A Constable Calls by Seamus Heaney Essays

2041 Words Oct 21st, 2010 9 Pages
The Constable Calls
By Seamus Heaney
A Constable Calls is the second in a sequence of six poems entitled 'Singing School' which concludes Heaney's fourth collection 'North' (1975). The poem is a vivid description of an incident from the poet's childhood - a policeman making an official visit to his father's farm at Mossbawn to record tillage returns. There is something grotesquely bizarre about an armed representative of the law travelling by bicycle around the Ulster countryside to record agricultural statistics. Although the incident is described through the impressionable eyes of a child, we are also aware of the wiser presence of the adult Heaney. On a broader level the poem accurately records the sense of resentment and alienation
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The phrase 'Arithmetic and fear' links the adult and child worlds. While the men are concerned with totals, the boy is frightened by the constable's revolver.

In the fourth movement Heaney brilliantly captures the mind of a child (himself) through his fearful questioning of self which maintains the tension

But was there not a line
Of turnips where the seed ran out
In the potato field

The 'black hole in the barracks' convincingly, yet humorously, expresses the child's frightened sense of the enormity of his father's guilt, and his own, in withholding information about the illegal row of turnips. On a more serious political level the 'black hole' anticipates (with hindsight?) the detention centres which would be set up by the R.U.C. and the British army during the Troubles. The phrase 'Small guilts' betrays the presence of the adult Heaney.

In the fifth movement the young boy's feeling of relief at the imminent departure of the constable is qualified by the sight of his 'baton-case' (another frightening symbol of his official power), of his ledger, the 'domesday book' where the Heaneys' 'crime' has been officially recorded. The reference to the 'domesday book' is richly allusive, but again it makes the reader

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