The deadline for blog submissions has been extended to 12 noon on Tuesday 28 May. This is an absolute deadline – I will not be able to take into consideration any posts posted after that time.
This is to confirm that I have extended the deadline for the submission of take-home papers to 8.55am on Saturday. Please note that papers should be submitted by that time in both electronic form, via email, and hard copy. Hard copies can be left in my pigeon-hole outside the secretary’s office if I am not in my own office.
Please note that I will NOT accept papers once the sit-down exam has started. If you are taking the sit-down exam, PLEASE ARRIVE PUNCTUALLY! You should be at the exam venue (H-332) at least 10 minutes before the start of the exam.
On the final exam, you may make use of notes and an anthology of your choice, as well as a dictionary and/or a thesaurus.
Here are the Seamus Heaney lecture slides – simply click on the link to download them. (If you have any problems, let me know.) If this works, I’ll also upload the lecture slides for previous classes to the blog, so that you can access them here.
For anyone who missed the class, or mislaid their handout, here’s the text of Seamus Heaney’s ‘Punishment’, which we’ll focus upon on Friday. You can add your thoughts and your answers to the questions I set you below, in the comments (don’t forget to identify yourself, either by name or student number).
I can feel the tug
of the halter at the nape
of her neck, the wind
on her naked front.
It blows her nipples
to amber beads,
it shakes the frail rigging
of her ribs.
I can see her drowned
body in the bog,
the weighing stone,
the floating rods and boughs.
Under which at first
she was a barked sapling
that is dug up
her shaved head
like a stubble of black corn,
her blindfold a soiled bandage,
her noose a ring
the memories of love.
before they punished you
you were flaxen-haired,
undernourished, and your
tar-black face was beautiful.
My poor scapegoat,
I almost love you
but would have cast, I know,
the stones of silence.
I am the artful voyeuur
of your brain’s exposed
and darkened combs,
your muscles’ webbing
and all your numbered bones:
I who have stood dumb
when your betraying sisters,
cauled in tar,
wept by the railings,
who would connive
in civilized outrage
yet understand the exact
and tribal, intimate revenge.
In an interview with the Paris Review, Heaney reportedly said of ‘Punishment’,
It’s a poem about standing by as the IRA tar and feather these young women in Ulster. But it’s also about standing by as the British torture people in barracks and interrogation centers in Belfast. It’s about standing between those two forms of affront.
There’s a website here with a very useful introduction, written to be accessible for students whose first language is not English. You should be moving beyond it in your own readings of the poem, but it does give you the basics. You can also find links to the author’s introductions to Heaney’s other poems.
On Tuesday we’ll be looking at the work of the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. On Tuesday I gave you a selection of his poems to read (if you weren’t in class, you can pick up a handout from my office). You should read all these poems before we meet, but for now I’d especially like you to focus on ‘Digging’. Here it is:
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.
Under my window a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade,
Just like his old man.
My grandfather could cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mold, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.
As usual, please post your thoughts, comments and questions about the poem below.
Here’s a link to Philip Larkin reading his poem, ‘Church Going’, and here is a definition and a picture of a rood loft (but don’t worry about this too much, the speaker in the poem, like most of us, seems not to know what a rood loft is).
And here is a link to the poem, and that final stanza again:
A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.
Please post your comments on the poem below, in the ‘comments’ section. I’m curious to read your responses. If you have any questions about the poem, about any aspect of it you don’t understand, or about any of Larkin’s other work, you can also post them here.
So, without more ado, here they are. First of all, ‘Talking in Bed’:
Talking in Bed
Talking in bed ought to be easiest,
Lying together there goes back so far,
An emblem of two people being honest.
Yet more and more time passes silently.
Outside, the wind’s incomplete unrest
Builds and disperses clouds in the sky,
And dark towns heap up on the horizon.
None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why
At this unique distance from isolation
It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind,
Or not untrue and not unkind.
There’s a VERY close reading of the poem online, here, for anyone who is interested.
The second poem, ‘Aubade’ is one of Larkin’s last, published in 1977 in the Times Literary Supplement. An aubade is a dawn love-song, often from sung from a door or a window as a lover leaves his (or, more rarely, her) sleeping beloved. We find them in Chaucer and in John Donne (for example, ‘The Sun Rising‘). Larkin’s ‘Aubade’ plays on our expectations of the genre. The critic A.N. Wilson describes ‘Aubade’ as the one poem written in his lifetime of ‘unquestionable greatness’. You can read his essay, which in fact is critical of Larkin’s aesthetic, here, but first read Larkin’s poem:
I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.In time the curtain-edges will grow light.Till then I see what’s really always there:Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,Making all thought impossible but howAnd where and when I shall myself die.Arid interrogation: yet the dreadOf dying, and being dead,Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse—The good not done, the love not given, timeTorn off unused—nor wretchedly becauseAn only life can take so long to climbClear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;But at the total emptiness for ever,The sure extinction that we travel toAnd shall be lost in always. Not to be here,Not to be anywhere,And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
This is a special way of being afraidNo trick dispels. Religion used to try,That vast moth-eaten musical brocadeCreated to pretend we never die,And specious stuff that says No rational beingCan fear a thing it will not feel, not seeingThat this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,Nothing to love or link with,The anaesthetic from which none come round.
And so it stays just on the edge of vision,A small unfocused blur, a standing chillThat slows each impulse down to indecision.Most things may never happen: this one will,And realisation of it rages outIn furnace-fear when we are caught withoutPeople or drink. Courage is no good:It means not scaring others. Being braveLets no one off the grave.Death is no different whined at than withstood.
Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,Have always known, know that we can’t escape,Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ringIn locked-up offices, and all the uncaringIntricate rented world begins to rouse.The sky is white as clay, with no sun.Work has to be done.Postmen like doctors go from house to house.