Follower Poetry Analysis Prompt Question: ‘Follower’: How does Heaney use language to show thechanging relationship between father and son? “Follower by Heaney is apoem about the changing and often complex relationship between father and son,as well as showcasing the wide variety of emotions that come with it. We cansee throughout the poem how the relationship has progressed over the course ofHeaney’s upbringing, from the time he was a child to now when he has grown up.
From the glowing terms he used as a child to describe his father as anawe-inspiring role model, to the less than praiseful ones at the end, we cansee the full evolution of Heaney’s feelings and emotions towards his father. Ibelieve that this relationship has changed as Heaney’s once powerful and strongfather, someone that was almost God in Heaney’s eyes, has now become old andfragile, while the poet has now grown into a fully developed adult. This rolereversal has also changed the relationship, in that now Heaney is now the one caringfor his father, and that his father is now someone that requires on his child’ssupport. This has diminished Heaney’s view of his father. The mood of this poemcan be best described as laudatory and appreciative due to the commendatoryterms he uses to describe his father’s work, as well as in some ways nostalgicbecause of how through a wide range of descriptive language, Heaney pictureshow he played with his father and his absolute fascination with the intricaciesof his father’s work. Some of the key ideas in the poem, which I will explainin my essay, are the various metaphors within the poem, and how Heaney has usedthese as well as other literacy techniques to show the ever changingrelationship between father and son. At the beginning, we can see the lionizingfeelings Heaney has towards his father when he was a child.
One of the firstexamples is located in the first stanza, where Heaney describes his father’sshoulders as “globed”. When suggesting something as globed, it could meansomething that is extremely large and powerful, perhaps in Heaney’s eyes,something thatcould support the whole globe on his shoulders. This, especiallywhen used in this context, emphasizes Heaney’s immense respect and admirationfor his father. Another example in this stanza is “a full sail strung”. Theeffect of a “full sail” gives us the sense that his father is a strong andpowerful figure.
When at a boat is at full sail, there would be a strong wind.This shows his father’s strength and efficiency, like a ship cutting throughthe waves. This also has the effect of making it look as if his father doesthis job effortlessly, just like when a ship at full sail glides through thewater it looks as if it does it at ease, although the task itself may not be aneasy one. In addition, it can also emphasize the point that his father is amajestic and graceful figure, just like a boat sailing across the sea at speed. In this poem, Heaney’s figure is described asa caring and compassionate figure, someone that genuinely acts in the bestinterests of his son. One example is from the fourth stanza, where Heaneywrites: “Sometimes he rode me on his back…” Letting someone ride on your backshows a certain level of affection and closeness, one that is only shown inthose who have a great deal of care for someone else. This shows Heaney’sfather’s genuine affection for Heaney, in that he is willing to tire himself,just to let his child rest.
Throughout the poem, we can see how Heaney isproud of his father’s work as a farmer. An example of this is located in thefirst line of the second stanza, which starts with “An Expert.” This phrase isimportant for a number of reasons. The first is that it is in its own sentence.The effect of this is that it emphasizes the point of the phrase, that Heaney’sfather is an expert at what he does, that he is someone that has mastered theart of ploughing. In addition, not only does this describe how experiencedHeaney’s father is at his work, but also of how proud Heaney is of his father.
Being a farmer is something that normally isn’t thought of as glamorous, butthe fact that he has specifically placed an emphasis on this line shows thatHeaney is someone that really respects his father, someone that admires him. In “Follower”, Heaney has also used a numberof more veiled and subtle ways to describe his father’s appreciation andexperience at his work. An example of this is in stanza 5 where Heaney writes”To close one eye” This particular phrase shows both how good and experiencedHeaney’s father is at this work and also the immense pride he takes with it.”To close one eye” means that Heaney’s father is able to do this ratherdemanding, both physically and mentally, piece of work with one eye closed, whichshows that his father is extremely skilful at his job. An earlier phrase instanza 2 which states “Narrowed and angled at the ground, Mapping the furrowexactly” are to do with the amount of pride Heaney’s father takes in his work.When it states that his eyes are “narrowed and angled at the ground”, it meansthat Heaney’s father is fully concentrated on the task at hand, and that he isnot being bothered by any distractions, his only goal is to get the task donewell. The next line “mapping the furrow exactly” means that Heaney’s father isensuring that the plough is done perfectly, in that he is mapping the ground,ensuring that the furrow, which is the trench made by the plough, is doneexactly how he wants, with no missed spots.
This meticulous care to detailshows the amount of pride and honour Heaney’s father takes in his work, as onlysomeone that takes a great deal of fulfilment from ploughing would put so mucheffort into his work. Heaney may have also used this phrase to describe bothhimself and his father, as they are both individuals that take gratification intheir work, Heaney and his craftsmanship of words as a poet and his father inhis craftsmanship of the land as a farmer. One particular verb that in a nutshelldescribes how Heaney was like when he was a boy is the verb “stumbled”, locatedin the fourth stanza. The literal meaning to this is that when Heaney followedhis dad on the farm, he would constantly fall down or trip.
But this also showsthat Heaney at the time was just not as experienced as his dad around the farm.He might have thought that this following his dad around was playful, while hisdad actually did it seriously. This can be inferred from what directly followsthe verb, “in his hob-nailed wake”. A hob-nailed wake means heavy workequipment, so when put together we can infer that his dad was the one that wasdoing the work with pride and concentration, while Heaney was following behind.Heaney could have been following behind his dad in order to perhaps show offhimself, a reason being that since he is proud of his dad’s work and thinks ofhim as a role model, he might want to impress his father by showing his fatherhis amazement of the work he does and that he is willing to run after him allday. However, he stumbling suggests that although he might want to follow hisdad’s footsteps, he is struggling to, especially with the demanding work ahead.This idea that he at first wanted to also be a farmer is further supported bythe first sentence in stanza 5, which states “I wanted to grow up and plough”.
This phrase clearly supports the motion that at first, Heaney wanted to becomea farmer too, following in his dad’s footsteps. The “wanted”, in addition tothe phrase in the previous stanza, shows that he might have encountered severedifficulties and challenges throughout this journey, thus bringing the end ofthe road for him as a farmer. This gives us a feeling of nostalgia as Heaney isnow talking about the past, thinking about of what he could have been. Theglowing terms he uses to describe “what could’ve been”, coupled with hisensuing struggle to follow his dad’s footsteps, give this poem, especially inthese stanzas, a wistful feeling. We can get an idea of what Heaney’s fatherwas like on the farm from a few key phrases. One of these is in stanza 5, whichstates “in his broad shadow around the farm.” The key term in this line is “broadshadow”. This term suggests to us that Heaney’s dad is someone that watchesover the farm, in that a “broad shadow” is an extremely large shadow.
This,coupled with the next part of the phrase “round the farm”, makes it clear thatHeaney’s father constantly keeps a watchful eye on his property, especially onhis child. Heaney, through this phrase, tells us that he feels that his fatheris an extremely observant figure, someone who feels as if his child’s safetyand wellbeing is of paramount importance. By having a “broad shadow”, we knowthat Heaney’s father is someone that is always there for his child, someonethat really cares for him. A “broad shadow” also paints a picture of care, ofsafety. The previous line states “All I ever did was follow…” This shows thatHeaney was someone that always took comfort in the knowledge that his fatherwas looking over him at all times. From these terms, we can reasonably inferthat Heaney not only had a close relationship with his dad over his admirationof his work, but also of the fact that his father was a very protective figure,something that Heaney clearly took a lot of comfort in. The relationship between father and son inthis poem has stayed very close, with Heaney having very affectionate feelingsfor his father. This however changes in the last stanza.
In this stanza, Heaneyhas reversed the roles of father and son. He has demonstrated the effects ofageing by showing how his father has changed, from a once powerful and dominantfigure, into a weak and frail person. This is shown in the first two lines,where Heaney says that he “was a nuisance, tripping, falling,” However, thenext sentence starts with “But today, it is my father who keeps stumbling…” Wecan see a clear role reversal here, what was once Heaney, has now become hisfather. His father is now someone that is stumbling behind him, someone thatnow is completely reliant of his now grown son’s (Heaney) support.
His fatheris shown as a child again, just like what Heaney once was, yapping always,tripping and falling, always requiring a second pair of arms. Heaney, in thisphrase, seems to infer, in extremely veiled terms, his annoyance with his nowelderly father. He does this by calling himself a nuisance when he was young,before doing a role reversal with his dad, which suggests to the reader thatHeaney’s dad is now a source of irritation to him. This is further shown in thefinal line, which states “Behind me, and will not go away.” By saying that hisfather is someone that won’t go away, especially within the context used in theprevious 2 lines, it can be reasonably suggested that Heaney feels as if hisfather is like a heavy rock that is tied to him, a rock that he has to drageverywhere.
Overall, Heaney is stating that his father is almost a full-timestrain on his life. However, Heaney may be feeling a sense of guilt, as he wasthe one that has benefited so much from his father’s constant care andattention when he was younger. Heaney was also the one that kept on followinghis father, as stated in the last 2 lines of stanza 5. Heaney’s dad was alsoperfectly happy, perhaps even thrilled, that Heaney would follow him along allday while he did his work. Thus, Heaney might now feel that since this is whathe acted with his father, it is only appropriate to let his father follow himnow. All of this, coupled with the fact that Heaney’s father was the personthat moulded Heaney into the successful person he is today, probably makesHeaney feel that he has a sense of “duty” to support and care for his elderlyfather.
By feeling that this “duty” is a hassle, he feels as if he is breakingan unwritten rule, thus bringing him guilt. “Follower” is a masterpiece of describing thecomplex relationship between father and son, and the course it takes as thecharacters evolve and age. It, through a wide range of literacy devices,describes Heaney’s constantly changing feelings towards his father, from hisadmiration of his dad as a captivating awe-inspiring figurewhen he was young, the challenges he encounters while following his father’sfootsteps, and the annoyances he feels when his father has grown old and frail,this poem shows it all.