Growing up in different times: Heaney and Wordsworth

William Wordsworth grew up in the Lake District in Cumbria, England during the very end of the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. Here he lived with his aunt and sister. Being surrounded by nature was a huge impact on Wordsworth’s life. Nature was everything from his teacher to almost his lover. He gradually grew to believe that nature was God. This idea that was everything for him is demonstrated very well in his poetry.
Seamus Heaney was born in Northern Ireland in Derry. He was born before the height of the troubles but did live through a hard life living on a farm in rural Ireland. Living on the farm helped him to grow up and realise what real life was like. He learned things like dealing with death.
There are similarities in both poets’ writing. For example both people grew up with nature and it was nature that taught them what real life was truly like. There are also differences for Heaney nature was only like a teacher while for Wordsworth nature was even things like his conscience. Heaney grew from fear to confidence. Wordsworth’s writing was very philosophical and always contained a much deeper meaning than Heaney’s writing did.

This is just a few poems from Heaney’s anthology Death of a Naturalist. In the poem “Death of a Naturalist” the change Seamus experiences is one which we all experience yet at the time do not know that it has taken place and probably for some years will not know. The poem begins with a light description of the childhood ritual, collecting frogspawn. Every year he collects “jampotfuls” to put on shelves both at home and school. Now as Heaney is quite young he would not be aware of how the frogspawn got there. And no one is prepared to truthfully tell him. But his class teacher describes how “The daddy frog called a bullfrog,
And how he croaked, and how the mammy frog
Laid hundreds of little eggs.” But of course this is not how it happened and of course eventually one day we all find out about sexuality. Heaney’s day came when one year while collecting the frogspawn “the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam,” he heard a
“coarse croaking that I had not heard before.” He believes the frogs are beginning to gang up on him to take revenge for all the eggs he has taken but of course nothing of the sort is happening, it is just that all the frogs are having sex. “On sods; their loose necks pulsed liked sails. Some hopped:
The slap and plop were obscene threats….
…their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned and ran.” This image is a grotesque image in which subconsciously young Seamus discovers his sexuality. For a minute he is aware but afraid to admit it to himself in case he may lose that childhood innocence so he turns away sickened, longing for the moment that he was unaware of this disgusting act.
“Dawn Shoot” is again a different type of poem. In this poem Seamus has no fear to conquer and no bridge to cross whether real or imaginary. This poem is really about how far he has come. Rather than cry over the death of animals in “Early Purges”, he is enjoying the killing of animals. He is totally carefree and not worried about shooting an animal or how badly wounded it should become or even if it dies. He is even stealthy so not to scare the animals to ensure he gets a kill. “Rubber-booted, belted, tense as two parachutists,
We climbed the iron gate.” When an animal is finally killed they don’t even care to retrieve it as “the prices were too small.”
I have chosen two extracts from Wordsworth poem “The Prelude.” In the poem “The Prelude (I)” Wordsworth follows a similar theme of growing up. In this poem young Wordsworth takes a boat which is not his and he is feeling very adventurous. “It was an act of stealth
And troubled pleasure.” He felt very good when he took the boat and was having a very good time, until Wordsworth realises what he has done wrong but this is not realised until he reaches his destination in the lake. “The horizon’s bound, a huge peak, black and huge,
As if with voluntary power instinct
Upreared its head.” This is the climax of the poem and helps show the sudden change in mood. Wordsworth is happily rowing the boat when suddenly this huge big thing shows itself. To Wordsworth this is some sort of hideous creature. But in fact as you go through the poem you learn that this is the first few signs of his developing conscience. “For many days my brain
Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
Of unknown modes of being; o’er my thoughts
There hung a huge darkness….
…moved slowly through the mind
By day, and were a trouble to my brain.” These show the signs of a guilty conscience, guilty from knowing he took the boat: a moral Wordsworth is being taught about from nature and it again points to his emerging belief of Pantheism, that nature is God.
The main focus in this poem “The Prelude (II)” is that of moving on. The poem has a picturesque setting of the “twilight gloom” This type of light however would tell Wordsworth to go inside, as if nature was telling him as a parent calls their children. But “I heeded not their summons.” So he carried on “All shod with steel,
We hissed along on the polished ice in games:” a nice use of alliteration to convey the movement of ice skating. But Wordsworth being a Pantheist he cannot stay so he wonders off; “not seldom from the uproar I retired.” Wordsworth here shows his poetic ability and understanding of nature because he realises that the hills are “melancholic.” His subconscious understanding of nature forces him to go off and explore. What he realises is that everything around him is moving. “With visible motion her diurnal round!
Behind me did they stretch in solemn train,
Feebler and feebler, and I stood and watched
Till all was tranquil as dreamless sleep.”
The movement of the earth that he experiences here shows him that he is part of a moving, living universe. It is as if he has travelled with the spirit in God of nature.
I think everyone could relate to Wordsworth’s and Heaney’s poems in someway: I know that I can relate to his feeling of a spirit in the woods. When I was lost I in the woods I felt as if someone was there showing where to go. The one thing we must all realise is that, we will all grow up: it is unstoppable and inevitable. I savour the thought.

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