Study Guide

Follower Setting

By Seamus Heaney

Setting

Anyone down for a trip to the Irish countryside? This poem will take you there without the cost of airfare or the hassle of the TSA (yes, you can keep your shoes on—though we won't tell if you don't). For the most part, this poem takes place in a field that is being plowed by the boy's father and a team of horses. And the scenes are all recalled from the memory of his childhood (we know because it's told in the past tense).

Heaney does a characteristically good job of describing the richness of the land, and the difficulty of the work. In line 7 he writes, "The sod rolled over without breaking" and you get both a vivid picture of a big, rich chunk of soil and how skilled the father is. When he writes in lines 9–10, "the sweating team turned round/ And back into the land," you can almost hear the horses breathing and sweating into the dark soil. Heaney creates a great sensory experience for us, especially in the beginning of the poem.

At the end of the poem, Heaney hits fast forward, and suddenly we're in the present day—"But today"—(22). It's not clear where we are exactly (though it seems likely that we're no longer in a field), and the father has taken over the role of the son as follower. Appropriately enough, that shift in the relationship happens alongside a shift in the setting. We get two men (father and son), two times (past and present), and two settings (the farm and somewhere in modern day). We also get two very different relationships to go with these settings. Pretty slick work there, Seamus.

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