Question: "On the surface, Heaney's poems are very simple. This simplicity however is deceptive, for the poems are usually most subtle and complex." What do you think of this response to Heaney's poems?
Heaney's poetry may at first, initially seem simple, yet his poems do contain more complex underlying themes and ideas. Heaney has refined his poetry to such a simple state, such as in 'Punishment', Blackberry Picking' and Death of a Naturalist', that his poems are superficially simple, yet have complex, thought provoking ideas seeded deeper below.
This initial simplicity is seen in the poem 'Punishment', yet is deceptive, as the poem deals with many other complicated and sophisticated ideas in relation to human nature and anthropology.
The poem may seem simple at first such as;
"your brains exposed
and darkened combs
your muscles webbing
and all your numbered bones" (Stanza 9)
These lines indicated the straight forward almost scientific nature of the poem, through Heaneys choice of unemotive words. This simplicity is seen throughout the poem, where the reader initially could perceive the poem to solely be about the life, and appearance of a 'bog woman'. However at a deeper level, Heaney looks at the very human society functions, both in ancient and present times. This us summed up at the end of the poem;
"who would connive
in civilized outrage
yet understand the exact
and tribal, intimate revenge" (Stanza 11)
Heaney here, writes that he does not only feel empathy and sympathy towards the "little Adulteress", but is also able to detach himself from his emotions and look at her death as a function of an ancient tribal system. The role which the bog woman played in her society is further elaborated to the role in which she would have played in contemporary society;
"When your betraying sisters,
cauled in tar,
wept by the railings" (Stanza 10)
This comparison of the woman's sacrificial death in the past, and in modern Ireland in the present, is a concept which is far more complex than the poem initially portrays. Heaney recognizes that the death of the woman in the past was necessary to keep their society functioning which is seen in his choice of words "exact" "tribal" and "intimate" are the words used to describe the murder, which in no way convey a negative connotation. This is detached, anthropological view, is presented in a very simple manner through the use of shunt, concise words and stanzas as seen earlier. Thus the poem appear simple, however very serious, sophisticated ideas are embedded within
This underlying complexity of themes is also seen in the poem "Death of a Naturalist". This poem, again may seem like a simple descriptive passage at first, however this view is deceptive. Heaney recollects his youth, when he collected 'frog spawn' in jars and watched the tadpoles hatch into frogs. This is seen in
"I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied specks
and wait and watch until the
fattening dots burst into nimble swimming tadpoles"
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