What impact did the poetry of Michael Longley make on you as a reader? In shaping your answer you might consider some of the following:
– Your overall sense of the personality or outlook of the poet
– The poet’s use of language and imagery
– Your favourite poem or poems.
Michael Longley has definately made a positive inmpact on me. I found his poetry to be very interesting, dealing with several issues and themes such as war and nature. The fact that he dealt with those issues in itself does not make the poetry interesting, it is how he dealt with them. His clear, unbiased way of writing allows us to see the effects events have on its victims. His clever use of striking imagery helps us imagine the scenes depicted in his poetry clearly and concicely. Longley also tends to look at the past to understand current events, something I find really enjoyable as it shows us how little human nature has changed and learnt from past events. Out of all of Longley’s poetry my favourite poem is “Ceasefire” for severl reasons.
Michael Longley’s “poetic voice” out of all the poets I have studied is by far, the most honest and convincing. Longley portrays events in his poetry as they happened, and shows no emotion or bias towards any side. This is most clearly seen in “Last Requests” and “Wreaths”. Both Last requests and wreaths deal with war. They portray horrific events that either the poet, or his father experienced during their lifetime. I found it surprising however, that having experienced such brutality he does not take sides. Last Requests deals with his father’s near-death experience during WW1 and his eventual death later on in life. Longley tells us how his father, a captain in the British Army was struck by an exploding shell was left “for dead” by his batman. As if that wasnt enough, the batman stole his “pocket watch and cigarette case”. It was “all he could salvage from the grave” he so nearly had to share with “an unexpolded shell”. Having been told this, I as the reader felt that Longley would at some stage in the poem criticise the batman’s cowardly actions. This is however not the case.
Longley suprisingly does not mention the batman again in the poem and does not express any sort of resentment or anger at him. In “wreaths”, a poem dealing with victims from the Northern Irish conflict, Longley again tells us of despicable acts. Longley tells us of a civil servant who was shot by someone who “walked into the kitchen and shot him” while he was “preparing an Ulster fry”. The civil servant, a personal friend of longley’s is shot infront of his family, while still in his dressing gown. Another man, a Greengrocer who “ran a good shop” was shot in his own shop “serving even the death-dealers”. The final victims portrayed in this poem are ten linen workers who “fell on the floor” and dropped “spectacles, wallets, small change, a set of dentures”.
Througout the whole poem the only time Longley directly mentions the killers, he refers to them as “death-dealers”. This is another example of Longley not taking sides, and telling it as it happened. He does not call the killers, murderers or anything else that would indicate his dissaproval of them, yet he does not call them warriors or heros, which would suggest his approval of them. He simply refers to them as “death-dealers”, almost as if it was a normal job for someone to have. This is one of the things that drew me into his poetry, and made it all the more enjoyable for me. I got a sense that Longley is a fair person, he definately has personal opinions on everything he writes about, however he does not let them transfer onto his poetry, and tells us about the events in his poetry in a fair and unbiased way.
Longley also uses strinking imagery to portray and allow us as readers to picture the scenes in his poetry. “An Amish Rug” and “Wounds” he uses some truly striking imagery to convey scenes to us. In “An Amish Rug” Longley tells us, the readers, about an amish rug he gives to his wife as a present. When describing this rug Longley uses some of his most striking and clear images. He describes the rug as a “smallholding” which has
“threads the colour of cantaloupe and cherry,
Securing hay bales, corn cobs, tobbacco leaves”.
I believe this to be Longleys clearest image in his poetry. He describes the picture embroidered into the rug by comparing it to an actual farm. This is I believe a very effective way of portraying the colour and detail in the rug’s pattern. Longley also describes the rug as a “cathedral window” if his wife was to hang it on a wall. I think this is another striking and clear image. Longley is trying to convey the detail and colour on the rug by comparing it to the intricate, colourful windows in a cathedral. While these images are incredibly vivid and clearcut I do not believe they can stand up to his war imagery. In Wounds, Longley describes the battle of the Somme, as experienced by his father. He tells us of the Ulster Division “going over the top with ‘Fuck the Pope!’, ‘No Surrender!’ a boy about to die”.
This image is one which I wont forget any time soon. Millions of images let us picture the soldiers going over the top. Few however can convey the fear and anxiety felt by the soldiers, who also happen to be young men if not boys. By mentioning the solgans shouted by the soldiers, I at least, can feel the anxiety and fear felt by the young soldiers. I dont think many other poets have Longleys ability to convey the emotions felt by the protagonists in a poem. Anoter striking image in Wounds is “over a landscape of dead buttocks”. While at first it may appear comical, the reader soon realises, the exposed buttockes belong to dead soldiers, just like those “going over the top”. In my opinion this image has to be the most striking of Longley’s images because it makes one reflect on the undiginified way these soldiers, who were willing to pay the ultimate price ended up doing so. This image also allowed me to realise how good Longley actually is at conveying images in his mind, this is after all a scene Longley’s father described to him. Longley’s striking and effective imagery make me think of him as an observing person, with an incredible ability to use words preciscely to convey complex and striking images.
In “wounds”, Longley looks to the past and links them to events in the present and raises interesting comparisons. In this poem, Longley describes the battle of the somme, and all the boys who were sent to their deaths. In the second part of this poem, Longley describes how a young boy kills a busdriver infront of his wife and then apologises to her by saying “sorry missus”. While there may not appear to be any connection between both events, upon closer inspection some do appear. In both events the victims are young boys. While the boy who shoots the bus driver may at first not appear to be the victim, he is infact a victim too. There is no way that the child, could have carried out the acts he did without an adult pushing, and urging him on. The boy had no way to know what the repercussions of his actions would be, and will only realise when its too late and the deeds are done. He will have to live with the guilt for the rest of his life, and is therefore a victim too. Longley also tells us of the burial of “three teenage soldiers” who were killed by the IRA. I find Longley’s ability to link events in the past to present events to raise interesting comparisons and issues iteresting. This gives me a sense that Longley is an intelligent person, who can link events in the past with present events to effectively to show us how little people seems to learn from the past. Nearly 60 years after WW1 young boys are still the victim of adult’s actions.
My favourite poem is Ceasefire. In ceasfire Longley recalls the chapter in the Illiad where Priam, goes to Achilles to beg for his sons body back. This is my favourite poem because even though ti decribes something that happened thousands of years ago can still apply to our lives nowadays. Priam realises that the only way for him to get his son’s body back is to beg and be willing to forget the harm inflicted upon him by Achille’s side. Once he does that he can bring himself to ask Achilles for his sons body back. This applies to out lives today too. When one has a fight or argument with another person, the only way to reconcile and move on is to forget what harm the other side has done and forgive them.
This also applies to the Northern Irish conflict. Longley recongises the fact that both sides have made sacrifices but also realises that the only way for them to reconcile and move on is to put the sacrifices behind them and forgive their enemies. In ceasefire, Longley provides us with the situation faced by many Northern Irish families during the times of the fighting, when bodies of their loved ones were lost in the fighting and never returned to them to be buried and mourned. Many Northern Irish families did not have the luxury of Priam to go and kiss ‘the killer of my son’. Longley suggests that such compassion as is seen by both Prian and Achilles is needed in Northern Ireland.
Overall, I think that Longley is a very talented poet who has extraordiary abilities. He is a fair, observing person with an innate ability with words to create striking imagery that can convey images clearly and preciscely. I also find his ability to look at the past and link it to events in the present, mainly the Northern Irish conflict. He does this to suggest ways to end and resolve them.