Compare the Ways in Which Duffy and Heaney Explore Childhood Memories

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Both Heaney and Duffy’s poems explore childhood memory demonstrating the effect that environment and culture can have on recollections. In doing so, they both show the pain and delight of childhood experience and the poignancy of losing that innocence. A clear and concise thesis. We are expecting focus to be on ‘environment and culture’ in the poems with comments on the emotional range of pain, delight and poignancy to be evident. Duffy uses culture as a context for exploring childhood memory in ‘Captain of the Form’, where she adopts a male persona whose unhappy present is reconciled with the idealisation of childhood memory, evoking a real sense of 1960’s Britain, and thereby joining culture as a focus for exploring memory. Hence there is a semantic field of popular culture, through the specific reference to the legendary band “Beatles” and the song title “Pretty Woman” which facilitates an exact sense of time by letting the reader fixate on these cultural features. Duffy is implying that experience and therefore memory is affected by the interaction of culture. In ‘Blackberry Picking’, Heaney talks about the memory of the joy of picking fruit and the subsequent disappointment when it rots, so in contrast to popular culture, there is a semantic field associated with rural Ireland “Hayfields”, “briars” “cornfields”, “potato drills” that demonstrate the child’s affinity with the natural setting. Both poets demonstrate the importance of environment by using language: Heaney using sensory language of sense, sound and touch; Duffy using language to explore the interaction of culture on memory. We need more textual evidence of ‘the idealisation of childhood memory’ here. Although there is a contrast made - the interaction of culture on memory and sensory language - Heaney’s semantic field is the only textual detail. More is needed to make this contrast clear in the language. In addition, both poets create specific moods through the choice of verbs. The poem ‘Welltread’ explores how education can affect childhood memory and Duffy employs a light-hearted ironic tone. An example of this being the comic caricature of an old fashioned Head Teacher conveyed with the use of the dynamic verb “stalked”, almost as if the man is an animal of prey and the effects of corporal punishment are shown with the active verb “burn”. The punishment for the child is incorporated in the dynamic verb “smouldering” with both verb choices suggesting that the thought of this punishment is imprinted in the memory of the child. Similarly, verb choice is important in ‘Death of a Naturalist’, which deals with a child’s awakening to the power of nature and forthcoming adolescence. Hence the lexical choice in the second stanza indicates the change of the mood of the experience and this is evident in the verbs “invaded”, “farting”, “cocked” and “pulsed” showing the power and ugliness of the frogs and creating a semantic field of threat and weaponry, illustrating the boy’s awakening to the power of nature. The comparison of verb choice is a good one but there is so much more to say about those verbs. Why not explore the sound qualities and connotation of these choices? Both poets explore the sometimes painful nature of childhood experience. In ‘Stafford Afternoons’, Duffy shows how the innocence of childhood play can be disrupted by the intrusion of the adult world and in doing so reflects on the sometimes solitary nature of childhood, seen here in the clause “long road held no one”. There is a distinct connotation of loneliness as the verb “held” is normally associated with an embrace, so the use of it here enforces a sense of loneliness. In ‘Mid-term Break’ Heaney relives the painful memory of the loss of his brother and its effect on the painful transition to manhood. He achieves a sombre mood for the memory when the boy has to wait in the “sick bay” and immediately there is the negative connotation associated with illness, reiterated in the lexical choice...
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