Polish Sleepers by Seamus Heaney

  1. Strikes reader most forcefully:
  • “breathed pure creosote”- Creosote is a substance that comes from burning wood, which could be a reference to the people burnt at concentration camps in Poland, as Poland was where most concentration camps were.
    1. Summing up Heaney’s overall theme:

    “bulwark bleached in sun and rain”- A bulwark is a solid wall built for defence that could symbolise the pile of dead of people that could be at these concentration camps. The connotations of defence could show the defensive nature the Nazi’s held when they tried to convince others that concentration camps were a moral thing to do, and “bleached in sun and rain” could reference to the physical state of the people trapped in these camps, in that they were never allowed to be phased by what the weather threw at them, as they were still sent out to do labour, the overall theme being the mistreatment of Jewish people, and the torturous events they endured.

    1. When does the poems rhyme scheme change most obviously?

    “hardy ground-cover and grass. / But as that bulwark…” –Before the full stop at the end of line 6, the lines were mostly run on lines, and after this point, a lot of the lines had more of a rhyming scheme, with words like “rain/stain” and “lie/sky”, and a less rhyming pair of “Castledawson/waggon”, but none of these rhymes follow a particular placement in the poem, the first rhyme being in the next line, and others being a couple of lines apart. This could suggest during and after the war (?).

    1. How does this poem fit in the collection?

    Many of the poems in the collection relate to war and defensive elements of the war, and this poem shows the hardships of the holocaust and what other people would experience during the war. (?)

    1. In this poem, Heaney is trying to signify the importance of the concentration camps, and how they still affect people many years after the war is over. Relating the victims of the camp to railway sleepers, “Until they were laid and landscaped in a kerb”, and a trains inability to move if railway sleepers were not there, it shows the affect that the holocaust had on the world, and how we would have not evolved into the society we are today without this event, as if this event would not have happened, we would still be uneducated about the discrimination that some religions and races may face.
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