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A Constable Calls
Transcript of A Constable Calls
Seamus Heaney Heaney describes the Policeman's bicycle. He tells us some facts about the bicycle; "His bicycle stood at the window-sill". This phrase is memorable for a few reasons. The bike "stood" almost gives it a human quality, this is called personification. It almost gives us the idea that the bicycle is a powerful object even by itself.
Heaney describes the mud splashers of the bicycle which were fixed to the mudguard. This gives us the idea that the bicycle was neat and clean which again adds to the sense of power within the stanza.
Heaney uses the bicycle to tell us how he felt about the policeman; the description "fat, black handlegrips" gives us a sense of fear and disgust. We can tell that Heaney does not like this man. He tries to imagine the bicycle as something horrible like the policeman. Stanza One Heaney tells us about an episode from his childhood.
The poet describes a policeman making an official visit
to his father's farm at Mossbawn.
During the visit, the policeman wrote down crop totals for the farm.
Back then, in Ulster, policemen gathered information about crops.
Seamus Heaney was a boy then and he watched the scene anxiously. What is this poem about? The poem looks at the tensions present
in Northern Ireland during Heaney's childhood. (remember Heaney grew up in County Derry) The policeman who visits the
Heaney family home would have been a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary and was more than likely Protestant. The Heaney family were Catholic. The poem shows the distrust and fear felt by Catholic families in Northern Ireland. This poem contains nine stanzas,
with four lines in each stanza. Stanza Four Stanza Two The second stanza continues Heaney's description of the bicycle. He first mentions a part of a bicycle that no longer exists - "the spud of a dynamo". A dynamo was a little generator that produced the power for the lamp on the front of the bicycle, the spud was part of this generator.
The next phrase Heaney uses alerts us again to the fear and tension within the poem; "cocked back". This phrase reminds us of a gun - a gun would be cocked back and ready to fire and also shows us that Heaney was prepared for violence but was also fearful and on edge. This gives us the impression that violence was common during these visits.
Heaney continues his description of the policeman by stating that the "pedal was relieved" when he stepped off, indicating that the policeman was a heavy man. So, now we have an image of the policeman as big, powerful and a force to be feared.
This element of fear is conveyed again through the phrase; "boot of the law". Heaney was afraid the policeman might hurt his family or he may have thought that the law would kick them, meaning that the law was there for a reason and if it wasn't obeyed you would be kicked back into place. Stanza Three Heaney describes the policeman's hat. We notice that the hat is "upside down on the floor". From this, we can say that Heaney's father did not take his hat when he entered the house (which would have been the polite thing to do) conveying the idea that the poilceman is not welcome in the Heaney household.
Heaney also describes the rim left on the policeman's head after he takes the hat off. This description is not pleasant and again shows us that Heaney did not like the policeman.
Heaney focuses on props of the policeman throughout the poem rather than on the man himself. We get a description of the uniform in the third stanza which denotes the power of the policeman and the fear Heaney felt throughout. The fact that the policeman's forehead is sweaty might hint at the policeman's feeling of discomfort upon visiting the Heaney home. In this stanza, we get a description of the
policeman's record book or "ledger". It is described as "heavy" much like the policeman himself and denotes an element of fear (again). All of the words used by Heaney show how frightened the child Heaney was.
In the stanza, we also find out what Heaney's father was doing with the policeman. He was recording the crops grown on his farm. This is evident from the units of measurement mentioned; "acres" and "fractions of acres". Young Heaney fears his father may be found out and "assumes small guilts". He begins to imagine his father locked up in the "black hole of the barracks". This is the climax of fear within the poem, young Heaney is almost stiff with fear. When the policeman stands to leave, young Heaney gets a fright when he sees the policeman touching his baton case. He was probably anticipating his father getting a beating. Stanza Seven Stanza Five Heaney sums up the entire feeling of the
poem with the words "arithmetic and fear".
Arithmetic referring to the policeman's calculations
and then the fear felt by young Heaney.
During this stanza, Heaney also notices the gun
holster of the policeman. It is described in a factual way
but gives us a sense of the intense fear felt by the child. Stanza Six The policeman questions Heaney's father and shows his business like manner; "Any other crops?". This question is abruptly answered by Heaney's father with a sharp "No" showing his dislike of the policeman.
It is at this point that young Heaney remembers a drill of turnips that his father hasn't told the policeman. This thought worries young Heaney. Stanza Eight As the policeman leaves he closes his record book, Heaney compares this book to the "domesday book" which was a book Catholics believed God would check at the end of time. This again highlights the fear of young Heaney, who thought that this policeman held the fate of his family in his hands. The "heavy ledger" could send his father to prison.
As the policeman fixed his cap as he left he stared at young Heaney, reinforcing the fear felt by the child. Fear & Distrust Themes Stanza Nine Young Heaney sees the policeman's shadow outside the window and hears him "snapping" the ledger onto the back of the bicycle. This description gives us an image of the policeman as business-like and sour but also as powerful.
Heaney uses the word "bobbed" to describe the movement of the policeman. Bobbed literally means an up and down movement but 'bobby' is another term for a policeman. It is almost like Heaney is making fun of the policeman and getting a bit of revenge. This word-play is called a pun.
The last line of the poem contains a poetic technique called onomatapeia. Heaney remarks that as the bicycle left it ticked which makes us hear the word tick. The repetition of the word "tick, tick, tick" adds to this effect. This sound could refer to the tensions between the Catholic families and the Protestant police force. The tensions could be just about to tick over and spill into violence. Both fear and distrust are evident throughout the entire poem. The phrase "arithmetic and fear" highlights this appropriately.
Distrust is felt between the policeman and Heaney's father; "Any other root crops?...Anything like that? No."
Heaney portrays the fear of the policeman through this description of the policeman's props and he shows how powerless people feared authority; "the boot of the law", "imagining the black hole of the barracks". We first get a description of the policeman's cap. It is described as lying on the floor upside down. This shows us that Heaney's father did not treat the policeman in a pleasant manner and did not want him there.
The ledger provides the next image and young Heaney compares it to the 'domesday book' which links us to the idea of religion.
We hear about the weapons of the policeman. His holster is described and his gun is also referred to. This provides an element of fear within the the poem. Finally, we hear about the baton case of the policeman, again highlighting the power of the policeman. Tone Neutral & factual
Distasteful & sickened
Humorous & mocking Imagery The first image we come across is the image of the bicycle. Heaney gives the reader a detailed and factual description.
It is described as standing by the window sill giving us an idea of the bicycles power.
It is also described as having mud-splashers and mud-guards conveying the idea of cleanliness and highlighting the clinical nature of the bicycle.
Next the reader is presented with the image of the dynamo gleaming in the sunlight again highlighting the cleanliness of the bicycle. We are also told that it is "cocked back" which indicates an element of violence.
The final part of the bicycle we are presented with is the pedal threads.They are described as relieved once the policeman steps off. This could show that the policeman was a heavy man but it could also indicate the power of the policeman. The pedals were under his power and control. The Bicycle Items belonging to the Policeman Images of the farm Tillage returns
Potato fields Images of the kitchen Window sill