You have been asked to read a collection of Seamus Heaney’s poems to a 5th year class. Select 4 poems you would read and explain why.
Seamus Heaney is widely recognised as one of the major poets of the twentieth century. Heaney's Poems are based on real life experiences, which can be related to in only so many ways, because of the differences in the likes of lifestyle and culture. Heaney’s poetry appeals to students as much of it deals with issues of childhood in a manner that is mature and accessible. The poems I have chosen to read to a fifth year class are ‘The Forge’, ‘The Underground’, “Mossbawn: Sunlight” and ‘A Call’. The three themes that seem to be recurring throughout Heaney’s work are, Love, Time and Isolation and I feel these are the very themes associated with the modern world of students and they would be appropriate to read to a fifth year group.
The first poem I would read is one from Seamus Heaney’s second collection titled “The Forge”. This poem was published in 1969 and was the first of many poems written by Heaney; Therefore I feel it is appropriate to read this one to the class first. “The Forge” would allow the class to stick to a literal interpretation about a blacksmith whose job is disappearing as the world changes around him, while also allowing the students to grasp the deeper images with another path into the poem. This poem is in the form of a sonnet with a clear division into an octave and a sestet. The sonnet’s opening line is the five-foot, iambic pentameter and eight of the words in this line are monosyllabic which gives the line the quality of statement. “All I know is a door into the dark”. This line would invite the class into the poem, even though they will go there hesitantly because nobody knows what the darkness holds. I would imagine it will remain a mystery to many of the students. Heaney begins the second line of this poem with “Outside” and the third line with “inside”. I would stress the contrast here even though it is clearly established. When describing the “old” axles and the iron hoops “rusting” outside the forge I would keep the tone in my voice quite low as many things outside the forge are falling apart. As I read line three I would put power and strength in my voice as there is great energy and action associated with the inside of the forge, The anvil is being “hammered” and the sound heard is a ringing “short-pitched” one. The mystery of this sonnet is continued in line 4 with “the unpredictable fantail of sparks.” This is a very relatable line for the students and it gives them a sense of the irregular sparks in the forge. I would concentrate on the nuances of the word “unpredictable” in this line. Line 5 is an image of sound and sight, “Or hiss when a new shoe toughens in water”. I would read “hiss” quite abruptly as it is quite a short-lived sound. I could evoke “toughens” by clinching my fists to strengthen the power of the word as it conjures up strong solid metal contrasting with the airy, light sparks of the forge. The final two lines of this poem when the blacksmith “Grunts and goes in, with a slam and a flick
To beat real iron out, to work the bellows”,
Are noticeable for their strong sounds: grunts, goes, small, flick, beat, work. Therefore I would put emphasis on the verbs when reading the end of this poem as they give the line strength and power. I would stress that there is defiance and fighting spirit in his dismissive grunt and this leaves the class with a final image of the blacksmith at the height of his powers, strong, determined, and hard at work.
I would chose to read Heaney’s poem “The Underground” next as the place in which it is set is somewhere we can all relate to, a typical urban landscape. This poem is about Heaney and his wife, who are late for a concert on their honeymoon and they are rushing down a tunnel, the underground. The moment is brought alive with the opening words “there we...
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