The central idea in the poem is the way the relationship between parents and children shifts through time, and their cyclical nature. Heaney moves from the perspective of a young, admiring son to an exasperated one. The child literally followed in his father’s footsteps as he ploughed or worked around the farm but he also follows him in a generational way. Finally, he is ruefully aware of his father’s dependence upon him, realising that his responsibility “will not go away” (line 24).
The opening stanza presents the poet’s father as a very strong farmer whose physical strength is prodigious. Heaney presents his younger self’s admiration for his father. The description of his ...view middle of the document...
We are able to hear the clank of metal in the alliterated t’s in the words “set”, “fit”, “bright” and “steel-pointed”. The expertise claimed for the father by the admiring son is proven in the actual execution of the work in hand. Satisfyingly, “The sod rolled over without breaking.” This is akin to peeling an apple all in one go but it is a great deal more difficult. The fourth line of the stanza is linked by both sense and enjambment to the third stanza in a brilliant poetic touch:
“At the headrig, with a single pluck
of reins, the sweating team turned round
and back into the land.”
The headrig is at the extreme end of the furrow at eh edge of a field where the ploughman must turn (rather like a hairpin bend on a road) and return to start a new furrow. The turn is imitated by the verse being enjambed. The Latin word for turn is “versus” and it is clear that Heaney is deliberately employing this idea as the uses the word “turned”. His father’s consummate skill and control is again emphasised; all he needs to do is give “a single / pluck of reins” to make the horses turn. Of course, the “sweating team” comprises his father and his team of horses. The cooperation between and beast is presented here and it is intimately connected with the land. The remainder of the stanza concentrated on the precision of the poet’s father’s work. Terms normally associated with mathematics and cartography are employed:
Narrowed and angled at the ground,
Mapping the furrow exactly
The words “angled”, “mapped” and “exactly” tell us that the business of ploughing is very skilled and that being good at it requires a great deal of know how; there is a good deal more to it than meets the eye.
The first three stanzas concentrate on the...