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any of Heaney’s poems deal with the Loss of Innocence and the Getting of Wisdom

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The collection is an autobiography illustrating lessons Heaney has learnt during his life. The collection begins with poems written in the eyes of a child, and as we progress through the poems, the protagonist seems be getting older and perhaps wiser. The childhood innocence present early on in the collection seems to fade away during his life’s experiences, which show him the inevitability of death and decay, the bad nature of certain humans, and the fact that fear is one of man’s greatest opponents.

These realisations of Heaney’s are gradual and start off by being less serious. The poem Death of a Naturalist shows a newly found fear of Heaney’s. His childish paranoia leads him to believe “the great slime kings Were gathered there for vengeance”, due to him consistently stealing frogspawn. The ugly, menacing look of the frogs, “loose necks pulsed like snails”, cause Heaney to run away scared because of a childish assumption that if he tries taking any eggs”the spawn may clutch it”. The Barn follows up with further examination of fear.

Heaney does not however seem to know exactly what his fear is, but he “lay face-down to shun the fear above” His childish curiousness probably attracted his to this barn more than once (“and into nights”) regardless of his fear, indicating some excitement involved. An Advancement of Learning, shows a wiser Heaney deciding to confront his fear of rats, (“I used to panic….. scraped and fed” ). Finally as the rat retreated Heaney “walked on and crossed the bridge” symbolising him overcoming his fear.

Poems with a theme of fear are absent until later on in the collection, where the issues get more serious. Honeymoon Flight shows a married Heaney, realising his vunerability and compulsory submissiveness whilst encountering engine difficulties on a flight. “Dependant on the invisible air To keep us airborne”. The rhythm and structure indicates panic, as Heaney knows that he cannot do anything to help the situation. “Travellers, at this point, can only trust”. The concluding poem with a theme of fear, Storm on the Island, is a great illustration of the gaining of wisdom throughout the collection.

Through the mentioned poems, Heaney has shown his reactions to his fears as he grows older. This particular poem however, comes to the conclusion that our own minds make fear what it is, and sometimes there is nothing at all to fear. (Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear). This statement can be related to The Barn, where Heaney doesn’t even exactly know what his fear is, but his imaginative mind causes childish similes to be conjured up in his head. Eg “two-lugged sacks moved in like great blind rats”. His mind is what makes his fear so bad, and he realises this as he grows older.

The inevitability of Death and Decay is an issue where the collection strongly describes Heaney’s losing of innocence and getting of wisdom. His first real realisation of inevitable decay is in Blackberry Picking. The “glossy purple coat” of blackberries decayed after collection to produce a “rat-grey fungus”. (It is interesting that Heaney’s disliking or rats has caused his to associate them with various descriptions of things which are bad). His innocent view of how ‘good things don’t always have to come to an end’ still remains slightly.

“Each year I hope they’d keep, knew they would not”) Heaney’s experiences get more serious as the collection moves on, and the subject of decay goes from blackberries to animals. The Early Purges show a young Heaney exposed to the murder of cats and other animals. He is clearly shaken by these events “suddenly frightened”, and deep inside he dislikes the actions taken against them. However, Heaney was at an age where curiosity was a big part of him and the gaining of wisdom was sought after. Therefore he tries to take up Dan Taggart’s thinking, and condones the violence. Living displaces false sentiments” are wise words from a young Heaney.

However, he doesn’t have enough knowledge to be too confident with his ideas. He makes a comparison between the slaughter of these animals with the killing of pests on farms, and uses it to condone the violence on the animals. His continued living however, would probably prove to displace this false idea that the two events are comparable. Mid-Term Break deals with the serious issue of the death of Heaney’s brother. The poem is interesting as it doesn’t actually reflect on Heaney’s feelings at the time.

Maybe this is because Heaney wishes not to discuss the matter, but it could just probably be that his innocent age at the time of the incident disabled him from realising the seriousness of the issue. For the Commander of the Eliza illustrates the decay of humans taken from an older Heaney’s perspective. The atrociousness of the sight (“Six wrecks of bone and pallid, tautened skin. “) clearly affects Heaney. He knows there is nothing he can do and even though the sight saddens him a great deal, he also would prefer leaving them to themselves as oppose to staying around to console them.

I hoisted And cleared off. Less incidents the better” I suppose this is human nature, and doesn’t make his a bad person, however he has seemed to have come to terms with the inevitability of death and decay, and has realised that it is survival of the fittest in the cruel world. “Who could not swim might go ahead and sink” I think that this particular gaining of wisdom can relate to a lot of his poems. The idea of ‘survival of the fittest’ seems evident in many poems. Eg.

Turkeys Observed shows that when the turkeys are dead, they just look like lumps of flesh. (“indifferent mortuary”) The fact that a living turkey looks less repectable than other animals, means that it is treated with less respect when it is dead, (“just another poor forked thing”). If the turkey was stronger, wiser or perhaps more attractive then maybe it would not be getting treated with no remorse. (“stripped down to a shameful rudder”) Running along a tangent to this issue to inevitability of decay, is Heaney’s respect for his father.

Digging illustrates Heaney’s respect for his father’s great ability to dig. “By God, the man could handle a spade. ” Heaney never mentions a flaw in his father once in the poem. However, Follower finishes with a different view taken by a more mature (older) Heaney, where his father is now viewed as some sort of a pest. He realises how he must have been to his father as a child, “I was a nuisance, tripping, falling,” but goes on to say how they seem to have traded places and his father is an irritation.

Keeps stumbling Behind me, and will not go away”. His innocent respect for his ‘flawless’ father seems to be inversed just when he realised his father’s age has caused his abilities to deteriorate. Love is another issue with which Heaney can be seen to have more educated views on as the collection progresses. Love is not really expressed that much at the start of the collection, lust is focused on instead. Eg. “lust for picking” in Blackberry Picking.

However, with age, comes maturity, and childish superficialities generally disappear, or at least continue at a much lower scale. Heaney doesn’t write about any instances of puppy love or love a a youngster, but we know that he did have them. It tells us so in Twice Shy, “Our juvenilia Had taught us both to wait, Not to publish feeling And regret it all too late” This shows us that Heaney has learnt through experience that jumping on instinct tends to lead to disaster, and it is best to let love take its course.

“Mushroom loves already Had puffed and burst in hate. However, puppy love is still evident in the case described in the poem, as we hear about “nervous childish talk”. The poem shows that Heaney does realise that Love can bring pain, but his feelings bring out the child in him, and perhaps he will act on instinct if the opportunity arised. Valediction illustrates turmoil felt as a cause of losing a loved one. Love bringing pain is now evident yet again. “Self is mutiny” , it’s clear he needs her to feel good again. He is dependant on her for life to go smooth, “absence Rocked love’s balance”.

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