In Funeral Rites, Heaney portrays various attitudes towards death, which are amplified in North as a collection, through its distinct, tri-partite structure. In the first section, Heaney concentrates on his admiration of the ceremony he experienced attending funerals in the past.The transition from past tense to present is confirmed by the strong adverb ‘Now’, and lines 33-39 focus on The Troubles plaguing Northern Ireland since the 1960s. Future tense beginning on line 40 addresses Heaney’s hope for the future, emphasizing the current lack of ritual.
Heaney begins Funeral Rites: ‘I shouldered a kind of manhood’. The choice of diction ‘shouldered’ implies physically carrying the coffin, however also hints at the emotional burden associated with maturity and manhood. This is reminiscent of Mid Term Break, when Heaney ‘felt embarrassed by old men standing up to shake [his] hand’1, implying his mature role at the funeral although he was still a schoolboy. However, although Heaney portrays himself to be uncomfortable with this role in Mid Term Break, he welcomes manhood more openly in Funeral Rites, as implied by the comma ending the first line. This piece of punctuation suggests his maturity sinking in, as well as illustrates his acceptance of this role. Funerals are an important final rite of passage in a person’s life (as the title suggests), yet funerals also seem to act as milestones to Heaney, as he matures.
The second and third stanzas of Funeral Rites are highly descriptive, as Heaney describes ‘their puffed knuckles’. This close, sensory description of the body is present in many of his bog poems, but specifically in The Grauballe Man, as, similar to Funeral Rites, Heaney dedicates multiple stanzas to the direct, det...
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...rom Part One in everything from technique and tone to approach of subject matter. Whereas in Part One, Heaney addresses political issues and death through metaphors and the symbolism of the bog poems, he delivers a more direct response in Part Two, conveying his opinion in a more candid and straightforward manner, such as in Whatever You Say, Say Nothing.
In Funeral Rites, Heaney demonstrates his fascination for death, and alludes to the fitting customs accompanying it, while only briefly referencing the violence in Ireland caused by the civil war. This is contrasted deeply with the rest of North, as Heaney shifts from the representation of death as natural and customary in Part One, to savage and sanguinary in Part Two.
Parker, Michael : The Making of the Poet : Seamus Heaney, 1993
Lloyd, David : The Two Voices of Seamus Heaney’s North, 1979
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