Compare how the poets have used structure to contribute to the meanings of “At a Potato Digging”, one poem by Clarke and two pre-1914 poems you have studied.
At a Potato Digging by Heaney A Difficult Birth, Easter 1998 by Clarke Song of the Old Mother by Yeats On my First Sonne by Jonson
All four poems have a subject matter that is to do with loss and sadness, two connecting into political events, and each in its way has an “edge” of harshness and anger? Consider each poem and then link them back to this idea? Structures of the poems vary so it is best to look in detail at each of the poems and see how it is created, how the ideas are presented…
Farewell, thou child of my right hand and joy; My sinne was too much hope of thee, lov’d boy, Seven yeeres tho’ wert lent to me, and I thee pay, Exacted by thy fate, on the just day. Oh, could I loose all father now! For why Will man lament the state he should envie? To have so soone scap’d worlds and fleshes rage, And, if no other miserie, yet age? Rest in soft peace, and, ask’d, say, Here doth lye Ben Jonson his best piece of poetrie. For whose sake, hence-forth, all his vowes be such, As what he loves may never like too much.
Rest in soft peace, and, ask’d, say, Here doth lye Ben Jonson his best piece of poetrie.
Structural features • Direct address to the dead child; • Rhetorical questions; • Use of rhyming couplets; • Use of epigram at end of poem; • Extended metaphor of loans and paying back gives unity • to the poem; • Seventeenth century spelling • retained.
Song of the Old Mother Irise in the dawn, and I kneel and blow Till the seed of the fire flicker and glow; And then I must scrub and bake and sweep Till stars are beginning to blink and peep;
And the young lie long and dream in their bed Of the matching of ribbons for bosom and head, And their day goes over in idleness, And they sigh if the wind but lift a tress:
While I must work because I am old, And the seed of the fire gets feeble and cold.
Irise in the dawn, and I kneel and blow Till the seed of the fire flicker and glow; And then I must scrub and bake and sweep Till stars are beginning to blink and peep; And the young lie long and dream in their bed Of the matching of ribbons for bosom and head, And their day goes over in idleness, And they sigh if the wind but lift a tress: While I must work because I am old, And the seed of the fire gets feeble and cold.
Use of first person to give immediacy; • Monologue; • Rhyming couplets; • Domestic vocabulary: scrub and bake and sweep; • Onomatopoeic quality of sighing and tresses; • The rhythm of a song, one can imagine a tune; • Metaphor of dying fire. Structural features of“Song of the Old Mother”
At a Potato Digging At a potato digging Seamus Heaney
1. A mechanical digger wrecks the drill, Spins up a dark shower of roots and mould. Labourers swarm behind, stoop to fill Wicker creels. Fingers go dead in the cold. Like crows attacking crow-black fields, they stretch A higgledy line from hedge to headland; Some pairs keep breaking ragged ranks to fetch A full creel to the pit and straighten, stand Tall for a moment but soon stumble back To fish a new load from the crumbled surf. Heads bow, trunks bend, hands fumble towards the black Mother. Processional stooping through the turf Recurs mindlessly as autumn. Centuries Of fear and homage to the famine god Toughen the muscles behind their humbled knees, Make a seasonal altar of the sod.
2. Flint-white, purple. They lie scattered like inflated pebbles. Native to the black hutch of clay where the halved seed shot and clotted these knobbed and slit-eyed tubers seem the petrified hearts of the drills. Split by the spade, they show white as cream. Good smells exude from crumbled earth. The rough bark of humus erupts knots of potatoes (a clean birth) whose solid feel, whose wet inside promises taste of ground and root. To be buried in pits; live skulls, blind-eyed.
3. Live skulls, blind-eyed, balanced on wild higgledy skeletons scoured the land in ‘forty-five wolfed the blighted root and died. The new potato, sound as stone, putrefied when it had lain three days in the long clay pit. Millions rotted along with it. Mouths tightened in, eyes died hard, faces chilled to a plucked bird. in a million wicker huts beaks of famine snipped at guts. A people hungering from birth, grubbing, like plants, in the bitch earth, were grafted with a great sorrow. Hope rotted like a marrow. Stinking potatoes fouled the land, pits turned pus into filthy mounds: and where potatoes diggers are you still smell the running sore.
4. Under a gay flotilla of gulls The rhythm deadens, the workers stop. Brown bread and tea in bright canfuls Are served for lunch. Dead-beat they flop Down in the ditch and take their fill, Thankfully breaking timeless fasts; Then, stretched on the faithless ground, spill Libations of cold tea, scatter crumbs.
Structure of At a Potato Digging • Four separate sections, each dealing with different aspect, first and fourth linking to present. • Different rhyming patterns in each section. • Powerful use of repeated words and phrases. • Movements in a symphony? • Breakdown of patterns in final line. • Wealth of images. • Much alliteration evident. • Symbolism? Work as digging into past… • Religion, ritual and ceremony integral to poem. Microscope image of potato blight
A Difficult Birth, Easter 1998 Gillian Clarke
A Difficult Birth, Easter 1998 An old ewe that somehow till this yearhad given the ram the slip. We thought her barren.Good Friday, and the Irish peace deal close,and tonight she’s serious, restless and hoofing the straw.We put off the quiet supper and bottle of winewe’d planned, to celebrate if the news is good. Her waters broke an hour ago and she’s sippedher own lost salty ocean from the ground. While they slog it out in Belfast, eight decadessince Easter 1916, exhausted, tamed by pain,she licks my fingers with a burning tongue,lies down again. Two hooves and a muzzle.
But the lamb won’t come. You phone for helpand step into the lane to watch for car lights.This is when the whitecoats come to the women,well meaning, knowing best, with their needles and forceps.But the lamb won’t come. You phone for helpand step into the lane to watch for car lights.This is when the whitecoats come to the women,well meaning, knowing best, with their needles and forceps. So I ease my fingers in, take the slippery headin my right hand, two hooves in my left. We strain together, harder than we dared.I feel a creak in the limbs and pull till he comesin a syrupy flood. She drinks him, famished, and you find uspeaceful, at a cradling that might have been a death.Then the second lamb slips through her opened door,the stone rolled away.
Structure of A Difficult Birth • Stanzas of regular length and a loosely iambic metre. • The last line, the miracle has occurred, is shorter than the rest. • Broken sentences as if thinking aloud. • Extended metaphor of cradling that might have been a death. • Juxtaposition of political events/birth of lamb. • Reference to Christianity, • “stone rolled away” also links disparate events. • Contrasting worlds of women and men.
Remember the structure we started with? All four poems have a subject matter that is to do with loss and sadness, two connecting into political events, and each in its way has an “edge” of harshness and anger? Consider each poem and then link them back to this idea? Structures of the poems vary so it is best to look in detail at each of the poems and see how it is created, how the ideas are presented…
1.Final lines: Old Mother and First Sonne take us back into the poem... Potato Digging and Difficult Birth take us up and out as if the camera were panning away from the scene?
2. Central images: • lending and paying back, • the seeds of the fire • digging, skulls, death, famine, • and religious ceremony • cradling that might have • been a death
3. The “tune” of each poem… Look at the mood, the atmosphere, the “soundscape” of each. Say how a reading of key lines from the poems conveys the main meanings. If each poem were to be sung what kind of song would it create?