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

Critical Analysis of “A Constable Calls” by Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney illustrates fear and death as common 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 the imaginative power of Seamus Heaney. What he feels, he describes 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 for it.

Undoubtedly, the poem is an incident from the consciousness of the poet when he was a child. It is evident from this poem that Seamus Heaney, in his childhood, was much more 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 by a cop to 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 symbolises the hate, that the Catholics have against the policemen. The child is definitely Heaney and when he glances at the handles of the bicycle, they become alive and simultaneously horrible in his imagination. In short, it shows that people feel insecure at the hands of the police instead of feeling secure.

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 came with the intention of violence and threatening the people. From relieving the pedal, it seems that the policeman is heavy. The second symbol, which is vivid, is “the boot of the law”. It symbolises the insecurity and dread of the officials in the minds of the Irish people. Perhaps, the child was thinking that the law was against him and it does not favour his fellowmen.

The third stanza reveals that it is not only the child, who is fearful of the arrival of a cop but everyone, who is unpleasant and the visit is not comfortable for all of them. The behaviour of Heaney’s father towards the policeman is also impolite and he also dislikes him. The poet goes on and discusses the “heavy ledger”, a record book in the custody of the policeman. This stanza justifies the perfect choice of words by the poet in order to describe the condition of children 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 to clear readers’ minds. There is no ambiguity in the fact that the child has fear and it increases when he sees the revolver, hanging on the butt of the cop. The upcoming lines are based on dialogue between the policeman and Heaney’s father. After enquiring about the crops, the policeman further asks 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 a crop of turnips. Readers don’t know the reason why the child’s father replied “no”. Perhaps Heaney’s father forgot the crops of turnips or he deliberately does not want to reveal it to the cop. Whatever the reason may be. It is crystal clear that “no” creates a hurdle in the mind of the poet/child. Now, in addition to the fear of the 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 stanzas of the poem are the conclusions but the eighth stanza is an important one. The word “doomsday book” is used by Seamus Heaney. It is believed that the book will be checked in eternal life and people will be rewarded or punished on the basis of this book. The policeman’s ledger is compared to the doomsday book.

In the 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 the boy from the tense atmosphere. Ultimately, “And the bicycle ticked, ticked, ticked” describes the calmness in the mind with the departure of the policeman.

The poem, in fact, is a description of Irish society, which was living in a tense environment. The arrival of policemen enlarges the hatred of people against the authority, which eventually, causes 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. The tone of the poet changes from stanza to stanza. Occasionally, it is fearful, somewhere it is frightening, sometimes it is unfriendly and somewhere it is formal, whereas most of the time it is weird.

As far as the imagery is concerned, the poem is totally based on imagination but the imagery is real and factual. Some of the images 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 authoritative terror.