Seamus Heaney (b. 1939)


FOLLOWER; Death of a Naturalist, 1966


My father worked with a horse plough,                             1
His shoulders globed like a full sail strung
Between the shafts and the furrow.
The horses strained at his clicking tongue.

An expert. He would set the wing                                     5
And fit the bright-pointed sock.
The sod rolled over without breaking.
At the headrig, with a single pluck.

Of reins, the sweating team turned round
And back into the land. His eye                                        10
Narrowed and angled at the ground,
Mapping the furrow exactly.

I stumbled in his hobnailed wake,
Fell sometimes on the polished sod;
Sometimes he rode me on his back                                  15
Dipping and rising to his plod.
I wanted to grow up and plough,
To close one eye, stiffen my arm.
All I ever did was follow
In his broad shadow around the farm.                              20

I was a nuisance, tripping, falling,
Yapping always. But today
It is my father who keeps stumbling
Behind me, and will not go away.


FOLLOWER; Death of a Naturalist, 1966






Seamus Heaney presents us in “Follower” the image of his father. The poem is divided into six quatrains, and the rhyme of each stanza could be defined as a kind of abab.

The author places himself in his childhood, and gives us his own point of view about the personal relation that he had with his father, a part from describing the different actions that this man did on the farm. This is autobiographical, as we can read in the following lines: “His father owned and worked a small farm of some fifty acres in County Derry in Northern Ireland” (Nobel Web, The Swedish Academy).

There is also a description of the physical conditions of the father in the very beginning of the poem, and the reader is also informed about this man’s works as a farmer. The man is described as a very hard-working person and a good worker doing his job. The poem does not give us details about the environment, so it focuses on the different actions carried out by the man.

The second stanza starts with the words “An expert”, and then there is a pause marked by a full stop. Saying this brief expression, the author emphasizes again the carefulness and accuracy that his father had when he was working.

In this quatrain and in the third one we find words generally used in the rural argot: “shafts” (l. 3), “wing” (l. 5), “sock” (l. 6), “headrig” (l.8). (Following Seamus Heaney's "Follower"; John Boly): We can also read other words that show us again the precision that is needed: “narrowed” and “angled” (l.11).

In the fouth stanza the author shows us how his father also played with him: Sometimes he rode me on his back/
Dipping and rising to his plod (l. 15 & 16).

Furthermore, in the fifth stanza there is a will of the child of being as his father in the future, but he accepts that he will never be the same, and presents himself in the last stanza as an useless boy: I was a nuisance, tripping, falling, /Yapping always (l. 22 & 23).

During the last three verses the poet returns to the present time and he says that nowadays his father is who is stumbling because of his age. With the word “Behind” used by Seamus Heaney in the last verse, he obliges us to go back to the beginning of the poem and to remember what he lived in his childhood with his father.

The title refers to the admiration that the poet feels for his father and it also represents the desire of being like him in a future. I think that throughout the entire poem we can also understand the origins of the poet’s family. He says it, as we are told by John Boly (Following Seamus Heaney's "Follower"; John Boly): “The poet has commented on the fact that his parentage thus contains both the Ireland of the cattle-herding Gaelic past and the Ulster of the Industrial Revolution.”

John Boly also talks about the language used by Seamus Heaney’s parents and how it affected his education: “His father was notably sparing of talk and his mother notably ready to speak out, a circumstance which Seamus Heaney believes to have been fundamental to the ‘quarrel with himself’ out of which his poetry arises” (Nobel Web, The Swedish Academy).

To continue talking about languages, Heaney was taught Latin and Irish at St. Columb's College, and these languages, together with the Anglo-Saxon which he would study while being a student of Queen's University in Belfast, were determining factors in the developments which marked his progress as a poet (Nobel Web, The Swedish Academy). “The first verses he wrote when he was a young teacher in Belfast in the early 1960s are linguistically tuned to the Anglo-Saxon note in English. The Gaelic heritage has always been part of his larger keyboard of reference and remains culturally and politically central to the poet and his work” (Nobel Web, The Swedish Academy).





- Seamus Heaney Biography: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seamus_Heaney webpage consulted on 24th April 2006.


- Seamus Heaney Biography, Anonymous, Wikipedia, webpage consulted on 23th April 2006. nobelprize.org/literature/laureates/1995/heaney-bio.html


- Following Seamus Heaney's "Follower", John Boly, in: Twentieth Century Literature, Fall 2000, pages 1-22. www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0403/is_3_46/ai_70907259 webpage consulted on 23th April 2006.



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