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Docker by Seamus Heaney
Transcript of Docker by Seamus Heaney
There, in the corner, staring at his drink.
The cap juts like a gantry's crossbeam,
Cowling plated forehead and sledgehead jaw.
Speech is clamped in the lips' vice.
That fist would dropp a hammer on a Catholic-
Oh yes, that kind of thing could start again;
The only Roman collar he tolerates
Smiles all round his sleek pint of porter.
Mosaic imperatives bang home like rivets;
God is a foreman with certain definite views
Who orders life in shifts of work and leisure.
A factory horn will blare the Resurrection.
He sits, strong and blunt as a Celtic cross,
Clearly used to silence and an armchair:
Tonight the wife and children will be quiet
At slammed door and smoker's cough in the hall.
The poem “Docker” by Seamus illustrates the sectarian stance adopted by unionist Protestant working men towards the Catholic minority as Heaney saw it in the around the 1950s/60s.
Heaney is aware of the realities in Belfast at that time, where recruitment policy favoured Protestants, especially in the shipbuilding industry.
He exposes the threatening prejudice lurking beneath the dour, uncompromising exterior of a dockworker.
The man sits silently and alone in the corner of a public bar “staring at his drink”. He is moulded by the dockside environment at which he works:” Cap/like a gantry’s crossbeam/cowling pleated forehead and sledgehead jaw.”
His tightly sealed mouth is suggestive of a man who communicates only when he has to, who neither questions his beliefs, nor will have them challenged: “clamped in the lips vice”
The docker’s unremitting Protestant nature affirms the ever present threat of sectarian division: “that first would drop a hammer on a Catholic”
He portrays manual workers in Belfast as hard exterior and an uncompromising nature affecting those around him:” silence and an armchair, the slammed door and smokers cough in the hall, his wife and children will be quiet.”
This poem was written in Heaney's second major published collection of poems "Death of a Naturalist" in 1966.
It comprises 4 quatraines without a formal rhyme scheme. The single 7 syllable line "Speech is clamped in the lips’ vice;" stresses the silent, repressed anger.
The poet uses language associated with intolerance and violence to show his understanding of the reality of life in Belfast at this time.
Heaney’s docker illustrates the sectarian stance between unionist Protestant working-men against the Catholic minority as the poet sensed it in the mid 20th century. He exposes the threatening prejudice lurking in the dockworker.
Day in the Life of a Dockworker