Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Analysis of "Follower" by Seamus Heaney

Original poem reprinted online here: "Follower" by Seamus Heaney
Originally read: January 26, 2013
More information about the Poet: Seamus Heaney

So the poem is in rhymed quatrains that works sort of like a question and answer poem.  The first three  stanza sets up a certain question and the last three stanzas answer the question.

The first three stanzas define the "Follower" as the father.  A person who, for generations probably, worked the field.  The single statement of "An expert" actually made me see the poem in a different way when I reread this today.  Past me wrote, "The fragment sets up a distinct definition, and the following sentences -- discussing of technique with no description shows expertise."  Maybe I'm not looking at the poem at this angle at this time.

Currently, I'm thinking how to be an expert at something, and placement.  For a horse-plough there's the horse, who is in front, and the person who is in "control," in the back.  To be an expert, the person in in charge has to understand how to handle the horse which he/she is following behind to make sure; conversely, the horse has to follow the orders of the handler to the best of it's abilities.  And within the last stanza, the speaker shows how observant the father is about his situation, area, and duty.

So there's basically the conundrum set up:  what does it mean to be a good follower and who is the follower?  What does it mean to be a good leader and who is the leader?  What does it mean to be a "sweating team" or just a team?

The introduction of the "I" comes in -- somewhat bumbling, but switches the roles continuously, "sometimes he rode me on his back."  I wrote, "the construction is a bit awkward here.  Father/son, shouldn't it be son/father here?"

Past me points out something that I'm trying to elaborate here -- in the last three stanzas, I feel the speaker is trying to define roles through the passage of time.  When the speaker was younger he was the follower but unconsciously aware of place, in the fifth stanza the speaker decides he wants to be a follower and mimics the motions of "an expert" (note: not "the") and in doing so, fails in being a shadow, but succeeds on being more self aware ("I was a nuisance, tripping, falling, / Yapping always") the speaker notes this about himself and gains a feeling of remorse perhaps.

The last two lines are in a different tone, I feel, than the rest of the poem, "It is my father who keeps stumbling / Behind me, and will not go away."  In two lines, the speaker takes the position of the one in charge (the horse in a sense), and the father, like a failed ghost, stumbles (note: not exactly haunt) behind the speaker.

I wrote this down for the last stanza, "The end is predictable: father and son poem.  Even the rhyme scheme over accentuates a separation (but a lingering closeness).  I would've wanted this poem to be a bit longer.  I enjoyed the first three stanzas (technique and content) than the last three."

So I disagree with the past me critique somewhat.  After the third stanza with the introduction of the I, yes, the poem becomes a typical father/son regret poem which is punctuated with regret in the last two lines.  However, I think I can read this as a meta-poetic piece about what it means to be an expert and/or a follower -- or delve deeper into the relationship between father and son through the lens of expert and follower (which is pretty scientific terms).  In any case, there's more to the poem that I see now.  And probably won't be able to decipher until more time passes.

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