An Advancement Of Learning Essay

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Heaney's Use of Language to Explore the Experience of Childhood in the Early Purges and An Advancement of Learning

During this essay I will try to explain how the words Heaney uses in
his poems describe his childhood. I will be looking closely at 'Early
Purges' and 'An Advancement of Learning'. I will be seeing how Heaney
uses language to tell us further about this childhood and upbringing.
We are mainly seeing the things he had 2 endure as a child. I will
start with the poem titled 'Early Purges'.

We can see from the first few lines in what kind of atmosphere Heaney
is brought up. Heaney uses very dramatic language; he says his age
'six'. This is the age he was when he saw those kittens drowning so he
would have had a very disturbing image for the rest of his life.
'First time' this shows he will have to see many more cruel things of
this nature, it is very strong. 'Kittens drown', this makes he whole
ordeal a lot more traumatizing and cruel because kittens are baby
animals so there is more effect.

From the poem we get the impression Dan Taggert does the young Heaney
no favors because he doesn't care about anything, he is drowning
kittens swearing in front of a six year old child, 'scraggy wee shits'
shows he really doesn't care. 'Out on a dunghill he put the dead
glossy kittens' showing again his lack of care for anything.

Heaney uses words beginning with 's' such as 'soft', 'scraping',
'soused' and 'slung'. These are all words used 2 describe. The sound
is repeated to give more effect. There is also a lot of alliteration
in this poem with the repetition of this soft 's' sound.

This poem has many energetic verbs in it but I have picked up on one
in particular it is 'bobbing' this gives the best sense of action of
what a young Heaney has to watch. 'Bobbing', meaning how the kittens
were drowned they were going under the water then coming back up,
shows how they were struggling which would have been a terrible thing

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to watch. Words such as 'slung', 'slogged', 'mealy' and 'crisp' make
everything sound very dramatic and convey horrible images to the
reader looking at the poem through the young boys point of view.

Heaney uses the word 'Remains', which makes the kittens sound like
they are dead and that is what is left of them. 'Dunghill' reinforces
'scraggy wee shits' in that the kittens are just rubbish and meant
nothing, both refer to excretion which again makes everything sound
again like rubbish or waste.

However towards the end of 'Early Purges' the tone of the poem changes
as Heaney matures and realizes why these kittens or for that matter
any other animal need to be killed, now this is giving the effect that
he is a normal boy.

These images of 'kittens drowning', 'pulling hens necks' and 'pup
prodded to drown' must have traumatized Heaney as a child. For any
child growing up on a farm they would have the same experience,
perhaps not a good upbringing because they wouldn't know any better in
later life. Dan Taggert was the main influence in Heaney's upbringing
on the farm during this emotive poem.

The second poem that will help me understand Heaneys upbringing is 'An
Advancement of learning'. I will start with the title ' advancement of
learning' this shows he is changing form childhood to adult hood,
Heaney is learning new things and over coming hurdles in his life. In
the first stanza 'the river nosed past', this is as if the river is
reflective and is reflecting everything above it, or in Heaney's case
everything bad he has done. 'Nosed' suggested that the river is trying
to avoid something in its way.

In the fourth stanza Heaney writes about how he stared the rats out,
he had been scared of the rats in previous stanzas but now he was
ready to face his fear, 'I turned to stare' he is looking his fear
straight in the eye. Heaney has final over come his fear.

In the final stanza the quote 'crossed the bridge' is very strong it
can mean a matter of things, but the one that stands out in my mind is
the bridge form childhood to adulthood. After everything he has seen
and done in his childhood he is finally past it all and is a man.

In this poem Heaney uses Enjambrement this was an excellent thing to
put in this poem because it adds to the effect.

Furthermore to conclude my essay, I have to say that Heaney had quite
a harsh upbringing living on the farm as we can see from 'early
purges' because he has seen innocent animals die, he has been
subjected to crude language by Dan Taggert. However in 'An Advancement
of learning' it is a different story this poem goes on to tell us how
Heaney over comes his fears. Heaney uses language very well; by saying
'crossing the bridge' he is saying that he is moving form childhood
into adulthood. Heaney uses language well in both poems.



Irish poet and Nobel prizewinner Seamus Heaney at the University College, Dublin, February 11, 2009. Image courtesy of Sean O’Connor.

An encounter with a rat evokes fear and revulsion in most human beings; Seamus Heaney thoughtfully explored this truth in his moving poem, An Advancement of Learning.

An Advancement of Learning is about overcoming the poet’s instinctive human fear and disgust. The content of the poem is simple; the poet walks along an embankment and unexpectedly encounters rats.

The first animal sickens him, but the second, due to its response to his presence, inspires a deeper impact.  It leads him to question his own response to these creatures, which humans generally reject as unpleasant, repellent and unworthy of our compassion.

Poetry: Evocative Language Invites Our Engagement

The poem is in stanzas of four lines, and the lines are short and sharp, giving the impression of a series of flashing images. The poem utilizes rhyme and half-rhyme, although the pattern is not rigid. This gives the poet the freedom to choose exactly the right word for his purpose such as rhyming “sewage” with “bridge.

Heaney uses rich vocabulary and evocative similes; for example, the verbs used to show the rats’ visual impact, such as “slobbered,” “smudging,” “slimed” and “nimbling.

References to an “oil skinned river” and “dirty-keeled swans” conjure a distasteful scene, a fitting setting for the appearance of the rat, which “slobbered, curtly close, smudging the silence.”  This provides the reader with a sharp awareness of the poet’s sense of outrage at the creature’s intrusion on his walk, striking the poet with a “throat-sickened” feeling as he hurries on “in a cold sweat.”

A walk along a riverbank and across a bridge became a learning experience for poet Seamus Heaney. Image copyright Janet Cameron, used with permission.

Advancement in Learning Through Rat Encounter

When the poet encounters the second rat, the animal’s reaction challenges him and, thereby, advances his learning. “But God, another was nimbling/up the far bank, tracing its wet/Arcs on the stones.”  The carefully-chosen expletive “But God” reveals, in an instant, the poet’s natural, human horror. The break in the second line at the word wet enables the reader to focus on the first word of the following line, and brings the tracing of the wet “Arcs” sharply into focus.

In spite of all this, the poet turns to stare with “deliberate thrilled care,” as though compelled by fascination. There is a change in him, as he suddenly recognises the rat as a sentient, responsive fellow-creature that listens and stares as if trying to comprehend him in return.

For a moment, the poet has forgotten to panic and describes the rat in more objective terms, as if he has deliberately distanced himself from his emotions. “He clockworked aimlessly,” and “Stopped, back bunched and glistening.” The use of the word “insidiously” in “insidiously listening” demonstrates that, despite overcoming his initial sense of panic, the poet still retains a deep distrust of the creature.

Rare Communication Between Man and Beast

This description exposes a heart-stopping moment of rare communication between man and beast and there is almost a trace of affection in the poet’s words: “The raindrop eye and the old snout.” It is as though he is almost laughing at himself when, in the last verse, he refers to “This terror, cold, wet-furred, small-clawed.”  He stares, maybe thinking about his own irrational fear. Suddenly, the rat is not just an unpleasant thing, but a feeling, responding creature.

This may have made the poet uncomfortable, so that his last line is mundane, matter-of-fact, yet has a vestige of triumph, showing that the poet is now in control. “Then I walked on and crossed the bridge.”

The poem has come full circle, from a merely factual statement at the beginning and ending with another, the apparent similarity belying what has happened in between. Yet, the last line shows confidence and a sense of achievement that the first lacks.

In reality, the poet has moved on. In out-facing the rat, he conquers the fear he has had since childhood.

“Don’t Be Afraid” – A Fitting Farewell

Seamus Heaney was an Irish poet born 13 April 1939, and who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. This much-loved poet died recently in Dublin, on 30 August 2013, aged 74, after a short illness.  According to The Telegraph, he wrote his last words, in Latin, for his wife.  At his funeral at the Sacred Heart Church in Donnybrook, Heaney’s son revealed those last, moving words.

They were: “Don’t be afraid.”

Filed Under: Art News, Poetry

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