The poem was written from the point of view of a witness who watched the American troops pass through Anahorish to invade the Normandy beaches, in order to describe his experiences as a child in World War II.
– One quotation that is particularly striking to the reader is “we were killing pigs when the Americans arrived”.
– As this is the first line of the poem, it creates an immediate sense of danger and distress.
– However the line delivered in a calm manner; people are working as they would on a “Tuesday morning”, and even though soldiers are passing through their land, the witness does not appear to be surprised by their presence.
– This creates an unsettling feeling in the reader as we know what is in store for the soldiers in Normandy, while they are unaware (dramatic irony).
– Prolepsis can be seen here as “killing pigs” could foreshadow the death of unprepared soldiers during the battle.
– Present participle “killing” reinforces the irony (unaware).
– A quote that sums up Heaney’s overarching theme/concern is “unknown, unnamed”.
– The soldiers have no name or identity to the people witnessing their passing through, they are just uniforms.
– They are fighting for their country, under instruction from their commanders, but will die nameless and will be forgotten.
– Irony can be seen here again as they are unaware of their fate, just as the pigs were.
– We can infer that Heaney is trying to make a point that we should do something in order to be remember, not be “unknown”.
– The poem is a sonnet with 14 lines, but no rhyme scheme.
– Assonance e.g. “killing pigs”, “Americans”, “unknown”, “unnamed”, was used to enhance the poetry by adding a musical effect.
– The poem’s rhythm changes most obviously in the last 4 lines: “Not that we knew then // Where they were headed, standing there like // youngsters // As they tossed us gum and tubes of coloured sweets.”
– The strong run-on lines speed up the end of the poem as if trying to rush to get to the end.
– “Youngsters” is a line on its own; isolating the word shows how Heaney must have felt watching the soldiers pass through his home town as a child. (Confused, alone, scared).
– This poem fits in with Heaney’s collection as many of his poems focus on his childhood experiences in WW2, such as Polish Sleepers.
– His poetry also tends to explore the life cycle- life and death- which can be seen in Anahorish along with many of his other works e.g. The Turnip-Snedder.
In this poem Heaney is expressing the emotions he felt as a child, experiencing war. The poem has a very mature tone with the descriptions of murder and death, until the last line “as they tossed us gum and tubes of coloured sweets”. Adding this line brings us back to the reality of the situation; how young the children were who had to live in these times of war. There is a strong, almost comical, contrast between this line and the lines at the beginning of the poem. Soldiers are heading to war, yet are still able to empathise with the children they are dying to protect. This act of providing “gum and tubes of coloured sweets” also humanises the soldiers, rather than the reader only seeing them as killers. The fact that is it the final line of the poem leaves an eerie image in the reader’s mind; we know what will happen when the soldiers reach their destination, but only from our own imagination- instead Heaney leaves us with what should be a happy image, yet it has the opposite effect.