The human condition can be defined as a state of mind shared by people worldwide; a respect for authority that cannot be understood is an aspect of science and religion and spiritual existence for the majority of the population. At the same time, a dependence on memory is an aspect of humanity that us ire universal and recognisable, the formation of the present being dependant on the past. These themes of dependence, memory and respect are explored by Heaney’s disjointed and fluid exploration of his own childhood and the effect that it had on his later life, divided into four distinct phases oh his life. Heaney’s tone is somewhat confused, and the universal themes he includes are restricted by his focus and the juxtaposing lexis, excluding certain audiences. Tempest is far more controlled, and in the form of a fluctuating meter that evokes a range of emotions, she explores humanity rather than one human. Heaney writes a quasi-autobiographical description of his own condition, while Tempest uses the pronouns “we” and “our” to massively reinforce the connection between humans, not just a human condition but the human condition.

Memory dominates Heaney’s lines, and provides the foundation for Tempest’s message, an important aspect of human development. Tempest uses juxtaposing lexical fields of ancient mythology and of the modern working class, exemplified in “the heroic and the pitiful”, constant comparison to a Classical past with the reference to Argonautika with “dragon’s teeth”, but emphasising the depth of change with the repetition throughout, “no” and “still” repeated. Using references to the past to relate the semantic weight of “monsters” to the apparently mundane imagery of “desolate” old men, Tempest bases her message of human connection and value on the experiences of the past, and emphasising the changes that define modernity form mythology. Taking the first “Brand New Ancients” as the end of the poem, the medial caesura immediately before the final epigram adds significant weight to the capitalised lines, and reinforces the marriage of the past and the present. Heaney’s poem would appear more stable and coherent, with a narrative form and quatrain structure, albeit with one dislocated line of free thought, but the actual narrative is constantly fluctuating between flashback and memory and imagination, an entrenched blurring of reality to the point that the values of the past events are intertwined inextricably with those of the present, applying the same message that Tempest idolises, but in a far more natural and fluid expression of memory. The use of tenses reflects this, opining in the past tense and moving to “say I” in the second part, before switching to a memory “in ‘56”, inspired by the ritual religious experience in a sanatorium. The depth of the marriage is made stronger by the further hallucination back to Doctor Kerlin; he hallucinates the doctor drawing in condensation, an unrealistic imagination of the past, in conjunction with the dislocated and confused imagery of stick figures that “soon began to run”. In the final part, contrasting with the coherent flow of rhetoric in Tempest’s poem, the tense confusion becomes apparent, “I stand”, “I would enter”, “she’s asleep”, and the opening stanza, claiming that the room “stays pure reality … standing the passage of time”, implying constant stability and reliability. This permeating memory is, for a man exploring his own humanity, a place he personally values; there is not one permeating memory in The Brand New Ancients, but rather permeating values that pervade throughout Tempest’s envisioned history, social and societal values emphasises in “we are still godly”, a line isolated by terminal caesurae and given massive weight.

Both poets use memory to further explore authority and respect; Heaney is less effective at exploring the connections between humans directly, rather focusing on a distances admiration, while Tempest explicitly defines humanity through an unorthodox lens. The imagery she uses is associated with mundane and recognisable lives and experiences, but juxtaposes throughout with the mythological connotations, the stock scenarios of an absent father or wasted potential of a friend, with the colloquial “mate”, elevated to the level of “parables”. The teleological necessity of a spoken word plat encourages rhythm and rhyme for the audience’s sake, but it can also be manipulated to encourage a pace change or emphasise certain words – “the air is so thick that we feel like we’re fainting” uses dactyls to emphasise the noun, adjective and verbs, emphatically stressing the important lexis, and “every single person has a purpose in them burning” uses the far more emphatic trochees. Tempest varies the meter she uses the draw attention to the harmony and action of certain areas of her poem, echoing the hexameter of Greek epic, and the tetrameter of neoclassical equivalents. While Heaney also explores divine imagery, he does so more tentatively, focusing on the monomania of his childhood self, rather than a societal change that would relate more closely to the human condition. An ominous tone is lent to the unknowable power of Doctor Kerlin, the enjambment of “like a hypnotist/ Unwinding us” implying a disjointing level of power – Classical imagery is, unlike the sweeping rhetoric of Tempest, applied individually, “Hyperborean” implying an alien and distant level of power exercised by the doctor. The individual power of the doctor is envisioned not only as a defining aspect of Heaney’s life, but as an extended metaphor the influence of poetry over the mind; the “miraculum”, isolated by caesurae for weight, of the imagined action of manipulating “the baby bits” is associated with the presence of Hygeia and the “sleep” of the incubation. Tempest never moves focus from her central motif of elevating human experience, whereas Heaney here links the two authorities in his life through sematic anaphoric reference – “darken the door” to “the undarkening door”, implying a fundamental change in the subject, but not the form of respect.

To conclude, both poets use the dual planks of memory and authority, each complimenting the other, to explore two very different concepts, only tenuously linked through the human condition, a theme Heaney almost avoids. Tempest uses the past to reinforce her vision of the present, while Heaney uses the past, interwoven with the present, to look deeper into his own state of humanity and a level of sublime contentedness possible through the pervasive incubation.

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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