Poetry of Violence and Injustice in Irish History
In what ways do these two poets tell their stories so that readers will be shocked and moved?
Which poem shocked and moved you more and why?
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The two poems that I will be comparing and contrasting are “The Eviction” (from Laurence Bloomfield in Ireland) by the poet called William Allingham and “Claudy” by James Simmons.
William Allingham was born in Co, Donegal in 1924 and he died in 1989. During his life he worked as a customs officer, first in Ireland then in England where he settled in 1963. His friends in the literary world were people such as Rosetti and Tennyson.
James Simmons died at the age of 68 in June 2001. He taught at Friends School Lisburn for five years before moving to Africa to teach English in a school in Nigeria. He then returned to Coleraine and taught in the University of Ulster. He was born into a Protestant family who lived in Londonderry where his grandfather was the major. His reason for writing the poem “Claudy” was as a result of the I.R.A. setting off three bombs on the morning of July 31st 1972 killing nine people.
“The Eviction” is simply about a village being evicted by their landlords and it shows the reactions of the people to this.
“Claudy”, however, describes what the people were doing at the time of the bomb and it shows their desperate attempts to fight death.
In “The Eviction” we immediately see that it is in iambic pentameter. For example,
“In early morning twilight, raw and chill.”
This is to give the effect of a relentless and methodical march, coming towards the village. This marching effect is kept throughout the whole poem. There are rhyming couplets at the end of each line. The effect of this is to make the reader believe that the march is never going to stop. They are always expecting the rhyme to come at the end of each line that helps in the long, slow drone of the march. The poet uses alliteration in line three by writing,
“Through miles of mire in steady grave array.”
The poet used this to again give a sort of momentum or drone to the line.
On line six the poets writing shows irony as he wrote,
“Under each greatcoat a bayonet clings.”
This is a bit like taking a hammer to crack a nut. The army who are marching are there to defend, not attack, s we can see the irony as they are far too well armed, “a rifle swings.”
We see that there are some Catholics like “Paudeen Dhu” who are betraying the people in the village. We see that the poet used the word “creeping” which has a sense of power behind it. We also see that he “pretends his needful duty”. He is hiding away and his stature has shrunk. His needful duty is to feel sorry for the people and to have a look of regret on his face but as we know, this is just pretend and Paudeen Dhu does not care for these people who are about to be evicted. He is just in it for the money, “half a crown”.
The poet’s use of the word “piercing” to describe the screams makes us feel as if we are there and it makes it all the more vivid. The poor people cannot believe that their misery is going to be added to.
“Runs out of doors, flies back with piercing screech,
And soon from house to house is heard the cry
of female sorrow, swelling loud and high,”
The poets use of pathetic fallacy on line fourteen and fifteen on stanza 2 of the poem, “Watery field” and “drizzling rain” is good because it helps to set the scene and to show the damp, miserable moods at that time, expressed by the people being evicted.
On line 17 of stanza 2 the poets use of the onomatopoeia, “plashing” again helps us to remember vividly the dreadful conditions there and it also makes us feel as if we were there and can actually hear the “plashing.”
The poets use of direct speech by saying “halt” show to us that an army is being used and it also intensifies the sense of realism and I think that it works well in the poem.
We see again on the last line of stanza 2 the real irony of the soldiers carrying “polished rifles” as they are going to be used against harmless, defenceless people.
We see at the beginning of the third stanza as “the work’s begun” the sheriff “begs for quiet” as he tries to put everything in order. The poet uses the third stanza to describe the first family to be forced out. Women first “baby on the breast”. The poet uses appropriate descriptions to describe the “feeble” and ill people coming out of the house. This makes us aware of how little the families actually have and how weak they are.
The tone of this section of the poem is very sad and upsetting as the poet describes one man’s attempt to speak out but he cannot,
“One old man, tears upon his wrinkled cheek,
Stands trembling on a threshold, tries to speak,
But in defect of any word for this,
Mutely upon a doorpost prints a kiss.”
This part of the poem shows the dignity with which he leaves. That man had probably raised his family there and his parents before him. It shows the love that he had for his house, as it was only four walls, nothing else. All that he can do is kiss the door. This is probably how most of the people feel but still the iambic pentameter goes on,
“One old man, tears upon his wrinkled cheek”.
Still the marching tone goes on and still shows no sign of stopping as there are still rhyming couplets at the end of each line,
The poet for a reason makes this fifth stanza short. He is trying to make us aware of how quickly all their possessions can be reduced to nothing.
On line three of this same stanza we hear again of “Paudeen Dhu” trying to make it look as if he feels sorry for them, “With meekly dismal face.”
On the sixth stanza there is again direct speech by the sheriff, “We have legal hold”. As we know, they do have the right legally but is it morally right to do this? Until now we have seen no real trouble with the people leaving, however in the tenth line of stanza six we see the first person to lash out, “Vengeance of God Almighty fall on you.” This is the first flash of anger with lack of control. We see a contrast with dignity. On line sixteen we can see the people’s desperation because one person said a curse,
“Hang heavy round you at your dying day.” The poet describes the people listening to this curse as, “breathless” and “fix’d” and this shows that no one has enough energy to say or do anything, but just stand and listen.
The poet’s use of onomatopoeia with the words, “dink and thwack”work well as it makes the destruction of the house sound all the more vivid. The poet also uses the strong word ‘unrelenting’ to show that he had no mercy. The contrast to this vividness is achieved by the pathetic fallacy used, ‘slow falling rain’. The buildings are being destroyed quickly whereas the rain is still falling slowly.
The poet reminds the reader of how little time it takes to destroy a village,
‘In three hours more’
In ‘Claudy’ we immediately see that the main difference between it and ‘The Eviction’. ‘Claudy’ has an upbeat rhythm, which bounces along like a nice sunny day.
‘The Sperrins surround it, the Floughan flows by,
At each end of Main Street the hills and the sky,
the small town of Claudy at ease in the sun,
last July in the morning, a new day begun.’
This is to lead us into a false sense of security, to mislead us. This will later help to intensify the shock.
In the first few stanzas the poet tries to build a relationship between ourselves and the characters in the poem. He makes us feel as if we know them by vividly describing what they carry out in their daily routine.
‘McIlhenny is straightening things in his shop,’
The poet chooses to share personal details about the characters to make us feel more involved and attached.
‘And McCloskey is taking the weight off his feet’
We see that the poet also involves the people’s emotions and feelings.
‘Young Temple’s enjoying his first job quite well’
The poet at this stage in the poem is just underlying how simple and how ordinary their lives were. Some of the details are so simple they are not even relevant.
‘And Mrs.McLoughlin is scrubbing her floor,
and Artie Hane’s crossing the street to a door’
On the last line of stanza four the poet used the phrase ‘What’s wrong about that?’
I feel that this is one of the best lines in the poem, as the poet used an excellent understatement in the next stanza, ‘Not much’
Firstly, the poet made a big space with a line before he said ‘_____What’s wrong about that?’
This then really makes the statement stand out, as it should. In a way it is showing the simple, everyday things that the people and ‘Mrs.Brown’ were doing that morning. It is also setting up the huge understatement, ‘Not much’, as we see later she will tragically never return.
‘That strange car parked outside her house will explode’
On the third and fourth line of stanza five the poet wants us to feel shocked or chilled with the line.
‘All of the people I’ve mentioned outside
will be waiting to die or will have already died’
Wee see now why the poet was trying to, in a way, let us get to know all the people that were on that morning, getting on with their daily lives. The poet was trying to do this because it now feels as if ourselves, the readers, have lost our friends too. In the phrase, ‘Waiting to die’ the poet makes it sound chilling because the people are in pain and they are unaware that they are soon to die.
May I still mention that the poet still kept the singsong tone, even at this time of slaughter and anguish. In this stanza,
‘An explosion too loud for your eardrums to bear,
and young children squealing like pigs in the square,
and all faces chalk white and streak with bright red,
and the glass and the dust and the terrible dead’
The poet tells this to us like a child would if they were excited. The poet uses a lot of the word ‘and’ to create this effect. He also makes it sound like a slaughterhouse or an abattoir, ‘squealing like pigs in the square’
The poet goes into a lot of vivid detail by describing ‘an old ladies legs are ripped off’ we also see at the end that the poet is very angry because of the last line he used,
‘And they’re finding it hard to get through on the phone’
This uses a sort of sarcasm as if they made a bit of a mistake but at least the were trying.
Although there is a similarity that these two poems were about violence in Northern Ireland they had very different tones. ‘The Eviction’ was in ‘Iambic pentameter’ and had rhyming couplets. It made the tone of the poem like a march, which, was kept by the poet the whole way through the poem. The tone its self is quite slow moving, like a kind of drone. Whereas in ‘Claudy’ the tone was totally different. The tone is very upbeat and it bounces along quite quickly like a lovely summers day. It too has rhyming couplets but for a different reason. They are to keep the bouncy rhythm going.
‘The Eviction’ is quite long and it is taken from a section of a longer poem however ‘Claudy’ is shorter and it was originally written as a song. Allingham’s poem is a nineteenth Centaury poem whereas Simmons’ poem is twentieth Centaury poem. Allingham’s style of language is also different to Simmons’. In ‘The Eviction the poet used older words like ‘Threescore’ whereas the language used in ‘Claudy’ is a lot more modern. Where Allingham keeps a steady story like poem going however Simmons uses shock tactics by letting us know the people one minute then the next minute they are gone. This gets us involved in the poem, however Allingham’s way of getting us involved is slightly different. He uses direct speech so that we can feel sorry for them hearing them speak.
Overall I find that the poem by James Simmons, ‘Claudy’, shocked me more. I feel that the shock tactic worked for me. I also liked the upbeat rhythm of ‘Claudy’ and the way that it is slightly shorter.