In ‘Follower’ Heaney presents us with a very vivid picture of his father as he appeared to the poet as a young boy. We learn a lot about both the relationship that existed between them and the way Heaney saw his family. The father is, more than anything else, an energetic and skilled farmer. He is ‘An expert’ with the horse-plough and Heaney as a little boy would simply get in his father’s way. The poem is full of admiration for his father’s strength and skill with horses. At the end of the poem, however, we are moved to the present day and there is a change in roles; it is now Heaney’s father who has become the child who gets in the way.
His awareness of how the passing of time has brought about this change does not lessen the love and respect he feels, however. Heaney remembers when he was a small boy, and in the poem he looks up to his father in a physical sense, because he is so much smaller than his father, but he also looks up to him in a metaphorical sense. This is made clear by the poet’s careful choice of words. An example of this is in the lines: “His eye Narrowed and angled at the ground, Mapping the furrow exactly. ” The choices of the verbs “Narrowed”, “angled” and “Mapping” effectively suggest his father’s skill and precision.
We are also told that young Heaney “stumbled in his hob-nailed wake,” which brings to our mind a picture of the ploughman’s heavy boots, the carefully ploughed furrow and the child’s clumsy enthusiasm. This idea is repeated in the lines: ” I was a nuisance, tripping, falling, Yapping always. ” These words, especially “Yapping” make us think of the boy as being like a young and excited puppy – enjoying playing at ploughing, but of no practical help. In fact, he was a hindrance to a busy farmer, but his father tolerates him. His father’s strength and power are also very effectively brought out in the simple, but effective simile: His shoulders globed like a full sail strung Between the shafts and the furrow. ” The comparison here suggests a man who spends much of his time out of doors, a man who is a part of nature. The word “globed” also suggests great strength and gives the impression that the father was the whole world to the young boy. It is important to note that his father is not simply strong; his tender love and care for his son are emphasised by the fact that he “rode me on his back/ Dipping and rising to his plod”. The sound and rhythm of these lines convey the pleasure young Heaney had in the ride.
The poem is written in six stanzas of four lines each. The first four stanzas describe Heaney’s admiration for his father and his abilities. The next five and a half lines SHOW that the poet wanted to grow up to be like his father. However, he feels that he could do no more than get in the way. Then there is a twist in the last two and a half lines: “But today It is my father who keeps stumbling Behind me, and will not go away. ” The use of a new sentence beginning with the capital ‘B’ emphasises the importance of this statement.
All through the poem Heaney uses devices like this to suggest to the reader something about his father. Some lines have a rhythm which suggest the ruggedness of the ploughman and the rhythm of the ploughing. Also, Heaney uses words that do not rhyme exactly, like “sock” and “pluck” (‘half-rhyme’). This adds to the ‘craggy’ description. Heaney is also very careful about how he arranges the words on the page. The second stanza begins with a brief two word statement -“An expert”, which, in its emphatic brevity, forces us to take note, and leaves the impression that there is nothing more to add.
Even though the word ‘love’ is never used in the poem, it is obviously the word that best describes the basis of the relationship existing between Heaney and his father. The poem is very much a personal experience, but it has a much wider significance relating to any kind of hero-worship by a ‘follower’. Now that he is himself an adult, Heaney acknowledges that the father he hero-worshipped as a young boy has grown old and needs as much tolerance and patience as he himself once showed his son.