Heaney’s “A Constable Calls”Heaney’s “A Constable Calls”

Seamus Heaney explores the events from the past in his poems. He grew up in Northern Ireland; therefore, his past is related to his fellowmen, who suffered a lot. He cannot forget their griefs, therefore, he described each and every pain very minutely so that the world could know about the sacrifices of Irishmen.

There was a clash between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. Seamus Heaney has observed many incidents at a young age and the same are there in his poetry. There are scars of fear and dread on his mind and his poetry is also filled with these scratches. His imagination has been deeply affected by the conflict between Catholics and Protestants. Heaney’s family belonged to Catholics and they were distrusted. Most of the poems of Seamus Heaney deal with this major conflict, in which the pains and sorrows of the Irish conflict can be found. He directly talks about the painful incidents and also uses symbols for this purpose.

Although every poem of Seamus Heaney reflects the history of Irishmen yet four major poems are based on a childhood memory.

  • Death of a Naturalist
  • Blackberry Picking
  • England’s Difficulty
  • A Constable Calls
Heaney’s A Constable Calls is Based on Memory. It talks of Distrust and Fear.

Certain incidents are still there in the mind of Seamus Heaney and he prints them on the paper to inform his readers that how Protestants pervaded the Catholics. From a child’s perspective, the poet spreads light on an incident and leaves it to the readers to judge the reason behind fear and violence.

“A Constable Calls” is the best poem with regard to a child’s psychology. When Heaney was young, he witnessed an incident; a policeman came to his father’s farm in order to investigate the crops. The attitude of Heaney’s father was cold towards the policeman. Heaney, being a young boy, could observe the fear but he was not mature enough to understand the issues behind it.

Catholic families were distrusted in Ireland. A visit from a higher authority could create worry and anxiety in the minds of people. Definitely, Heaney witnessed the fright among the people of Ireland.

Readers can observe the strong memory of the poet while reading the poem. Somewhere in his consciousness, the incident is still fresh. Thus, there is no doubt that like other poems of Seamus Heaney, this poem is also about history. In fact, it is an incident that directly hit the psyche of the poet. Heaney could not stop himself from thinking about this incident; therefore, he put it in front of readers to judge how fear was imposed on the minds of Irish people. Hence, this poem is just a witnessed incident in the early days of the poet’s life.

As regards distrust and fear, Heaney belonged to a Catholic family. He along with his family also suffered a lot in Northern Ireland. Catholics were not preferred in law enforcement nor did they join the same. Instead of feeling security in presence of policemen, they became afraid. The boy, sketched in the poem, is definitely the poet himself, who feels restless due to a visit from the investor. His anxiety starts with the arrival of the cop and ends with his departure.

In order to show the power and attitude of the policeman, Heaney describes his props in a strange way. The words and the attitude of the poet reveal fear in the child’s imagination due to the policeman. Each and every object, described in the poem, is a symbol of fright; the description of the bicycle, dynamo, and pistol on the butt of the cop and his attitude towards Heaney’s father is dreadful. A minute description of every object creates more fret and readers can imagine what is going on due to the visit of the policeman.

The boy’s imagination is also remarkable and is full of fear. When Heaney’s father forgets to give detail about root crops, the boy imagines his father in the prison. It creates a tense atmosphere in his mind, which is finally resolved at the end when the policeman returns.

It is not only the boy, who is fearful of the cop. He is a symbol, created by Heaney. The boy is the representative of every person living in Ireland at that time. His imagination is everyone’s imagination. His fear is shared by everyone. Thus, the attitude of Protestants towards Catholics was not positive.

Seamus Heaney has a good command of describing everything minutely. We can feel the hidden fear in every word of the poem.

No one can give a correct definition of “A Constable Calls” as given by Michael Parker. He, while commenting on the poem, says:-

“In ‘A constable Calls’ Heaney recollects the anxiety and ‘Small guilts’ he experienced as a child during the visit of a policeman, sent to check details of his father’s crops….The secure, familiar worlds of home and classroom, however, are jeopardized by the presence of this armed stranger[cop]. Like the peasant boy, Luis, in Graham Greene’s ‘The Power and the Glory’, the young Heaney cannot at first take his eyes from this object of fear and fascination. Entrancement turns to alarm when he hears the constable’s inquiry as to whether his father is growing any root crops being met with a denial. It is a lie. An accessory to his father’s crime, he pictures the place of retribution.”

Michael Parker

The poem is obviously based on a memory of Seamus Heaney. He was unable to forget the incident and presented it in the shape of poetry. The main theme of the poem is “distrust and fear”. Heaney has once observed the condition of his fellowmen and in this poem, he talks about the fright, horror and anxiety, faced by them.


Heaney’s “A Constable Calls” is based on memory. It talks of distrust and fear. Elaborate