Storm on the Island Essay
Storm on the Island
The poets, who wrote the four poems in question, all put forward their personal views upon the aspect(s) of nature which their pieces are themed around. In Seamus Heaney’s poem, ‘Storm on the Island’, the theme is implied simply in the title. Heaney’s poem explores the effects a storm has upon island dwellers where there is no natural shelter. He relates how weak and defenceless we humans are compared to these natural happenings. The way in which we are forced to shelter and protect ourselves from this ‘nothing’ which has the power and might to change everything in our lives.
The unmistakable sense of people’s fear of nature’s fury is shown throughout the poem. Human and Nature seem to be at war with each other- nature versus man- with Nature the dominant adversary but humans still grimly hanging on. The two sides almost appear to be at a ‘stalemate’. For try as it might, the storm has not beaten man- and man can only find means to protect himself- being too weak to retaliate. Heaney presents the storm as an unwanted and vicious foe but does recognize Nature’s absolute and unrivalled power.
Nature is shown to be brutal, strong and overpowering- without mercy to the island dwellers. The other post 1914 poem- ‘The Field Mouse’ by Gillian Clarke, presents a view which totally opposes Heaney’s idea of Nature dominating over man and man being the victim. In fact it completely reverses the idea and has instead man being the one at fault, and shows Nature’s innocent beings (e. g. the field mouse) as the ones who suffer because of our stupidity and greed. It portrays how the innocence of the vulnerable is shattered by stronger forces through the story of a field mouse fatally injured by a harvester.
She presents humans as the tyranny- the plague of nature- destroyers of lives, beauty and innocence through our greed, arrogance and selfish ignorance to the people and things around us- nature as the wronged- the helpless- the meek. Clarke’s poem compared to the less descriptive- though just as effective Storm on the Island are very similar in theme, as both concentrate on the seeming battle between man and nature- though the poets are in different minds on who is the most destructive.
Heaney concentrates on the natural occurrences that disrupt and destruct people’s lives- but are unavoidable- whereas Clarke focuses on the destruction and consequences Humans force upon nature and the innocent. The actions which are not unavoidable and could easily be averted. Each of the four poems are set out in different styles and structure to add to the overall effect of the poems. Storm on the Island is mostly blank verse. Twenty lines without rhyme, but which is structured in strict iambic pentameter of 10 beats per line.
This produces an almost methodical and solemn rhythm to the poem which adds to the seriousness of the situation the Island dwellers find themselves in, for if they did not devise methods of protecting themselves from Natures fury, it could be fatal to them. The field mouse however differs. Gillian Clarke sectioned the poem into three stanzas – beginning, middle and end. The first stanza introduces the separate scenes of haymaking and war and compares the two.
Though haymaking initially is thought of to be a peaceful and naturalistic event, Clarke manages to turn usually innocent images into deadly, warlike scenes.E. g. summer, the long grass is a snare drum. When the idea of summer is presented, we generally perceive a warm, happy peaceful time- as with long grass, we think naturalistic scenes. Long grass is home to plenty of creatures- snakes, rabbits, pheasants, mice etc. As it is home to many creatures and it is therefore considered a safe haven for them.
However, Clarke dispels this idea and instead of having it safe, has it a ‘snare drum’. Snare- entrapping, harsh- warlike. Drum conjures up the idea of marching to war- the drums in the background providing the solemn funeral like March.
The 2nd stanza introduces the mouse injured by their hay making- caught in the tractors blade. An innocent creature killed because of humans. Due to the underlying images and hints of war in the previous stanza, our minds are tuned to this idea of war destroying the innocent, so when given a mouse killed by humans, we think of the innocent civilians who are caught in the crossfire of the war in Europe who have nothing to do with the conflict but ironically due to being neutral are hurt. The third stanza portrays the consequences of our actions upon nature- Before the day’s gone, the field lies bleeding,
The dusk garden inhabited by the saved, voles, frogs, a nest of mice. It disconcertingly again tunes our minds to human war- the refugees fleeing their homes to escape death or injury. The destruction and woe that war brings- the field lies bleeding- And again our poisonous actions on nature. The poem is highly metaphorical- using combinations of varied linguistic devices to achieve its end ambition of procuring a sense of guilt and remorse in the reader. Metaphors and personification (e. g. the field lies bleeding) are used with great skill- blending two similar stories into one.
By using a simple field mouse injured by a harvester in summer to represent innocent civilians casualties caused by caught in the cross fire of a war they play no part in, she evokes feelings of pity and shame inside the reader which then also transfers on to the civilians. She also produces scenes of natural innocence and transforms them into images desecrated by human hands (e. g. ‘a child running through killed flowers’ and the death of the mouse) to embed her point of our contamination and cruelty upon nature and its creations.
Her choice of language is also highly emotive and the feelings of shame and guilt rest largely upon her language. Perhaps this is merely a coincidence, but I received the impression, that the two pre 1914 poems were much more idyllic nature wise and were more centred upon the beauty and creations, whereas the other two struck me to be more about human interference with nature and the affect nature has on human lives. This is almost definitely due to the huge world wars of 1914 onwards which took place and the after shocks which followed.
Though this is only a guess, it would explain the rather sudden change on the outlook of our lives and nature. Millions of people had died suffered and had had their homes destroyed- creating misery, devastation and thousands of refugees. Storm on the Island even has some likeness to the Blitz. Having to build improved safer shelters to protect themselves from the bombardment and rage of the storm reminds us rather of people having to build air raid shelters and take refuge in the underground to protect themselves from the deadly bombings in world war two.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 29 September 2017