Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Reader's Diary #111- Seamus Heaney: Selected Poems 1966-1987 (up to "Sweeney Praises The Trees")

In an effort to not have these poems destroy my last shred of confidence, I picked one at random (well not entirely random- I wasn't going to tackle a three pager) and refused to give up on it. That little beast was "The Badgers".

Step One: Read the life clean out of the little bugger. I must have gone over "The Badgers" a good twenty times or so. I'm almost at the point where I can recite it.

Step Two: Check up every word you don't understand. In this case: duntings, sett, bogey, houseboy and redolent. Of course, these steps are entirely sequential. I checked up definitions after reading through the poem a couple or three times, and then went back to the poem again and so forth.

Step Three: Check up words you don't know well, or even words you think you do. In this case: compost, laurels, intimations, notorious, perilous, interloping, and grovel.

Step Four: See what comments others have about the poem. In this case: nothing.

Step Five: Go back and look at more of the poetic elements, i.e., rhyme scheme, rhythm, etc.

So where did all of this work leave me? Let's see. I think this is the plot and essence of the poem: The voice recounts a man watching a badger cross his garden and seems to take it as some sort of spirit. Did he try to kill it before? I don't know. The voice then talks about going to another house and hearing the owners philosophize that being visited by a spirit is an honour. Finally in the last two stanzas, the voice recounts stopping for a badger to cross the road and concluding that while there isn't anything mystical about badgers, they can still be respected for being determined little buggers. There seems to be a moral about of over complicating matters as a theme (irony anyone?)

At least that's as close as I think I can get. I could be way off. If I'm right though, I do appreciate some of those poetic elements I mentioned in step five. Certainly there's a lot of rich imagery. Words such as "glimmered", "whispered", and "cool" appeal to the senses in creating both a picture and a mood. Rhymes only appear in the last stanza, i.e., "shown" "bone" and "own" and it seems fitting for a stanza in which conclusions are made. They seem to be connectors. And the rhythm, while free form, captures certain images quite nicely. The best example is "his sturdy dirty body" when describing the movements of a badger. The near rhyme and up and down lilt of the phrase almost mimics the gait of the badger.

Conclusion: The hard work paid off and I enjoy the poem more. Do I appreciate having to do a research assignment to enjoy a poem? NO. It's too bad Heaney couldn't meet the reader half-way.

Despite everything, I'm still not confident that "I got the poem". But in the end, I learned a few things about badgers. And isn't that what truly matters?

9 comments:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

to-do list:
1. contact Vatican about having John Mutford sainted - check
2. ask John Mutford to teach me about poetry and badgers - do tomorrow

John Mutford said...

I bet the pope his still laughing his butt off over that one.

John Mutford said...

Just noticed that I used the word "bugger" twice in a single post. Maybe I'll get that saint-hood afterall.

Rebecca said...

Ahhh... badgers! The mascot of my undergrad university! If you want to know more about badgers, you'll want to check this out: http://www.badgerbadgerbadger.com/

John Mutford said...

Rebecca, I actually came across that site while researching this poem. The theme song is hilarious- for now. Though if it becomes the next "Hamster Song" I just might have to go a badger huntin'.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

hahaha the badger site - my kid introduced me to that one. It's mesmerizing!

I saw your friends Cecile and Pierre's picture posted up in my building at work today!

John Mutford said...

Barbara, Thanks for giving me the segue. I was wondering how I could link Cecile and Pierre into my book blog. Anyway, for anyone else who hasn't voted, please vote for my friends Cecile and Pierre to win a wedding at this year's Calgary Stampede by clicking here. Incidently Barbara, why were their pictures posted at your work? Were all ten finalist posted or just them?

Barbara Bruederlin said...

It was just them. I guess because of Pierre working in the building, but I'm sure you've ciphered that out by now.

sammmmmmmmm said...

The following excerpt from this link:

https://www.pshares.org/issues/spring-2011/archive-interview-seamus-heaney-james-randall

SH: Yes, but closer than that term usually implies, for we had a natural, sympathetic understanding of each other. And those elegiac poems are surrounded by other elegies and by meditative poems. There is a poem called “The Badgers” which I’m very fond of—a kind of bridging of the inner and outer life. It’s literally badgers, but they began in my mind to stand for the night-self, the night part in everybody, the scuttling secret parts of life. Just as in a sense the Provisionals are the nightlife of the Catholic community. The skunk is a more sexual creature than the badger, and there’s a poem called “The Skunk,” another bit of night-life.