Follower was written by Seamus Heaney and published in 1966. Heaney was a Northern Irish poet who lived from 1939-2013 and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. His father was a cattle farmer.
The poem describes the father ploughing his land. Ploughing involves turning and loosening the soil in preparation for sowing seeds or planting crops. Traditionally, this was done with horses, but nowadays, farmers use tractors more often.
The narrator remembers his father ploughing his farmland with a horse. He did this with a skill that the narrator deeply admired. The narrator dreamed of one day ploughing the land like his father. He remembers following his father as he did this, tripping over clumsily as he tried to keep up with his father. Now the roles are reversed: he is an adult, and his father follows him with a stumbling walk.
The poem’s key message:
The poem shows the changing dynamics between parents and their children over time. When the boy was young, he looked up to his father with admiration. As the father gets older, he is now dependent on his son.
Figurative language shows the boy’s admiration for his father. Heaney uses the simile:
“His shoulders globed like a full sail”
The word “globed” shows how large his father’s shoulders seemed to him. The image of the “full sail” is effective as it shows how the father can use the horse’s power in the way a boat sail does with the wind.
Verbs are used to show the father’s sense of action and his expertise. He is shown to “set the wing” and “fit the bright steel-pointed sock”. His eye “Narrowed and angled at the ground”. These verbs emphasise the boy’s admiration for his father’s physical abilities and his expertise in ploughing.
There is a semantic field of falling over. In his youth, the boy “stumbled” behind his father, and is also shown “tripping, falling”. Symbolically, it is now the father who “keeps stumbling”. This shows how the father has weakened and lost his physical prowess, whereas the boy has grown into an adult that his father depends on.
|Admiration||The boy sees his father as a hero and a role model. He calls him “An expert”. The father is shown to be in total control of the horses, who “strained at his clicking tongue”, meaning that they pulled hard in response to his command.|
The narrator once dreamed of emulating his father’s skill in ploughing. He even imagines himself copying his father’s body language, he would “close one eye, stiffen my arm”. As a child he walks in his father’s “broad shadow”, showing that he feels it will be hard to live up to what his father does.
|Dependency||As a child, the boy was dependent on his father. He wasn’t able to stay on his feet as he walked. He was always “tripping, falling”. His father would then help him by carrying him on his back. However, in the present, the father is dependent on his son. He is now the one “stumbling/ Behind me”. Where once it was the son who was the “Follower” of the title, now it is the father.|
How the son feels about his father being dependent on him is open to interpretation. The final lines state that his father “will not go away”. This sounds like he could find it frustrating that his father is so dependent on him. However, it could be seen more positively that they continue to have a strong bond.
|Memory||The man’s memory of this moment from his childhood is very detailed. He remembers how the “sod rolled over without breaking” and how the father and the horse both sweated. The vivid detail in this memory shows how important it was for him. His father’s brilliance and the pride he felt have made a lasting impression on him.|
|Quote||Why is it important?|
|“His shoulders globed like a full sail”||Nautical imagery (words associated with sailors or the sea) is used to show how the father uses the power of the horses to plough.|
|“I stumbled in his hob-nailed wake”||The boy used to try to keep up with his father, such was his desperation to be with him. However, he “stumbled”, showing how he had not fully grown and matured.|
|“But today it is my father who keeps stumbling behind me”||The father is now dependent on the son. The roles have reversed as the father now follows his son.|