Critical Analysis of “Toome Road” by Seamus Heaney
It is always said that Seamus Heaney is famous for depicting the theme of fear. In fact, it is his favourite theme. Perhaps, he belonged to Ireland, therefore, he is well aware about his past. Indeed, his past is fearful. His people suffered. They sacrificed their lives for their fellowmen. It is also possible that Seamus Heaney knows the impact of war. He identifies fear on the faces of people and illustrates them through his poems. Undoubtedly, he is a talented poet and can convey any message. Further, he has the ability to convert emotions into words. “Toome Road” is such like poem of Seamus Heaney. He has illustrated fear and impact of war on countryside people. Pastoral life in “A Constable Call” should be kept in mind while reading this poem. He has shown a beautiful countryside life in that poem but in “Toome Road” he shows it ruination. Although very less pastoral images have been depicted in “Toome Road” yet it shows the superiority of peaceful pastoral life over war. The poet narrates the condition of people and fear on their minds after seeing army, who is in possession of tanks and weapons.
The poet, in first stanza, creates imagery of the army. It seems that army is exhibiting its powers through armoured cards and infantry. This type of imagery has also been created by Philip Larkin in his poem “MCMXIV” but in this poem, situation is entirely different. There is a negative impact of army in it, whereas in “MCMXIV”, positivity of army has been shown. In early morning, possibly, the poet came out of his home and saw armoured cars on the road, having power tires. He also saw soldiers, having guns and headphones in their ears. It seems that they are ready for battle. They are expecting war. We know that in world war and even after it, every country strengthened his army. The poem reveals the postwar condition of a country. We can feel fear in every word of poem. Intentions of army are not clear, however, it does not seem that they came here for the purpose of defending the country.
Second stanza is entirely opposite to the first one. “How long were they approaching down my roads”. This line shows sheer anger of the poet. “my roads” actually refers “my people”. It symbolizes that the poet cares for his people. He considers that army is creating fear in their minds. Soldiers are marching on the road “As if they owned them?”. It is morning time and everyone is sleeping in their homes; they are taking a peaceful nap but the army is going to destroy it. The poet explains the condition of his town. He had “rights-of-way, fields, cattle in my keeping” but the soldiers are direct threat to his town. They are ruining the pastoral life of countryside, which is beautiful. Soldiers are less defensive but more hostile.
The poet shows his anger and wants help. He is not talking about any specific nation but about the welfare of whole humanity as he is lover of peace. He is not happy on the arrival of army. Whenever he sees it his mind is filled with the memories of world war. The war brings sufferings with it. Life of people becomes miserable in war days. Heaney’s mind is in terrible condition. He imagines the dreadful condition of people, therefore, wants peace everywhere. War does not differentiate between good and bad. Indeed, people suffered too much in first and second world wars. Armoured cars and soldiers are symbols of defense but for Heaney they are enemies of peace. He cannot tolerate their attitude. He shows hatred for them in this poem. He is worried and confused, therefore, does not know “Whom Should I [he] run to tell”. Arrival of soldiers is bad news for everyone. Perhaps, the poet does not want to become source of this bad news for his people, therefore, he does not warn anyone. Nevertheless, the convoy just passes through.
Last stanza is about the rural life. There are “sowers of seeders, erectors of headstones… charioteers” in the country side, who “stands here [there] still, stands vibrant as you [army] pass[es]”. This stanza reveals the pastoral life, which is in danger because of the soldiers. Heaney is against war. People are helpless in front of foreign invasion. They are afraid, therefore, they have locked themselves in their houses. Although the army have disturbed the peace yet end of the poem is quite positive. “The visible, untoppled omphalos”. These lines demonstrate the boldness of poet and his people.
The poem is direct resistance to war. Seamus Heaney did not like it nor did he like the foreign invasion in his country. It also reveals the consciousness of poet. Fear has damaged his consciousness; it has also occupied the sense of poet. Heaney cares for his country and for his people. There is a strange fear in his mind. It is not easy for him to overpower it. This poem illustrates the same fear; especially, the fear of world war. Heaney speaks against war. The poet states an incident; he witnesses foreign soldiers marching on the roads in a state of battle. Army creates fears in the minds of people, therefore, they became miserable. This poem is reaction to the action of army. Poet shows his anger while considering his superme duty to show revolt. This poem is a warning. It is a protest against foreign invasion. Heaney dares to speak against it. As a poet, he considers his duty to protest and speak against this cruelty. He does not like unkind attitude of army. He prefers peace, therefore, wants it for the welfare of humanity.