Critical Analysis of “Personal Helicon” by Seamus Heaney
Simple and short, “Personal Helicon” is a journey from childhood to adulthood. Perhaps, it is the journey of a poet. It may be the journey of every person. Seamus Heaney has differentiated the first stage of life from the second one. The process of achieving maturity, change in desires and life is demonstrated in this poem. Seamus Heaney is famous for presentation of memories of past. As we all know that he belonged to Ireland; therefore, his poetry is related to his own people. He is also famous for writing about the bog people. But the most important feature of his poetry is that he writes about memories of his childhood. He was a keen observer. He knew the art of expression of emotions and feelings. He chose accurate words for this purpose. He once said “words themselves are doors”, therefore symbolism is always there in his poetry. In fact, every poem of him is full of symbols. On one hand, he expresses emotion, whereas on the other hand, he explains the source of those feelings. His childhood was full of adventures; adventure in the sense that he was a deep thinker. Every incident of his life left its impact on his mind. Numerous poems are there, in which Seamus Heaney talked about his childhood. “A Constable Call” is famous among them, which is related to a memory of his childhood. “Personal Helicon” is also the memories of poet but it is different from “A Constable Call” though it also shows the psychological condition of the speakers as a child. All poems of Seamus Heaney share some common themes. “Fear” is remarkable in this regard. There is also an element of ambiguity in his poems though his style of writing is simple. Ambiguity increases when the poet uses too much symbols. A lot of effort is required to understand them. “Personal Helicon” is not different from other poems of Seamus Heaney; it also shares every such trait, which mentioned above.
In his childhood, the speaker (definitely the poet) wondered about the wells. They always attracted him but he was not allowed to go near them. He was curious to see what was inside them. The buckets, pumps and windlass drew his attention. He also liked the smell “of waterweed, fungus and dank moss”. First stanza of the poem shares curiosity of the poet. In those days, fulfillment of smaller desires could give the poet pleasure but their fulfillment was rarely possible. He was forbidden to go near the wells, therefore, he could only imagined them. Via first lines of the poem, childhood of every person can be imagined. The poet wanted to refresh his own memory as well as memories of his readers. A very tiny wish of a child and his psychological condition is beautifully illustrated by the poet. Perhaps, seeing in the well was the largest wish of the child in that time. In childhood, parents keep their children away from the wells, therefore, their curiosity increases with every prohibition. Furthermore, striking imagery, in starting lines of the poem, is remarkable.
The poets talks further about the well. It is situated in the brickyard. The poet imagines the sound of bucket, which was attached to the rope. He imagined the bucket plummeted deep down in the well. The poet shows the deepness of the well in last line of second stanza. He says “so deep you saw no reflection in it”. As mentioned above, curiosity of the child increases and his imagination enhances. The thought, which comes in his mind after seeing the well, is that he cannot see his reflection. This line symbolizes the artistic quality of the poet. Seamus Heaney was a brilliant student. He was lover of art. He was a true artist even in his childhood. He is unable to forget his memories. Hitherto, he has not forgotten them; therefore, he reveals his childhood-psyche.
A very detailed description of wells has been given in next stanzas of the poem. Nowadays, wells are very rare but in Heaney’s childhood they were source of water for the people but source of pleasure for him. Heaney’s interest in nature and its related objects can be seen in these lines. In third and fourth stanzas of the poem, there is an expression of child’s desires; these desires are related to smelling savouring and touching. It seems that the child is much closed to nature. To satisfy his inquisitiveness, he is required to “[get] out long roots from the soft mulch” so that he will be able to see his own reflection. The poet further says that the echoing sounds in the well give answers; there is a clean and strange music in them. He, in his childhood could hear that clean music. There is a natural beauty in last line of fourth stanza “Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection”. Heaney should be appreciated due to this detailed emotional scenery.
Definitely, the childhood, presented in the poem belongs to Seamus Heaney. It, actually, is the childhood of every poet, who usually remains in his own world, having no concern with the outer world. An artist, even in his childhood, sees things differently as compared to other people (children) of society. This difference can be observed in third and fourth stanzas of the poem.
In last stanza, Seamus Heaney differentiates the childhood from maturity. The poem begins; “As a child”. It ends “darkness echoing”. He has deliberately started and ended this poem in this way. It is a journey from childhood to maturity. In childhood, the poet saw his reflection in the well, whereas in adulthood, he sees only darkness. “beneath all adult dignity”. A child is more accurately close to nature than a mature person. When Heaney grew up, he could see only darkness in the well instead of his own reflection. It also summarizes his poetic career. It is his journey from the young-age-poetry to mature-age-poetry.
In a nutshell, “Personal Helicon” is highly symbolic poem of Seamus Heaney. It is autobiographical but at the same time has universality in it. It is the story of every person; rather it is a journey from childhood to maturity. It also reflects the journey of a poet. The poem is not only about a single journey but about many journeys of life. This poem is evident that Seamus Heaney’s contribution to English poetry can never be underestimated.