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churning day

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by

Dave Leeke

on 23 March 2011

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Transcript of churning day

churning day This poem takes Heaney back to his childhood. Heaney grew up on a small farm, and
Churning Day takes us on a tour of the butter-making process. You can tell from reading the
poem that he enjoyed the process, and that there was nothing better for him that the
satisfaction of seeing the finished product turn out right. There are four crocks, each with a hard crust formed on them. We know the crust is rough
and cracked from the simile “coarse-grained as limestone rough-cast” and the metaphor
“pottery bombs” further on creates excitement and readiness for the reader. There is a
good contrast description between the hot brewery and the cool earthenware, and the
word “plumping” is used, most likely to imitate the sound of the boiling kettles because the
word is onomatopoeic. With a break, a new stanza means a new stage in the production process, and now the
crocks have spilled their heavy lip – a personification of the crocks. The staff are “like a great
whiskey muddler,” which tells us that the process is similar to the making of whiskey and
that it is an equally (if not more) important process (we know this from the use of “great”). With a break, a new stanza means a new stage in the production process, and now the
crocks have spilled their heavy lip – a personification of the crocks. The staff are “like a great
whiskey muddler,” which tells us that the process is similar to the making of whiskey and
that it is an equally (if not more) important process (we know this from the use of “great”). Short, but powerful, sentences are used for effect later on: “Arms ached. Hands blistered.”
These tell us that a lot of hard work goes into it, but it is worth it in the end. It could be
argued that as the workers get cloaked in the splattered milk, they become both literally
and metaphorically immersed in the production process. He finds the
satisfaction of seeing all that work pay off to make such an amazing product better than any
other glory. This full transformation process is noticeable when the yellow curd clearly
shows up against the neighbouring white whey-milk. The final stanza describes the after-effects of the process. They are satisfied with their hard
work paying off, but now the house reeks of a smell like a sulphur mine. But this was fine for
them – because it is what made it feel like home for them. The empty crocks are put back
and arranged ready for the next time. The final four lines inform us of their “job well done”
feeling of satisfaction. Key themes in the poem are obviously the satisfaction of seeing that butter at the end of
the process, but also the idea of nothing good happening without patience and effort. Think
of it like ‘good things come to those who wait.’ The making of the butter took a lot of effort
indeed, and it was almost a ritualistic experience for the staff there. A thick crust, coarse-grained as limestone rough-cast,
hardened gradually on top of the four crocks
that stood, large pottery bombs, in the small pantry.
After the hot brewery of gland, cud and udder,
cool porous earthenware fermented the butter milk
for churning day, when the hooped churn was scoured
with plumping kettles and the busy scrubber
echoed daintily on the seasoned wood.
It stood then, purified, on the flagged kitchen floor.

Out came the four crocks, spilled their heavy lip
of cream, their white insides, into the sterile churn.
The staff, like a great whiskey muddler fashioned
in deal wood, was plunged in, the lid fitted.
My mother took first turn, set up rhythms
that, slugged and thumped for hours. Arms ached.
Hands blistered. Cheeks and clothes were spattered
with flabby milk.

Where finally gold flecks
began to dance. They poured hot water then,
sterilised a birchwood bowl
and little corrugated butter-spades.
Their short stroke quickened, suddenly
a yellow curd was weighting the churned-up white,
heavy and rich, coagulated sunlight
that they fished, dripping, in a wide tin strainer,
heaped up like gilded gravel in the bowl.

The house would stink long after churning day,
acrid as a sulphur mine. The empty crocks
were ranged along the wall again, the butter
in soft printed slabs was piled on pantry shelves.
And in the house we moved with gravid ease,
our brains turned crystals full of clean deal churns,
the plash and gurgle of the sour-breathed milk,
the pat and slap of small spades on wet lumps.
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