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Poem: Strand At Lough Beg Essay, Research Paper

Christopher Cameron

Nov. 2001 ~

Lambert Poetry Paper

The Strand at Lough Beg

The Part of this poem that is to be looked at first is imagery in the title of the poem. Seamus Heaney starts us off by giving us this picture of the Strand at Lough Beg, which is the shore of a lake. Already the reader is given the starting point of this story; the Kind of person that Colum McCartney is.

Seamus Heamey begins the poem with an image of isolation, confusion, and the loss of safety. Heaney describes what happen the night that his cousin was killed:

Leaving the white glow of the filling stations

And a few lonely street lamps among the fields

You climbed the hills towards Newtownhamilton

Past the Fews Forest. Out beneath the stars- (lines 1-4)

The first few lines describe how his cousin started out in the glow of the gas station where he was, and him driving off to an open area in a town with the stars above him. The light here represented safety. Colum has started off in a situation where he was very close to this light: where there was, most likely, a store and other people. After he is done at the gas station he then drives away. Heaney gives us the image of the lampposts passing by as he drove. This shows how the light was now outside of where he was but it was still with him. Finally he drives up to Netownhamilton, passing some forests on the way and place where the only light that he is exposed to is the stars that are shining down at him from the sky. This now represents how the imminent safety that he had at the public gas station was now gone and he was isolated, in these hills only lit by stars. The safety in the light is now, far way: leaving him exposed to anything “outside”. The image of the first few lines is of Colum now isolated, surrounded by silence, and open to the dangers they may be lurking.

The succeeding lines are expressed through historical imagery.

Along that road, a high, bare pilgrim’s track

Where Sweeney fled before the bloodied heads.

Goat beards and dogs eyes in a demon pack

Blazing out of the ground snapping and squealing. (Lines 5-8)

In these few lines we are given this image of his cousin now driving down an isolated road. Heaney then bestows us with the gruesome image of these bloodied heads and animals: referring to the story of Sweeney. This new character that Heaney intimated us to, Sweeney, is an Irish king (around 1000AD) who was titled as a madman for savagely killing a saint. The incentive behind the use of Sweeney was to give the reader the idea that this road is dangerous of that something bad is going to happen. Even though the image of “Goat beards and dogs eyes in a demon pack / Blazing out of the ground snapping and Squealing” is quite appalling and startling, Heaney adds this in order to give the reader a feeling of the unreal, world and that what is happening, really shouldn’t be. “Blazing out of the ground snapping and squealing” represents how he thought the killers had approached his cousin: in a surprise and unexpected mode. There is a sense of his whole world being intruded upon.

It is now, in the middle of the first stanza, which we know that Seamus Heaney, himself, is not sure of what really happened that night. This is evident by the way he questions what he says is happening.

What blazed ahead of you? A faked roadblock?

The red lamp swung, the sudden brakes and stalling

Engine, voices, heads hooded and the cold nosed gun?

Or in your driving mirror tailing headlights

That pulled out suddenly and flagged you down

Where you weren’t known and far from what you knew.

The lowland clays and waters of Lough Beg.

Church Island’s spire its soft treeline of yew [Lines 9-16]

Here he uses present imagery to describe what happened, and to make it seem more possible. Again, I think, he uses analogies to light to represent the level of safety around his cousin while this was going on. In line ten, he applies the image of a “red lamp” swinging. In the beginning of the poem we had the image of a white light in our minds, which represented goodness, and purity, but now we have a drastic transition to a red light, which gives us more of a sharp and “warning” sense around him. From these lines we also, now, get the audio connection of what is happening. In line ten and eleven all what he describes is through what Colum must of heard when he made that abrupt stop. This effect make it even more horrifying because his Colum could probably sense what was going on and that he was in trouble. The description of the cold nose gun moreover makes it seem even more a brutal crime because it makes the killing seem more planned because the gun had still not been fired, as if the gun itself was waiting for him to come. In these lines we are taken back to the feeling of safety when Heaney says how Colum wasn’t in familiar territory: he was in hostile, protestant territory instead of Catholic. In referring to Lough Beg it implies that Colum’s land was peaceful and that there wasn’t any feeling of insecurity when you were there. In addition, he mentions that there is a Church near Lough Beg, giving the reader the sense that Lough Beg was a place to be considered close to sanctuary.

The poem takes a turn in the third stanza, and Heaney talks about the way that his cousin lived. Importantly, he also describes his cousin’s nature and outlook on what was going on between the Protestants and Catholics.

There you use to hear guns fired behind the house

Long before rising time, when duck shooters

Haunted the marigolds and bulrushes, But still were

Scared to find spent cartridges,

Acrid, brassy, genital, ejected,

On your way across the strand to fetch the cows

[Lines 17-22]

In these lines Heaney describes he lands that Colum lived on and the way he was effected by little things. For example, the fact that the firing of duck shooters scared him as a grown war reflected either how bad the war was (that every loud nose disturbed him and just reminded him of what was going on) or that he was so innocuous, like a child, that he couldn’t make sense of what was happening around him. In this case, the reason behind his fear is combination of both these possibilities. I think that when Colum sees these cartridges of bullets he was get reminded of what was happening around him and showed that he feared war: he was anti-war.

For you and yours and yours and mine fought shy,

Spoke an old language of conspirators

And could not crack the whip or seize the day:

Big voiced scullions, herders, feelers round

Haycocks and hindquarters, talkers in byres.

Slow arbitrators of the burial ground

These few lines support the idea of him being innocent because he was a shy and timid person, not aggressive. He lived on a farm and was simple, he was not like the rest of the people who were always stressed about the problems they may have had; he was more laid back and satisfied. This stanza was to show how Colum McCartney didn’t fit into the war picture and gave more reason towards how unnecessary his death was because he was neutral and wanted nothing to do with that war scene.

In the third, and last stanza of the poem Seamus Heaney now brings into the poem, his own imagination and thoughts. He tells us the way he believes a person should be buried and what the experience of his cousin’s death was like for him.

“Across that strand of yours the cattle graze

Up to their bellies in an early mist

And now they turn their unbewildered gaze

To where we work our way through speaking sedge

The beginning of the third stanza suggests that it might be a continuation of the second because it describes, still, the environment that Colum lived in. I think that it was important that Heaney uses the farm animal the cow, in this poem. Out of all farm animals, cows would be most like the character of Colum. Cows are quiet and don’t do anything to anyone, yet they are eventually killed for no good reason: just how Colum McCartney was killed. Furthermore, the cows show how even they sense that the environment is not safe and that there is something wrong: they know what is happening. The image of the mist is almost used as a way of transitioning from the environment of Colum, into the thoughts of Heaney.

“Drowning in dew. Like a dull blade with its edge

Honed bright. Lough Beg half-shines under the haze.”

I turn because the sweeping of your feet

Has stopped behind me, to find you on your knees

With blood and roadside muck in your hair and eyes,

Then kneel in front of you in brimming grass

In these lines Seamus Heaney discusses how he feels his relation ship with Colum was, and how it abruptly terminated. It is important that Heaney portrays the image of him and his cousin walking by the lake, to the viewer, in order to express how they had a good relationship because the lake represents safety [“Honed bright.”] and positive feelings. Then he goes on to talk about this abrupt termination of his relationship by saying “because the sweeping of your feet / Has stopped behind me.” Even though, in his description on how he believed things should have been, he describes Colum as bloody and dying at his knees, perhaps praying he wont die, this exhibits how drastically Heaney wished he could have at least seen his cousin before he died. On account of his cousin being killed in the middle of hostile territory, the chances were that Seamus Heaney never recovered Colum McCartney’s body.

And gather up cold handfuls of the dew

To wash you. Cousin. I dab you clean with moss

Fine as the drizzle out of a low cloud.

I lift you under the arms and lay you flat.

With rushes that shoot green again. I plait

Green scapulars to wear over your shroud. [Lines 39-44]

In these six lines Heaney describes the way Colum should had been buried. The way Heaney describes this cleansing of the body and clothing it was depicted in a very ritualistic and loving way. It showed how important it was to Heaney that his cousin was buried correctly and humanely.

Seamus Heaney’s The Strand at Lough Beg describes Colum McCartney’s death in three different ways: The way he might have died, why he shouldn’t have died, and the way he should have been put to rest. It is important to notice how Heany doesn’t mention, once, any vindictive hatred towards the killers but instead focuses on love and an undying respect for the dead. The poem starts out with a tempestuous seen, that connects to all the readers senses and introduces us to the scene of his death. However, the poem develops into a loving and heartbreaking eulogy to Colum McCartney, through Heaney’s expression of light, mystery, change, and way of living.

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