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Ministry of Fear- Seamus Heaney Analysis Essay

Using Ministry of fear and another appropriately selected poem explore the sense of place Heaney conveys with reference to the troubles in N.I, with particular reference to the effects of any political and social context and Heaney’s own views.

Ministry of Fear is from Heaney’s ‘North’ collection, written in 1975 while Heaney was staying in Wicklow, Casualty was written shortly after in ‘Field work’ in 1979. Through these two poems Heaney conveys a strong sense of place, namely Northern Ireland, through ‘Ministry of fear’ Heaney describes four events throughout his life in N.I that had a strong influence on him, ‘Casualty’ is similar but more focused on the Troubles in N.I and some of Heaney’s feelings towards those events.

‘Ministry of fear’ touches on four key moments in Heaney’s life, the first of which is his boarding at St Columbs, then a catholic boarding school in Derry. An experience he found to be very unfair and almost treacherous. “Sweeten my exile” Heaney describing it himself as exile, clearly he thought he was pressured into going perhaps when he didn’t want to. Secondly he describes his first flirtation with poetry and higher education at Queens University. This section is written in a very self deprecating tone and almost a hint of jealousy, He describes his Friend, Seamus Deane’s skill with the pen “vowels and ideas bandied free” and then mocks his own attempts, “hobnailed boots… Fine lawns of elocution” These statements are slightly bathetic and quite ironic, Heaney writing what was to be a highly acclaimed poem about his own poetic inabilities.

He goes on to describe his first sexual encounters when he “came to life” in “the kissing seat of an Austin 16” this whole phrase resonates innocence and although this particular experience is important in any young mans life I think it is a deliberate ploy to stress the innocence he felt he had before the fourth memory. Which is Heaney’s experience with a crass RUC patrol, which seems to represent a bovine threat “crowding round…like black cattle.” Each of these memories helps convey a real sense of place, making it easy for us to identify with Northern Ireland in each instance, through Heaney’s vivid recollections.

‘Casualty’ explores one main theme; the affinities between himself as a poet and a fisherman killed “accidentally” for defying a curfew imposed by the IRA in Derry after Bloody Sunday. Heaney through this poem tells the story of Louis O’Neill, a provincial man who drank at his father in laws bar. Much like Ministry of fear he is looking back on the events, with a different perspective, almost analytically. It begins with a celebration of the man, Heaney affords him much respect and clearly remembers him fondly in the opening stanza, he goes on to express the difficulties Poetry made for him, and how he felt it isolated him from ordinary people especially in Northern Ireland. Similarly to Ministry of fear, when Heaney talks of his own poetic prowess he is self deprecating, ironic and bathetic again. The man, whom he would not talk to poetry about, became a muse or inspiration for one of his own poems. He goes on to recall Louis O’Neill’s death and the political situation in Northern Ireland. “PARAS 13 BOGSIDE NIL” this phrase alone places us perfectly in the context of the troubles.

Aside from the similar contexts of both poems Heaney conveys the sense of place in other ways, In Casualty Heaney takes influence from Writers of his own Country, The fisherman theme is carried throughout the poem, initially just as Louis O’Neills vocation but particularly later in the poem as a way of life, the poem and this particular theme has an affinity in form and content with Yeats’s ‘the fisherman’ Both are written in trimesters, employ iambic rhythms and rhyme on alternate lines. For each poet the fisherman is “ the most unlike, a kind of anti self, who embodies independence, wisdom, integrity – a refusal to submit to the will of the crowd.”

By hinting at Yeats- an Irish poet- Heaney further emphasises the sense of place conveyed in this poem, this time through a more social context as opposed to a political one. He also references a famous Christmas carol “while shepherds watched their flocks” which because of the very religious nature of the Irish Catholics and indeed the protestants is as much an indication of Northern Ireland then as it is now.

In ‘Ministry of fear’ Heaney alludes to many other poems and poets, the most obvious of which was Patrick Kavanagh, An Irish Poet who’s work Heaney discovered in the early 1960’s and for which he developed an increasing respect throughout the decade, Kavanagh seemed to Heaney to illustrate the split he himself was experiencing between “the illiterate self that was tied to the little hills and earthed in the stony grey soil, and the literate self that pined for the city of kings, where art, music and letters were the real things” He also alludes to Yeats as in “Casualty.” Yeats’s ‘ Ancestral Houses’ which speaks of a ‘rich mans flowering lawns’ and of his ‘planted hills’ much in the same way as Haney describes the “fine lawns of elocution. By referencing all these other poets, especially the two Irish ones Heaney makes sure we are concentrating on N.I.


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