by Seamus Heaney
Upon analysing a poem, I find it useful to decode it in a particular way. I like to read the poem as if it were a story. This helps me to generate an understanding of both the poet and the poem’s context. The following notes outline the story of ‘A Call’. Once an understanding of this poem’s story has been established you will then be able to more effectively create your own opinions and observations.
The Story of the Poem
- The poet makes a phone call to his father. His mother answers and informs the poet that his father is outside in the garden ‘Hold on, she said, I’ll just run out and get him’.
- While he waits, the poet imagines his father gardening. We get the sense that the father approaches his work with great care and may even be somewhat of a perfectionist when it comes to his garden work.
- The father is not one for doing things with half effort and he clearly derives a sense of satisfaction in doing a good job ‘Pleased to feel each little weed-root break…’.
- The father has a peculiar affection for the weeds that he plucks. He comes across as being rather regretful at the fact that he must end their lives in order for his leeks to truly flourish.
- The poet hears a loud ticking noise over the phone as he awaits the voice of his father. He finds the hallway of his parents home to be a very peaceful and calming place.
- While waiting for his father to come to the phone, the poet’s attention deviates towards the medieval play of ‘Everyman’ (*see below for context).
- The poet contemplates his fathers life and eventual death just as he comes to the phone. He experiences a sense of relief when he finally hears his dads voice.
- Heaney wants to tell his father how much he loves him but cannot quite bring himself to verbalise the words. Expressing love comes unnatural to him, especially given the cultural context (Ireland/men not expected to express emotions etc).
- This poem is a celebration of the craft of gardening. The poets father seems very comfortable in his garden. The tranquillity of the location can be sensed upon reading this poem.
- Many of Heaney’s poems are given a setting that he has imagined (‘A Constable Calls’, ‘Bogland’, ‘The Tollund Man’ etc.). His descriptions are so vivid and well crafted that it often leaves the reader feeling as though they’ve visited this imagined space (his parents home in this poem) themselves.
*‘Everyman’: is a medieval play. The play’s central message is Christian focused. Everyman, who represents all of mankind, is summoned by Death. The play concludes with the message that as humans, the only thing we can bring with us to the afterlife is our good deeds, everything else is irrelevant.
Themes in ‘A Call’
- Love and Relationships: this poem acknowledges the love a son has for his father. In this poem the idea of not verbalising this love is presented. Heaney finds it difficult to go against societal expectations and tell his father that he loves him. Perhaps Heaney retrospectively regrets not verbalising the love he had for his father.
- Art, Craft and Creativity: this poem is a celebration of the art of gardening. Heaney’s father’s work ethic and the meticulous approach he took when it came to his garden is discussed. Heaney seems to respect his father for this.
- Imagined Spaces: like many of Heaney’s other poems, the idea of imagined spaces is present in ‘A Call’. Heaney, in this poem, sets the scene for the reading by using exquisite detail. Heaney imagines how his parent’s home would look with great detail. We, the reader, feel as though we are present at this location. Heaney seems to have fond memories of his parent’s home and obviously found it to be a comfortable and tranquil place.
‘A Call’ – Exam Focus
In the prescribed poetry section of Paper 2, you are always asked to discuss the poet’s themes and the language they use. As long as you can reference how a particular language technique helped the poet to deliver various messages in relation to their themes, you will be able to answer any question you get on the day of the exam.
- Power of Spoken Word
- Art, Craft
- Imagined Spaces
- Childhood Memories
- Accessible language used
- Striking imagery created (sets scene/ticking of clocks/natural references i.e ‘leek rig’)
- Allusions (references external text)
It is important to acknowledge that Heaney’s carefully chosen language techniques allow him to present difficult subject matter (themes) in a way that makes it accessible for his readers.
*As always, don’t hesitate to ask any questions you may have via the Lee Tutorials Instagram page.