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Analysis of Seamus Heaney's Poem "poor Women in a City Church"

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"Poor Women in a City Church" by Seamus Heaney is a poem first published 1966 in "Death of a Naturalist", dealing with women praying in a church.

What's first to say is that the poem is divided into three stanzas. Each stanza consists of five lines of verse - thus, a cinquian. I would consider the rhythm of the poetry as iambic tetrameter. The rhyme scheme of the poem can be determined as a mixture of either a tail rhyme or rhyming couplets in the beginning of every stanza with, after the rhyming pair of verses, a flow into alternate rhyming (A, A, B, A, B; C ,C, D, C, D; E, E, F, E, F). This rhyming scheme combined with enjambments through the whole poem (at least one enjambment in each stanza) creates at several points the feeling of reading a narration instead of a poem describing the sacral scenery it deals with. In the first stanza, line three, an internal rhyme can be found: "...Asterisks on brass candlesticks..." which I would also consider as an alliteration. "Drawn down" in verse 7 is an assonance due to the same vowel sound.

Through the whole poem, the author used a huge amount of metaphors ("Old dough-faced women", verse 6 for example) and similes in a way the whole scenery, the church, the women, the light and shadows, seem to melt into one - like the burning wax candles, melting to light (verse 1). The element of fire, the human beings and the artificial building made of stone, marble, gold and wood become a unity. On the one hand, the candle flames become human ("candle tongues", verse 8, also in verse 7 and 8 "Mince and caper as whispered calls"), and on the other hand we have the waxen image of the kneeling women's brows ("...beeswax brows.", verse 15) - personification and de-personification. The metaphoric expression in the poem is obvious none of the kind the reader has to think about for a long time, it creates an implicit flow to create the images mentioned before. Again, the implicitness could also be a sign for the sometimes narrating feeling the author expresses in the poem.

The combination of light, shadow and darkness creates on the one hand a cosy atmosphere, giving shelter, maybe hope and warmth to those inside but on the other hand a feeling of non-transparency, timelessness and stagnation, recognizable in line 14 on the homophony "still". Still means silence, calm, a satisfying and relaxing state of mind but also no movement or motion, again stagnation or moreover changelessness despite the motion of light, the jerking flames on the candlewicks for example (line 5). But "still" could also mean, that the women still are, they still exist they can be inside the church. Another great expression regarding these aspects in the poem can be found in the final verse: "...you cannot trace a wrinkle on their beeswax brows."



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