The hardest part of raising a child is like teaching them to ride a bicycle. A shaky child on a bicycle for the first time needs both support and freedom. The realisation that this support is no longer wanted by the child- hits hard. This connection and urge to keep holding on is tied between the parent and child with the “Red rope of love”. Four poets who explore the immense poignancy of the Parent/Child relationship are, Seamus Heaney: ‘Digging’, and ‘Follower’, Gillian Clarke: ‘Catrin’, and William Yeats: ‘Song of the Old Mother’.
Seamus Heaney, in the poem ‘Digging’ unlike ‘Catrin’ and ‘Song of the Old Mother’, writes in the position of the child: reminiscing the time when he looked up to his father and grandfather. Although Heaney is guilt-felt; that he didn’t live up the family tradition of becoming a farmer, he feels adequate and tries to justify his own job. Similarly, in ‘Follower’ Heaney evokes watching and admiring his father when working. The title is both literal and metaphorical as to say Heaney ‘followed’ his father as a young child. However, Heaney ends the poem stating that his father is now ‘stumbling’. Gillian Clarke on the other hand, portrays the struggles between a mother and daughter from the point of conception to separation at teenage; whilst William Yeats writes in the place of a mother who grows “feeble and cold” because of her care-free children whose days go “over in idleness”.
Each of the poets use a range of powerful linguistic devices to reveal the theme of the Parent/ Child relationship. For example, Heaney uses a central extended metaphor of “Digging” to portray how he is “Digging” back his roots through his writing. Even though he may not have the skills to follow- he still values the sense of connection with both his father and grandfather. These skills which Heaney admires are displayed in the poem ‘Follower’. The choice of Heaney’s vocabulary illustrates that his father’s an, “An expert”. He creates an image of a Godlike figure to express that his father was not simple but highly skilled. In spite of this, the pride he has in his father which he delivers to the reader throughout the poem contrasts to when he exclaims his father “will not go away” in the final stanza.
Perhaps Heaney aims to reveal that his father’s love is unconditional and it cannot be broken by age. Likewise, Gillian Clarke uses an extended metaphor- for the umbilical cord insisting that the eternal bond will never be broken due to “The red rope of Love”. This statement which Clarke makes mirrors what Heaney intends to put across in ‘Follower’. Conversely, in the poem ‘Song of the Old Mother’ Yeats uses onomatopoeic verbs to reflect the loneliness of a mother- the narrator only hears the sounds of her chores, “scrub”, “bake” and “sweep”.
The pessimistic poem shows a juxtaposition of her life and her children’s life. Nevertheless, like the parent’s in ‘Digging’, ‘Follower’ and ‘Catrin’ the narrator in this poem does not give up. She keeps working until she “gets feeble and cold” making it very clear to the reader that she is putting all of her effort to ensure that she is determined to give her children the best life. This poem in particular is very poignant- showing to what extent a parent would go just to support their child.
Structurally, each poem cleverly shows the reader the different viewpoints of the way children and parents relate to each other. For instance, in ‘Digging’ the paragraph beginning at ‘stanza 15’ separates the two paragraphs about the memory with his father, and grandfather. Perhaps this sheds light upon Heaney’s jealousy of his father’s and grandfather’s relationship. Yet through his words ..and im tired..and this solitary moment make me wnt to come bakk …: again highlighting that he once looked up to his father. Unlike ‘Digging’ this poem consists of an ambivalent tone where his emotions like his relationship with his father are complicated. Exactly how ‘Digging’ and ‘Follower’ are structured according to the different perceptions of the poet, ‘Catrin’ too is made of 2 stanzas.
The 1st stanza illustrates the moment of conception, and the 2nd stanza depicts the child who is then a teenager- demanding more independence. Both stanzas convey the mother’s struggle. Clarke may have chosen to write this poem in 2 stanzas to create an image of a ‘tug-of-war’ game where the rope in the game is the- “Red rope of love”. The tone of the poem is very conversational and emotional where the poet puts herself in the place of a mother in this particular situation. However, in “Song of the Old Mother” Yeats sustains the enjambment throughout the poem showing the never ending routine of her difficult life. More to the point, the number of syllables decrease in each stanza: possibly to show the weakening of her effort to support her care-free children. This specific poem has a very bitter tone which is emphasised the most in the line, “their day goes over in idleness”.
The poem I can most relate to is ‘Catrin’ as a teenager I know that I insist that I gain more independence. This sudden change becomes very difficult for a parent; not to understand but to accept. The “Red rope of love” will always exist although it cannot be seen. It’s like a boat tied to a harbour wall. The rope is hidden and looks as if it’s free but it isn’t. For me, “Song of the Old Mother” is a particularly effective poem because the poet instantly puts forward a bleak vision of motherhood-an experience which no mother should have to be put through. It’s a wakeup call to all children who “dream in their bed of the matching of ribbons”.