Seamus Heaney Poems Literary Elements

Seamus Heaney Poems Literary Elements

Speaker or Narrator, and Point of View

The poem is written in the first person, from the point of view of a young child. In this instance, the persona represents the author.

Form and Meter

Predominantly iambic pentameter

Metaphors and Similes

The simile "He lay in a four foot box as in his cot" is effective as it compare's the baby's coffin with a child's cot. This is a haunting image that emphasises the tragedy of his young death. It is especially significant as small children and infants are typically symbols of new life and growth, however, the emphasis on death undercuts the notions of security suggested by the warm cot.

Alliteration and Assonance

The poem contains a lot of alliteration. Examples include "Counting bells knelling classes to a close" and "my mother held my hand in hers." The purpose of this is that it slows down the pace of the poem and causes the reader to seriously consider the events and emotional repercussions of the disaster.


It is ironic that the positive ideals of family and new life are undercut through the poem's focus on disaster, tragedy, disruption and death. In this way, the subject matter of the poem is confronting, as it provides a reality far different from idealised family life.


Autobiographical poetry, Lyric poetry


The setting is not specified in the poem


The tone is predominantly dispassionate and objective, however, there are strong moments of intense mourning

Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonist is the persona who lost his younger brother. There is no antagonist, however, the early death causes the family great distress and dismay.

Major Conflict

The major conflict is the death of the four year old boy who was hit with a car. We are aware of his young age in the final line "A four foot box, a foot for every year." The car accident is also alluded to through the reference to "the bumper" and ambulance.


The climax takes place on the day of the funeral. At this time, family members and loved ones offer sympathy and support to the grieving family. Nonetheless, they still experience great sorrow and mourning for the loss of their son/ brother.


The foreboding and ominous tone in the first stanza foreshadows the sad news of the tragic death. Although stanza one refers to an uneventful day at school, it is overwhelmingly negative. For example, the reference to the "bells knelling" foreshadows the death and upcoming funeral.


Numerous dispassionate references function as understatements, as they undercut the seriousness of the events. These include factual but emotionally-lacking statements such as "At two o'clock our neighbors drove me home" and "At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived". Furthermore, the description of the child's corpse as "paler now" is an understatement as it does not completely convey the horror and brutality of the early death.


The poem alludes to religious and funerary rites through references to symbolic images such as candles and flowers. Candles are also a significant religious symbol representing the soul and human life.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

The poem is full of references to hands, such as "I was embarrassed by old men standing up to shake my hand" and "my mother held my hand in hers."
In this case, the human hand represents actions of support and compassion, as well as loving intentions. Thus, hands represent the warmth of human companionship in difficult times.


Personification is evident in the line "Snowdrops and candles soothed the bedside." By giving these inanimate objects the ability to sooth, a strong sense of peace and tranquility is evoked. This parallels the soothing thoughts and prayers of family members and loved ones.


The poem does not contain hyperboles. In fact, it makes deliberate attempts to not over-embellish the truth. For this reason, the poet puts in factual statements that are not overly exaggerated. This can be seen through descriptions such as "No gaudy scars," as well as the quantifiable image of the "four foot box, a foot for every year".


Onomatopoeia can be seen in the line "Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest". This clearly conveys the persona's sense of panic and claustrophobia, as he feels as though he cannot escape from the words and actions of others.

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