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The Ways in Which Heaney and Sheers Write About Memories

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Memories, for both Heaney and Sheers, stimulate the writing of their poetry and act as a foundation for many of their poems.

Both Heaney and Sheers’ poetry contains a deep love of, and feeling for the landscape. Sheers said himself; “You can’t separate landscape from people. They’re completely imbricated.” For example Heaney’s poem “Digging” is set in the fields of Ireland when his father is “stooping in rhythm through potato drills”.

Often a certain sight, smell or sound can evoke memories. For Heaney it is the “clean rasping sound” that awakens the image of his father working in the fields, taking him back to his childhood. Heaney uses an extensive range of onomatopoeic words such as “sloppily”, “squelch” and “slap” which allow the poet’s memory to come alive for the reader. For example when Heaney hears the sound of the spade digging he lets the reader hear it too by using the word “rasping”. This gives the poem a very personal feel which highlights not only the importance of this poem to his character but also the importance of this memory of the development of his craft.

As Heaney recalls the memory of his Father digging, he shows his love and admiration of their traditional occupation; “By God, the old man could handle a spade”. He also seems very proud of his grandfather who “could cut more turf in a day / Than any other man on Toner’s bog”.

The poet reveals the tremendous skill in digging and conveys certain artistry in this physical act as he describes how “the coarse boot nestled on the lug” and uses delicate language like “Nicking and slicing neatly” to show his appreciation of the accuracy involved.

Sheers also has a similar level of admiration for his ancestors in his memory of when his grandfather and he castrated lambs in “Late Spring”. Sheers describes how his grandfather could castrate a lamb like playing a cello, which emphasizes the skill with which his ancestor worked. This is also highlighted by the way in which his grandfather could “coax” the lambs “into the sack, one-handed, like a man milking, two soaped beans into a delicate purse”

Moreover, we get the impression that Sheers respects his grandfather similarly to the way Heaney respects his ancestors because as his grandfather would crown the lambs, all sheers could do is “stand and stare”, almost like he is awe struck.

Blackberry Picking is a poem that is centered on a memory of his childhood; the annual experience of picking wild fruit in late summer. The poem offers a literal description of picking blackberries but is also shows the inevitability of succumbing to temptations and the harsh disappointments we must face in our lives. Heaney uses rich language such as “glossy”, “sweet” and “thickened wine” to awaken our senses and draw the reader into the imagery of the poem. The pace in lines three and four is very slow because Heaney uses lots of commas to force the reader to takes more pauses; “at first, just one, a glossy purple clot”. This mirrors the anticipation, a child would experience when waiting to go picking. The pace of the poem then quickens when the poet states; “summers blood was in it leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for picking”, because there is less punctuation, forcing to read with fewer pauses.

The increase in pace reflects the insuppressible desire and innocent excitement that draws children into succumbing to temptation. I believe there is a focus on how they are so caught up in the excitement of the experience that they are actually accelerating its end – by picking off the berries from the bush; however humans always fail to learn this lesson. Sometimes sinful experiences can be fulfilling in the moment, but every time, there are consequences. At the end of the poem, Heaney portrays how they must deal with the consequences of their actions. There is a feeling of childlike sorrow, since it was a child who was the victim of temptation, but also, during the experience, a touch of evil because there is always a stain left from the pleasurable moment. The way the berries “burned like a plate of eyes” make the children feel like they’re being watched. To make them feel guilty for picking too many berries. Nevertheless, as we mature we do eventually realize the inevitability of disappointment in life because Heaney states that he would “hope they’d keep, knew they would not”

“Hedge School,” by Owen Sheers also remembers the poet’s boyhood self blackberry picking on the walk home from school. The blackberry picking provides Sheers with a “lesson” as he experiments with ways of eating the berries with different degrees of ripeness. The berries of different ripeness could represent the ideas that form a poem that he must hoard together to form the “hedgerow caviar” or a poem itself. Sheers chooses “not to eat them at all, but slowly close my palm into a fist instead, / dissolving their mouthfeel over my skin”. Sheers must take good care of his most precious ideas and not let them be lost to the depths of his mind, when his ideas emerge he cant just grab at them, he must protect them and let them develop instead, therefore Sheers is showing the intricacy and skill involved in creating a poem. Finally, he can express all his ideas in his poem as he allows the words to pour over the page in a similar way to how the berries dissolve on his skin.

Therefore, “Hedge School” is a memory that on the surface seems to bear most relevance to Heaney’s “Blackberry Picking”. However Heaney’s memory of “Blackberry Picking” taught him about temptation and sin whereas “Hedge School” is a memory that Sheers likens to the development of his poetry. Sheers’ poem is actually more similar to poems like “Personal Helicon” in the way he describes his own craft and the development of his poetry. So, in fact, both poets have used memories to describe how their poetry has progressed and developed.

Overall neither poet romanticizes; the poems are formed from direct involvement rather than an observation, which allows the poems to come alive in the reader’s imagination, and combined with the lush description, creates a very vivid impression. Both poets plunge the reader into their childhood memories which provide us with a unique insight into what drives their poetic vision. These memories provide a familiar foundation for the reader to relate to, which they can then use to coax the reader into exploring the deeper, more profound themes of their poems.

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