Critical Analysis of “A Constable Calls” | Poem by Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney illustrates fear and death as commons themes in his poetry. “A Constable Calls” is not different from other poems of this great poet. Like other poems of Seamus Heaney, this poem also deals with imaginative power of Seamus Heaney. What he feels, he describes it in form of words. No one can surpass Heaney in this regard. Irish poets are famous for describing the history of Irishmen. “A Constable Calls” focuses on the minds of Irish children, who have fear in their minds and heart regarding the authoritative powers. The conflict between Catholics and Protestants is the main reason of it. Undoubtedly, the poem is an incident from the consciousness of the poet when he was child. It is evident from this poem that Seamus Heaney, in his childhood, was much sensitive. There was fear in his mind regarding policemen. Like his father, Seamus Heaney was also catholic and Catholics did not join the police. How much hatred did the Catholics have against Protestants, it can be seen in this poem. “A Constable Calls” is a visit of cop at the farm of Seamus Heaney’s father.

The poem starts with the description of a bicycle. The bicycle “stood at the window-sill”, which is “neat”. The child fears when he sees “fat black handlegrips” of the bicycle. It symbolizes hate, which the Catholics have against the policemen. The child is definitely Heaney and when he glances on the handles of bicycle, they become alive and simultaneously horrible in his imagination. In short, the people instead of feeling secure in the hands of cops feel insecurity.

The second stanza of the poem is full of symbolism. The first important symbol is linked to “spud of the dynamo”. Old bicycles have this thing instead of batteries. When it creates noise, the boy becomes frightened. He thinks that the policeman has come with the intention of violence and threatening the people. From relieving of pedal, it seems that the policeman is heavy. The second symbol, which is vivid, is “the boot of the law”. It symbolizes for insecurity and dread of the officials in the minds of Irish people. Perhaps, the child was thinking that the law is against him and it does not favour his fellowmen.

Third stanza reveals that it is not only child, who is fearful with the arrival of cop but everyone, is unpleasant and the visit is not comfortable for all of them. Behaviour of Heaney’s father’s towards policeman is also impolite and he also dislikes him. The poet goes on and discusses the “heavy ledger”, a record-book in custody of policeman. The stanza justifies the perfect choice of words by the poet in order to describe the condition of child as well as people. “Heavy ledger” does not only describe the heavy record book, which is in possession of the policeman; it also signifies the terrific situation with his arrival.

In the fifth stanza the poet has used the word “fear” directly so as to clear the minds of readers. There is no ambiguity in the fact that the child has fear and it increases when the he sees the revolver, hanging on the butt of cop. The upcoming lines are based on dialogue between the policeman and Heaney’s father. After enquiring about the crops, policeman further asks from Heaney’s father “Any other crops? Mangolds? Marrowstems? Anything like that?”; he replies “no”. The child fears that his father has told a lie as he has also grown the crop of turnips. We don’t know the reason behind replying no; perhaps Heaney’s father has forgotten the crops of turnips or he deliberately does not want to reveal it to the cop. Whatever the reason may be; one thing is clear that this “no” creates hurdle in the mind of Heaney. Now, in addition to the fear of present, there is another fear, which belongs to the future. From the wordings and symbols, used in the seventh stanza, it is adjudged that the child imagines his father’s imprisonment. The end of this stanza is dramatic. The policeman frightens the child while adjusting the “baton-case”. “He stood up, shifted the baton-case”.

Eight and ninth stanza of the poem are conclusion but eighth stanza is important one. A word “doomsday book” is used by Seamus Heaney. It is believed that the book will be checked in the eternal life and people will be rewarded or punished on the basis of this book. Policeman’s ledger is compared to doomsday book. In last stanza, a final goodbye is said to the boy, which is not pleasant. Heaney, uses the technique of pun, and used the word “Boobbed”. Perhaps, the poet is of the view that he has taken revenge by saying “A shadow bobbed in the window”. Final lines of the poem clean the mind of boy from tense atmosphere. Ultimately, “And the bicycle ticked, ticked, ticked” describes the calmness in the mind with the departure of policeman.

The poem, in fact, is description of Irish society, which was living in a tense environment. The arrival of policeman enlarges the hatred of people against the authority, which eventually, causes the restlessness in Northern Ireland.

“A Constable Calls” contains the themes of “Arithmetic fear”, violence, distrust, powerlessness, fear of authority, rotation of law around the authoritative people, conflict and threat. Tone of the poet changes from stanza to stanza; sometimes it is fearful, somewhere it is frightened, sometimes it is unfriendly and somewhere it is formal, whereas most of the time it is weird. So far as the imagery is concerned, the poem is totally based on imagination but the imagery is real and factual. Some of the imageries painted by the poet are: bicycle, weather, farms, corps, fields, sunlight etc. The description is mainly concerned with props. With respect to rhyming, there is no regular rhyming pattern but the poem has “Internal Rhyme and Onomatopoeia”. Briefly, Seamus Heaney has successfully achieved his target of revealing the truth behind the depressed life of Irish people under the authoritative terror.