within the farming community, most people have not...
had this experience and Heany uses that knowledge to shock the reader by emphasising his youth.In the second line Heany introduces another character, Dan Taggart. He continues the cold description by using words like ‘pitched’ and quoting Dan’s unsentimental words ‘scraggy wee shits’.
The punctuation here gives the tone of words and plays on their casual manner. These words do not encourage the reader to feel sorry, but just to accept what is happening, like Heany had to. The way Heany writes the poem from the child’s perspective presents him as innocent and helpless. The first stanza is very unsentimental but the second is far more emotive. The sibilance of ‘soft paws scraping’ emphasises the animal vulnerability through sound.
He continues to evoke feelings with the visual image of ‘tiny din’ but cuts this short with a break in the line to ‘soon soused’ and the unsentimental ‘slung’. These words make Heany seem detached and uncaring, which is strange for a child. The poem continues with the view of Dan that possibly, killing the kittens is actually for the best. Heany includes this because it is a view, which will contrast with most people’s opinion.
‘Wet gloves’, ‘bobbed’ and ‘shone’ are all peculiarly pleasant ways to describe dead animals and evoke a feeling of the innocence of Heany’s childish perspective.The simplicity of the image has familiar childhood connotations of games like ‘bobbing apples’. This may suggest that, as a child, Heany has not grasped the seriousness of death. The dead kittens are ‘sluiced’, unsentimentally
out and described as being ‘glossy and dead’.
This is an unusual description because the two words are not usually associated. The third stanza finally introduces the emotion which most people expect; ‘suddenly frightened’ – Heany uses the emotion of a child to present him as vulnerable and innocent.At the end of this line he writes ‘sadly hung’ and uses the enjambment of cutting the line off to create a ‘hanging’ feeling. He uses contrasting words like ‘sogged’ then ‘mealy and crisp’ to describe what are now dehumanised ‘remains’.
These produce unpleasant senses of smell and texture, an image of decay. There is an abrupt end to what is becoming slightly sentimental when Heany says ‘until I forgot them’, this emphasises how difficult it is to tell how much something has affected a child because they tend to forget so quickly and appear completely unscathed.But Heany then returns to the presentation of the helplessness of children with ‘the fear came back’ and the trio of shocking ‘trapped’, ‘snared’ and ‘shot’. He trivialises Dan’s actions by detaching himself from them but then seems to empathise with the animals when he says ‘sickening tug’ and ‘pulled’.
As a child, Heany now appears more sensitive to the plight of animals. He moves on to change his perspective from a child’s to an adult’s. At the beginning of the sixth stanza he writes ‘still’, this makes it seem as if Heany has never really accepted that killing ‘pests’ is right, but also indicates a turning point in his opinion.Living displaces false sentiments’ shows that this way of life is most convenient though, and that he has come to understand that. The words ‘sentiments’ and ‘sense’ contrast with each other, this shows the difference between a child’s view and an adult’s.
The poem looks back at him when he was a child. It seems as if he is laughing at himself because of his naivety. ‘And now’ he describes the animals as ‘shrill’ creating an irritating image. He is completely unsentimental about prodding the animals with a mere ‘shrug’, showing how trivial it has become for him.He quotes his own unemotive words now; ‘bloody pups’ and dismisses the sentimentality of when he was a child. In the last stanza Heany makes a point of how natural death is and how the importance of a ‘well-run’ farm combats the overly sentimental view people have of animals.
The way he writes ‘cuts ice in town’ shows his criticism and distaste for people and their lack of understanding for a different way of life. He ends a poem with the blunt but adult view that on a well-run farm pests have to be kept down. This unequivocal statement makes complete sense.Throughout the poem Heany uses the constant mixture and contrast of the casual to the disturbing. He presents children as innocent and sensitive.
The effective use of contrasting vocabulary and steady rhythm give the poem a balanced feeling which results in a clear understanding of how, as perspectives change so do attitudes. Heany explores many different childhood experiences within his poetry. When he was 14, his younger brother
- Child Development
- Decision Making
- Foster Care
- Common sense
- Growing Up
- Child Observation
- Childhood Memories
- Parenting Teens
- Anorexia Nervosa
- Antisocial Personality Disorder
- Human Behavior
- Peer Pressure
- A beautiful mind
- A raisin in the sun
- A Tale Of Two Cities
- Acts Of The Apostles