Look again at ‘At a Potato Digging’ by Seamus Heaney and at ‘A Sheep Fair’ by Thomas Hardy, which both deal with the theme of the hardship of rural life.
With close reference to the ways each poet uses language, compare and contrast what the speakers in the poems say about rural life. You should include relevant contextual material. Which poem do you find more interesting? Give your reasons.
Seamus Heaney and Thomas Hardy both depict images of rural life as difficult and uncomfortable. In their poems ‘At a Potato Digging’ and ‘A Sheep Fair’ they describe different aspects of rural life; these were elements of life that would have been familiar to the poets and ones that they would have experienced. In their poetry Heaney and Hardy
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This also captures snapshot moments of the fair from the poet’s memory: ‘Their horns are soft as finger- nails,/ Their shepards reek against the rails,/ The tied dogs soak with tucked- in tails,/ The buyers’ hats fill like pails…’ These lines also use alliteration to emphasise the methodical motions of the events of the fair; they create a pace and rhythm in the poem. ‘A Sheep Fair’ also uses a POSTSCRIPT as part of its structure. This is to show the passage of time- time has moved on and the sheep fair is now a memory. Like ‘At a Potato Digging’ nature is cruel and here time’s passing has been cruel- the sheep have ‘long since bled’ and ironically the auctioneer ‘who “Going- Going” so often said’ has also died. In ‘At a Potato Digging’ modernity is juxtaposed to traditional farming methods. This coupled with the violent vocabulary in the word ‘wrecked’ allows the reader to see the cruelty of the earth and the servile attitude of the labourers. There is also the use of religious language in this poem- ‘Processional stooping through the turf/ Recurs mindlessly as autumn…’ This shows the reader how the labourers bow to the earth, they make it their ‘altar’. The vocabulary used in this last stanza is an abundance of single syllable words. This gives the poem a harsh, jarring quality. It shows the raw power of nature and man’s subservience to ‘mother nature’: ‘fear’, ‘sod’ and ‘god’.