Attitudes towards other people in poetry

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The way we act towards others can literally shape our relationships with them. Due to the immense effect our attitudes can have, when they are portrayed in poetry, writers seem to do so using a wide variety of both vivid and subtle techniques. The purpose of this essay is to compare the way it is done on four poems; Follower (Seamus Heaney), Catrin (Gillian Clarke), The Song of The Old Mother (William Butler Yeats) and, finally, On My 1st Sonne (Ben Johnson). A conclusion will also be formed onto which poet does this most successfully. The main relationship being portrayed by Seamus Heaney in ‘Follower’ is that between a father and son.

Traditionally one of the strongest bonds possible, Heaney begins the poem detailing just that. The first two words- ‘My father’, immediately shows his sense of pride about his paternal parent and following terms such as ‘his broad shoulders’ portray the son’s impression of the dad being a strong character. Perhaps the most vivid sign of this obvious immense pride is the similie: ‘His shoulders globed like a full sail strung’. To compare a human body, stereotypically frail when judged against something as magnificent as a ship, really paints a picture of an almost hulk of a man-and a small boys longing to be like his father.

Clarke could be used as a direct comparison to Heaney’s poem as, in the way he was describing the relationship between a father and son-she is doing the same, but of a mother and daughter. However, from the very beginning, Clarke subtlety lets the lets the audience know all is not well. The mother’s attitude towards her daughter seems to be one centred around control, rather than love. A small reference to ‘traffic lights’ is, surprisingly, one of the most vivid examples of this as traffic lights are things that can control hundreds of cars at a time.

Perhaps Gillian Clarke used this example to portray the long for control the mother occupies which, when you take into account phrases such as ‘Fierce confrontation’ and ‘Fought over’, we can see she is not getting. ‘The Song of the old Mother’ is yet another poem centring around a maternal instinct; however, the message being portrayed is not one of conflict-but one of acceptance. ‘I kneel and blow’, ‘I must scrub, and bake and sweep. ‘ Even this simple use of the word ‘and’ clearly states to the reader the sheer amount of physical duty this seemingly frail ‘old mother’ has to do.

And what is her attitude to the ‘young’ who, while she is working her bones to the ground ‘lie long and dream in their bed’… love. It seems that Butler Yeats is trying to portray that, while she may not enjoy working for her children, she feels that, while she is their mother, it is her duty. Her attitude towards them does not change because of this injustice; she just accepts it as one of her jobs as a mother. It is the structure of the poem that really highlights this, as the use of the rhyming couplets (i. e. ‘blow’, ‘glow’, ‘sweep’ ‘peep. ‘) suggests a pattern.

This is a direct window into the mindset of the woman-she views a mother working for her children a tradition-and something that, like the rhyme in the poem, will not change. Enjambment is a useful tool that can show confusion about a certain aspect of life and is also one of the most clever, subtle ways of detailing confusion a character may feel about their attitude toward another. Ben Johnson, describing the death of his son in ‘On My 1st Sonne’ uses enjambment extremely well. ‘For why Will man lament the state… ‘ is one such example.

Johnson feels confused about his attitude toward his late son. ‘My sinne was too much hope of thee. Maybe it is this he is so confused over. This phrase shows his attitude of almost resentment toward the ‘lov’d boy. ‘ Ben Johnson is basically stating he wishes he never loved his son so much, due to the pain he is experiencing now he has departed. Heaney also inserts enjambment into ‘Follower’ to subtlety show his subconscious confused on as to why his father is now viewed as such a hindrance. ‘I was a nuisance’… ‘But today it was my father who keeps stumbling. ‘

These two lines, in the same stanza, cleverly show the injustice of the son’s attitude and the use of enjambment-‘All I ever did was follow In his broad shoulders… shows Johnson realises it. 5 stanzas in the poem detail the son ‘following’ the father, yet only 1 shows the father ‘following’ the son. Is the son really fair in his refusal to support a man who has supported him for so long? None of the attitudes towards other people are completely positive or negative in any of the 4 poems studied. From a man unjustly annoyed at the realisation he will have to support a man who supported him for so long, to a mother longing for control over the ‘defiant glare’ of her daughter-all of these poets portrayed a main attitude coming from one character to another, but then chose to insert a hidden one too.

Enjambment proved to be a useful technique to these poets, as did language and structure-but who do I feel did the best job in portraying these attitudes? Human beings are fickle characters and our attitudes towards others often change, and it is this reason why Seamus Heaney was undeniably most successful in his portrayal of varying attitudes. You see, he was the only one who showed a transition of feelings and attitudes. From beginning describing ‘An expert’, he ends detailing a man who ‘will not go away. ‘ The fickleness of his character is therefore vividly explored-fuelling his success.

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