eamus Heaney and Carol Anne Duffy

Heaney and Duffy’s poems are very much about childhood and growing up, yet they are both very different. Duffy’s poems show her relationships with people, so does Heaney’s but some of Heaney’s poems are more about serious issues e. g. the poem “Mid-Term Break”. Many of Heaney’s poems were written from past experiences; he grew up on a farm and many of his poems are about life on a farm, or similar surroundings e. g. “The Barn” and “Digging”. The similarities of the two poets are that they both relate to past experiences, and in most of their poems, we can regard the speaker or voice being the poet himself/herself.

Their childhood memories are quite different. Duffy’s are much more about school and family, whereas Heaney’s are more about his experiences on the farm. He describes the way he admires and values his father’s skill in “Digging” and he looks at the unsentimental way in which animals were treated on farms in “The Early Purges”. In “Before You Were Mine”, Duffy writes to her mother, having seen a photo of her mother as a teenager and in “In Mrs Tilscher’s Class” she remembers her last year in primary school when she was in a geography class.

Both poets speak about their life as a child, but by them writing about the past and not directly being the children in the present. The poems portray to us that the children’s view of life is very different to the view of adults, as children have so much freedom and so little responsibility. Which is what Duffy’s “In Mrs Tilscher’s Class” describes to us. Both poets describe difficulties in growing up. Neither of the poets talk about how they want childhood back, but they both describe how they are looking forward to properly growing up.

For example, in the last paragraph of Duffy’s “In Mrs Tilscher’s class”, she talks about “That feverish July”, “Sexy sky”, “Impatient to be grown”, and “The split sky open into a thunderstorm” which all portrays to us that she is excited about the idea of growing up. This tells us that she wants to conserve her childhood by having vivid memories of it. Heaney is hesitant to let go of his childhood, but in the end he accepts that he has to let go. Whereas Duffy is impatient to let go, and is excited about the thrill of growing up.

Heaney’s poetry is all about his rural life on his farm, whereas Duffy’s is more about her city life. This is one difference between their poems. Both poets make links between the past and the present. In “The Captain of the 1964 Top of the forum Team” She oozes out all these snatches of memory, telling us about the past, but then goes back to the present by saying: “I want it back”. This is not Duffy speaking here, as she creates a persona. In “Digging”, Heaney talks about the past history of his father and grandfather and how they used to dig, but then looks to the future by saying, “I’ll dig with it”.

This brings you back to the present and makes you look to the future. When the two poets talk about the past, I think Heaney is very much unearthing his past to find out who he really is, and to understand himself more whereas Duffy prefers to write about the past perhaps just for the pleasure. Their language is very powerful in all their poems, but the poets use language quite differently. Both Heaney and Duffy use the first person, which may mean it is a real experience. They also both use the second person to tell their stories; this draws the reader in.

Both poets create personas in their poems, Heaney creates the boy in “Early Purges” and Duffy creates the boring middle-aged man in “The Captain of the 1964 Top of the Forum Team”. The tenses used in the poems are a mixture of past and present. Heaney uses the past, present and future in “Digging” where it is the present when he starts, in the middle it is the past and he finishes with the future. In “Before you were mine”, Duffy uses the present and in “Litany” she uses the past. I think they do this to create a slight sense of realism, to give the poems more depth and history.

The language used in the poems contains some striking words and phrases that would have been used by a child. In Heaney’s poems he uses “Daddy frog and Mammy frog”, which is the type of language that children would use, and “Their blunt heads farted”, which shows that he has grown up, as this is language used by an older child. His poems are very simple and he makes “Mid-Term Break” as simple as he can get it. The last line of “Mid-Term Break” is very striking: “A four foot box, a foot for every year” It is so striking to us because of the finality of the statement.

In the way that the size of the coffin is compared to the age of the child, makes it uneasy to take in. The fact that the child is only four years old, is also very striking. With the technical vocabulary of farming mentioned in Heaney’s poems, it gives the reader a sense of reality, and shows us that this is his world, “Between the shafts and the furrow” and “My father worked with a horse-plough”. Both Heaney and Duffy use real place names, to again make the poems more real to us. Heaney uses “Toner’s Bog” and Duffy uses “Portobello” near Glasgow.

They both use peoples names: Heaney: “Dan Taggart”, Duffy: “Mrs Hunt, Mrs Emery”. By using these names it recreates a real and familiar world for us. We see middle class appreciation of the 1950’s in Duffy’s poems with “Pyrex” and “the lounge”. She recreates these words to give a sense of familiarity and reality to her readers. Her poem “Litany” recreated song titles, names of groups, and toys. She recreates words that are not used anymore such as “Rhodesia”, “florins”. I think she uses these words to stress what is missing from the past.

These unused words however are from a lost world that Duffy rejects, as the persona created in “The Captain of the 1964 top of the forum team” (where these words are used), is very distant from Duffy herself, so the character is very much the opposite of hers. Duffy especially appeals to our senses a lot in her poems: “The air tasted of electricity”, “a tangible alarm”, “salted my tongue”. This draws us into the poem as it gives us a chance to imagine what the character is telling us Heaney uses a lot more imagery and figurative language; he is very much an image-maker, as the focus of his poems are very often imagery: Thick with a bass chorus”, “A glossy purple clot”, “rat-grey fungus”, “our palms sticky as bluebeards”. Heaney’s poem “Digging” can produce different images to us; perhaps he is talking about digging to history and trying to recreate his life in our minds. Duffy’s poems produce images that we would picture to be perfect: “The classroom glowing like a sweet shop” Heaney uses very powerful language, and the subjects of his poems are obviously something that he feels strongly about, like the issue of the kittens being drowned in “The Early Purges”.

He uses powerful language to get his thoughts across to the readers: “The scraggy wee shits” Duffy also uses the ‘F’ word, to indicate the anger in “Litany”. This is where she is rebelling through language. Duffy uses lists in some of her poems, such as “In Mrs Tilscher’s Class”, this is to show the excitement of children’s pleasures, “Sugar paper. Coloured shapes”. Heaney also used lists, “milk-cans, pea-tins, jam-pots”. Heaney’s poems have run-on lines, this is to keep the reader involved in the poem and to get across the excitement of the experience.

Both the poets use single word sentences: Heaney: “Digging”, “An expert” Duffy: “Marilyn”, “Pyrex”. When Duffy compares her mother to Marilyn, it is quite shocking to us, as Marilyn Monroe was so idolised and looked upon as being a perfect person. Both poets use onomatopoeia: Heaney: “A frail Metal Sound”, “clotted”, “squelch and slap of soggy peat”. Duffy: “Your ghost clatters”, “Terrible marriages crackled cellophane” They both use alliteration and assonance to emphasise their point they are making: Heaney: “Something slobbered”, “big dark blobs burned” “bells knelling classes to a close”.

Duffy: “Parents appalled”, “Broken/to bits”, “a three hour snog/no snags” Not many of the poems that Duffy wrote have rhyme in them, Heaney has a lot more. The rhyme in Heaney’s poems is not obvious due to the natural flow of his words. The poems that rhyme that were written by Heaney are “An Advancement of learning”, “The Early Purges”, “Follower”, “Digging”, “The barn” and “Blackberry Picking”. To me, his rhyming conveys sensuality of this language and experiences and also portrays a certain degree of craft to his work.

Duffy has an absence of rhyme in her poems and the only poem that has a little rhyme in it is “In Mrs Tilscher’s Class” where the last two lines are a half rhyme. She may not use rhyme, as she might be restricting artificiality. In the poems we have studied, the form of the poems is quite individual to each poet. Heaney tends to have many stanzas, but with only three or four lines to each stanza. Whereas Duffy has four stanzas with about five to eight lines per stanza. “Digging” by Heaney is an interesting layout as the number of lines per stanza goes: 2, 3, 4, 5, 2, 5, 3, 4, 3.

This arrangement could be because of the change from present to past or perhaps a burst of thought in the process of him writing the poem. In “In Mrs Tilscher’s Class” by Duffy, as the poem goes on, the number of lines per stanza increases; this could be the tension in the poem speeding up. The ideas and attitudes that are projected by these poems are very vivid. In childhood you can feel safe and secure and be excited by discovering the world, and this is just what the poets project to us in their poems. This discovery of the world can go on to expose harsh realities, sexual awareness and death.

You may run from these but not escape them, ultimately, they must be accepted. Adults may try to restrict and control children but they will find a means to rebel against this. You realise from reading the poems that pleasure and excitement can be found in both city and rural life. There is a sense of artificiality and lack of depth in city life, where rural life can be harsh. There are strong links between the past and the present in all the poems, the past may be a source of inspiration and a means of finding one’s identity, but there is the danger of valuing the past too much over the present.

In Duffy’s poems she shows intense love and admiration for her mother, but she rejects the restrictive conservatism of her middle class life. She thinks warmly of her teacher and is excited about her childhood experiences, but presents adolescence as a time of even more excitement. Heaney shows great love for his family and defines his role in life as a poet in terms of continuing on the craft of his family of past generations. He is strong in rejecting violent attitudes impressed on so many people in Northern Ireland.

He values his childhood experiences, which profoundly influence him, and ultimately embraces all of his experiences, good or ill. Overall, I think that the poems that I have studied put across their points strongly and powerfully. The poets’ childhood views are remembered so vividly which project a clear view of their lives. In all their poems they stress the difficulties and pleasures of life. They get their ideas across by using language effectively and by producing vivid images for us to picture and recognise.