Follower used these as well as other literacy techniques

Follower Poetry Analysis


Prompt Question: ‘Follower’: How does Heaney use language to show the
changing relationship between father and son?

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“Follower by Heaney is a
poem about the changing and often complex relationship between father and son,
as well as showcasing the wide variety of emotions that come with it. We can
see throughout the poem how the relationship has progressed over the course of
Heaney’s upbringing, from the time he was a child to now when he has grown up.
From the glowing terms he used as a child to describe his father as an
awe-inspiring role model, to the less than praiseful ones at the end, we can
see the full evolution of Heaney’s feelings and emotions towards his father. I
believe that this relationship has changed as Heaney’s once powerful and strong
father, someone that was almost God in Heaney’s eyes, has now become old and
fragile, while the poet has now grown into a fully developed adult. This role
reversal has also changed the relationship, in that now Heaney is now the one caring
for his father, and that his father is now someone that requires on his child’s
support. This has diminished Heaney’s view of his father. The mood of this poem
can be best described as laudatory and appreciative due to the commendatory
terms he uses to describe his father’s work, as well as in some ways nostalgic
because of how through a wide range of descriptive language, Heaney pictures
how he played with his father and his absolute fascination with the intricacies
of his father’s work. Some of the key ideas in the poem, which I will explain
in my essay, are the various metaphors within the poem, and how Heaney has used
these as well as other literacy techniques to show the ever changing
relationship between father and son.


  At the beginning, we can see the lionizing
feelings Heaney has towards his father when he was a child. One of the first
examples is located in the first stanza, where Heaney describes his father’s
shoulders as “globed”. When suggesting something as globed, it could mean
something that is extremely large and powerful, perhaps in Heaney’s eyes,
something thatcould support the whole globe on his shoulders. This, especially
when used in this context, emphasizes Heaney’s immense respect and admiration
for his father. Another example in this stanza is “a full sail strung”. The
effect of a “full sail” gives us the sense that his father is a strong and
powerful figure. When at a boat is at full sail, there would be a strong wind.
This shows his father’s strength and efficiency, like a ship cutting through
the waves. This also has the effect of making it look as if his father does
this job effortlessly, just like when a ship at full sail glides through the
water it looks as if it does it at ease, although the task itself may not be an
easy one. In addition, it can also emphasize the point that his father is a
majestic and graceful figure, just like a boat sailing across the sea at speed.


  In this poem, Heaney’s figure is described as
a caring and compassionate figure, someone that genuinely acts in the best
interests of his son. One example is from the fourth stanza, where Heaney
writes: “Sometimes he rode me on his back…” Letting someone ride on your back
shows a certain level of affection and closeness, one that is only shown in
those who have a great deal of care for someone else. This shows Heaney’s
father’s genuine affection for Heaney, in that he is willing to tire himself,
just to let his child rest.


  Throughout the poem, we can see how Heaney is
proud of his father’s work as a farmer. An example of this is located in the
first line of the second stanza, which starts with “An Expert.” This phrase is
important for a number of reasons. The first is that it is in its own sentence.
The effect of this is that it emphasizes the point of the phrase, that Heaney’s
father is an expert at what he does, that he is someone that has mastered the
art of ploughing. In addition, not only does this describe how experienced
Heaney’s father is at his work, but also of how proud Heaney is of his father.
Being a farmer is something that normally isn’t thought of as glamorous, but
the fact that he has specifically placed an emphasis on this line shows that
Heaney is someone that really respects his father, someone that admires him.


  In “Follower”, Heaney has also used a number
of more veiled and subtle ways to describe his father’s appreciation and
experience at his work. An example of this is in stanza 5 where Heaney writes
“To close one eye” This particular phrase shows both how good and experienced
Heaney’s father is at this work and also the immense pride he takes with it.
“To close one eye” means that Heaney’s father is able to do this rather
demanding, both physically and mentally, piece of work with one eye closed, which
shows that his father is extremely skilful at his job. An earlier phrase in
stanza 2 which states “Narrowed and angled at the ground, Mapping the furrow
exactly” are to do with the amount of pride Heaney’s father takes in his work.
When it states that his eyes are “narrowed and angled at the ground”, it means
that Heaney’s father is fully concentrated on the task at hand, and that he is
not being bothered by any distractions, his only goal is to get the task done
well. The next line “mapping the furrow exactly” means that Heaney’s father is
ensuring that the plough is done perfectly, in that he is mapping the ground,
ensuring that the furrow, which is the trench made by the plough, is done
exactly how he wants, with no missed spots. This meticulous care to detail
shows the amount of pride and honour Heaney’s father takes in his work, as only
someone that takes a great deal of fulfilment from ploughing would put so much
effort into his work. Heaney may have also used this phrase to describe both
himself and his father, as they are both individuals that take gratification in
their work, Heaney and his craftsmanship of words as a poet and his father in
his craftsmanship of the land as a farmer.


  One particular verb that in a nutshell
describes how Heaney was like when he was a boy is the verb “stumbled”, located
in the fourth stanza. The literal meaning to this is that when Heaney followed
his dad on the farm, he would constantly fall down or trip. But this also shows
that Heaney at the time was just not as experienced as his dad around the farm.
He might have thought that this following his dad around was playful, while his
dad actually did it seriously. This can be inferred from what directly follows
the verb, “in his hob-nailed wake”. A hob-nailed wake means heavy work
equipment, so when put together we can infer that his dad was the one that was
doing the work with pride and concentration, while Heaney was following behind.
Heaney could have been following behind his dad in order to perhaps show off
himself, a reason being that since he is proud of his dad’s work and thinks of
him as a role model, he might want to impress his father by showing his father
his amazement of the work he does and that he is willing to run after him all
day. However, he stumbling suggests that although he might want to follow his
dad’s footsteps, he is struggling to, especially with the demanding work ahead.
This idea that he at first wanted to also be a farmer is further supported by
the first sentence in stanza 5, which states “I wanted to grow up and plough”.
This phrase clearly supports the motion that at first, Heaney wanted to become
a farmer too, following in his dad’s footsteps. The “wanted”, in addition to
the phrase in the previous stanza, shows that he might have encountered severe
difficulties and challenges throughout this journey, thus bringing the end of
the road for him as a farmer. This gives us a feeling of nostalgia as Heaney is
now talking about the past, thinking about of what he could have been. The
glowing terms he uses to describe “what could’ve been”, coupled with his
ensuing struggle to follow his dad’s footsteps, give this poem, especially in
these stanzas, a wistful feeling.


  We can get an idea of what Heaney’s father
was like on the farm from a few key phrases. One of these is in stanza 5, which
states “in his broad shadow around the farm.” The key term in this line is “broad
shadow”. This term suggests to us that Heaney’s dad is someone that watches
over the farm, in that a “broad shadow” is an extremely large shadow. This,
coupled with the next part of the phrase “round the farm”, makes it clear that
Heaney’s father constantly keeps a watchful eye on his property, especially on
his child. Heaney, through this phrase, tells us that he feels that his father
is an extremely observant figure, someone who feels as if his child’s safety
and wellbeing is of paramount importance. By having a “broad shadow”, we know
that Heaney’s father is someone that is always there for his child, someone
that really cares for him. A “broad shadow” also paints a picture of care, of
safety. The previous line states “All I ever did was follow…” This shows that
Heaney was someone that always took comfort in the knowledge that his father
was looking over him at all times. From these terms, we can reasonably infer
that Heaney not only had a close relationship with his dad over his admiration
of his work, but also of the fact that his father was a very protective figure,
something that Heaney clearly took a lot of comfort in.


  The relationship between father and son in
this poem has stayed very close, with Heaney having very affectionate feelings
for his father. This however changes in the last stanza. In this stanza, Heaney
has reversed the roles of father and son. He has demonstrated the effects of
ageing by showing how his father has changed, from a once powerful and dominant
figure, into a weak and frail person. This is shown in the first two lines,
where Heaney says that he “was a nuisance, tripping, falling,” However, the
next sentence starts with “But today, it is my father who keeps stumbling…” We
can see a clear role reversal here, what was once Heaney, has now become his
father. His father is now someone that is stumbling behind him, someone that
now is completely reliant of his now grown son’s (Heaney) support. His father
is shown as a child again, just like what Heaney once was, yapping always,
tripping and falling, always requiring a second pair of arms. Heaney, in this
phrase, seems to infer, in extremely veiled terms, his annoyance with his now
elderly father. He does this by calling himself a nuisance when he was young,
before doing a role reversal with his dad, which suggests to the reader that
Heaney’s dad is now a source of irritation to him. This is further shown in the
final line, which states “Behind me, and will not go away.” By saying that his
father is someone that won’t go away, especially within the context used in the
previous 2 lines, it can be reasonably suggested that Heaney feels as if his
father is like a heavy rock that is tied to him, a rock that he has to drag
everywhere. Overall, Heaney is stating that his father is almost a full-time
strain on his life. However, Heaney may be feeling a sense of guilt, as he was
the one that has benefited so much from his father’s constant care and
attention when he was younger. Heaney was also the one that kept on following
his father, as stated in the last 2 lines of stanza 5. Heaney’s dad was also
perfectly happy, perhaps even thrilled, that Heaney would follow him along all
day while he did his work. Thus, Heaney might now feel that since this is what
he acted with his father, it is only appropriate to let his father follow him
now. All of this, coupled with the fact that Heaney’s father was the person
that moulded Heaney into the successful person he is today, probably makes
Heaney feel that he has a sense of “duty” to support and care for his elderly
father. By feeling that this “duty” is a hassle, he feels as if he is breaking
an unwritten rule, thus bringing him guilt.


  “Follower” is a masterpiece of describing the
complex relationship between father and son, and the course it takes as the
characters evolve and age. It, through a wide range of literacy devices,
describes Heaney’s constantly changing feelings towards his father, from his
admiration of his dad as a captivating awe-inspiring figure
when he was young, the challenges he encounters while following his father’s
footsteps, and the annoyances he feels when his father has grown old and frail,
this poem shows it all.


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