Follower – Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney was born in Ireland and considered himself an Irish and not a British poet. His parents were part of a farming community and scenes from rural Ireland form part of his poetry. This poem also is set in Ireland; it talks of his father’s strength and expertise in glowing terms. Ted Hughes and Patrick Kavanagh were big influences in shaping Heaney’s poetry. Seamus Heaney died in 2013.
This poem deals with a boy’s hero worshipping of his strong and hard working father. The boy watches the father at work on his fields. He ploughs the land expertly, handling the team of horses that pull the plough. With the barest of movement, he is able to make them go round and round. The furrows are straight as arrows though he gets them effortlessly. This is a farmer who knows his land intimately. It is in the sixth stanza that there is a leap in time and the poet becomes a grown man. Tables are turned and instead of the young boy following the father around, it is the infirm father who follows the strapping young son around.
The central idea in the poem is the changing nature of the relationship between children and parents. As a child, the poet admired and hero-worshipped his father. He considered him an expert at everything he did. No one could handle the plough as he did and all the child could do was trail behind being “a nuisance, tripping falling,/ Yapping always.” He wanted to grow up to be like his father and do his work. Of course, that did not happen as he moved away from land and entered the world of letters. It is the turn of the father, now infirm, to follow the son around where ever he goes. There is a touch of exasperation in his attitude towards his father which perhaps the father had felt for his son too.
The poem consists of six quatrains with lines having a rough alternating abab rhyme scheme. What strikes the reader even in the first stanza is the keen eye the child displays when he watches his father at work in the fields. As he bends over the plough, his shoulders curve as though it is a sail that catches the wind which then fills it. He controls the horse with just a click of his tongue which shows his mastery over the animal.
The father was an expert at his work. The way he fitted his plough, he way he moved over the earth so that the sod did not crumble, and the way he turned the horses around in one fluid motion spoke of how good he was at his work.
Round and round he went with the horses which dripped sweat with the effort of pulling the plough. The furrows were arrow straight. He narrowed his eyes to judge the angle of the furrows to a nicety.
The young boy follows the father along the tracks the father’s hob-nailed shoes made. Often, he would lose his balance and fall on the clumps of soil. Sometimes the father would hoist him on his shoulders and they would go dipping and rising as the plough dipped and rose.
The child wanted to emulate his father when he grew up. He had observed his father so keenly, he knew exactly what he had to do. His father would close one eye and stiffen his arm in order to get the furrows straight.
The poet considers himself to have been a nuisance as he was always in the way with his questions and clumsy movements. But ironically, now his aged father plays that role as he follows the poet about, his movements clumsy.
This is a poem written with a great deal of warmth and feeling. The poet is able to capture the love the boy had for his father and the father’s affection for the son and his patience with his son.