How Poets Describe the Ending of Childhood Innocence

How Poets Describe the Ending of Childhood Innocence

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How Poets Describe the Ending of Childhood Innocence

Firstly Seamus Heaney is a poet I have studied. He was from a rural
catholic background in Castledawson, County Derry, however he did live
in a mainly protestant area. He addresses issues such as childhood,
familial relationships, particularly his relationship with his father
and also the identity crisis of becoming a poet. For example in his
poem, “Death of a Naturalist” he draws largely on his experience and
the experience of his community in an attempt to represent the
troubles in a new and analytical manner.

In contrast to this, another poet I focused on, Carol Ann Duffy, grew
up in an urban environment. She was born in Glasgow, Scotland in
1955, however grew up in Staffordshire, England and attended
university in Liverpool before moving to London. She also addresses
issues involving childhood memories in such poems as Litany and In Mrs
Tilscher’s class.

Another poet studied was Ronald Stuart Thomas. He was born in Cardiff
but moved from place to place after his father got a job in the Navy.
He finally settled in Holyhead in 1918. He began to seriously learn
the Welsh language, as he wanted a sense of Welsh identity. It showed
importance of being Welsh. Many years later R. S. Thomas was
alienated from much of Welsh country life by his status as a priest in
the Church of Wales. He felt the exclusion keenly, saying once that
an anglicised upbringing like his prevents one from ever feeling one
hundred percent at home in Welsh Wales’. He is similar to Heaney due
to his rural and religious backgrounds and is also a nationalist.

All three of these poets frequently write about a personal experience
they had when growing up and how it affected them, or about the
experience of the child or children and how they think it affected
them. Seamus Heaney wrote Mid-term break, which describes a personal
experience for him when his brother died in a car accident when he was
young. He is recalling a childhood memory. Carol Ann Duffy also
recalls a childhood memory in her poem Litany. She remembered the day
when she thought her mother and her mother’s friends were excluding
her. Also R. S. Thomas wrote the poem Children’s song, which speaks
about how children live in a world of their own in which no adult can
never be a part of. When writing about childhood the poems are
retrospective and look into the past, which concern memories of the

Some poems by these three poets present a child’s perspective of the
world, while others show how an adult views their past.

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For example
poems such as “In Mrs Tilsher’s Class” by Carol Ann Duffy and
“Children’s song” by R. S. Thomas a child’s perspective is present for
they look at the world and surroundings from a child’s point of view.
However in poems such as “Follower” by Seamus Heaney and “The Evacuee”
by R. S. Thomas, an adult’s perspective is present. Even though it is
a childhood memory it still represents an adult looking back into the
time of the incidents, from an adult point of view.

The references to nature are very frequent. Some of the settings are
in the countryside or refer to the countryside. This is evident in
the poems, “follower”, “Digging”, “Death of a Naturalist” and also
“The Evacuee”. Other references are about changes in the natural
world and those changes are then compared to the poet or child’s
experience of getting older. For example in the poem “Death of a
Naturalist” the tadpoles and frogs are a sign of puberty and becoming
of a teenager. There are other examples of this in the poems,
“Follower”, “In Mrs Tilcher’s Class”, “Litany”, and “Children’s song”.

Focusing on Seamus Heaney’s poem “Death of a Naturalist”, which shows
a prime example of childhood innocence and growing up. This poem is a
first person narrative in which the poet is speaking. It is
structured in two verses and is also written in free verse, as it has
no fixed rhythmic pattern. The language chosen is to emphasise the
effect on the senses. For example he chooses words that depict an
ugly or disgusting image of the rotting flax-dam and continues the
notion of rot and decay in succeeding words. He also uses language
that has military connotations when he describes the army of frogs
waiting to invade, poised like mud grenades, which is an example of
one of many similes used in Seamus Heaney’s poems. Initially the
poet’s tone is harsh and unforgiving when he describes the flax-dam.
However there is a clear tonal shift which begins with the line “Here
every spring I will fill”, when he reminisces about collecting
frogspawn as a child. The image presented is more positive and the
language chosen creates a sense of excitement and childish innocence.
The positivity ends and we have a return to the adult’s perspective of
the harsh and ugly usage of nature. Again the language chosen by the
poet appeals to the senses. Lines, which include words such as “slap”
and “plop”, were obscene threats and obvious examples of onomatopoeia
and highlight the poet’s technique and skill in creating affective

Carol Ann Duffy’s poem Litany is another example, which includes
childhood innocence. The poem consists of four stanzas of six lines
each. At the start of the poem the tone is neutral, but several words
add to the effect of negative connotation. Carol Ann Duffy is
disrespectful to women for she insists they hide secretes regarding
subjects such as cancer, sex and debts. The mood is quite negative.
The opening sentence “the soundtrack was litany” is very resentful.
Also the fact that she was “waiting for an imminent storm” has an
element of childishness. In stanza four the mood changes, form a
thrilling pause and then to uproar. This increases tension and
excitement. She has taken control and created havoc. However there
is no fixed pattern in this poem so is therefore written in free

Finally another poem, the evacuee, is a prime example of R. S.
Thomas’ work. This poem is different to the others as it is written
in third person narrative and describes how she might have felt when
she moved from town to the countryside. Nature helps her return to
health. This reference to nature ties in with other poems written by
Seamus Heaney. The poem consists of four stanzas of varied line
number. The mood is positive but was initially one of tension and
anxiety on the part of the young girl. It is the tranquillity of
nature that surprisingly creates most tension. The mood then turns
positive when the aspects of the countryside support her. There is an
example of personification in the line “Waiting for the syren, slow to
trust nature’s deceptive peace.” There are also various examples of
metaphors in the lines, “And there the table and the gallery of farm
faces” and “And so she grew, a shy bird in the nest.”

In contrast to Seamus Heaney, rural landscape feature heavily and is
about a young child. Although R. S. Thomas uses third person while
Seamus Heaney uses first person. The poet R. S. Thomas doesn’t
recall a childhood memory however a loss of childhood innocence can be
suggested due to the experience of the young evacuee, she has no
choice other than to grow up. The adult world has forced this change
upon her, because of the war.
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