Act of Union

Act of Union

By Seamus Heaney

I

To-night, a first movement, a pulse,
As if the rain in bogland gathered head
To slip and flood: a bog-burst,
A gash breaking open the ferny bed.
Your back is a firm line of eastern coast
And arms and legs are thrown
Beyond your gradual hills. I caress
The heaving province where our past has grown.
I am the tall kingdom over your shoulder
That you would neither cajole nor ignore.
Conquest is a lie. I grow older
Conceding your half-independent shore
Within whose borders now my legacy
Culminates inexorably.

II

And I am still imperially
Male, leaving you with pain,
The rending process in the colony,
The battering ram, the boom burst from within.
The act sprouted an obstinate fifth column
Whose stance is growing unilateral.
His heart beneath your heart is a wardrum
Mustering force. His parasitical
And ignmorant little fists already
Beat at your borders and I know they’re cocked
At me across the water. No treaty
I foresee will salve completely your tracked
And stretchmarked body, the big pain
That leaves you raw, like opened ground, again

Summary of Act of Union

  • Popularity of “Act of Union: “Act of Union” by Seamus Heaney, a celebrated Irish poet, and writer, is a symbolic poetic piece. The poem first appeared in his collection North published in 1975. The poem reflects on a historical element imposed by the British government upon Ireland in 1801. It anticipates the aftermaths of this decision for both sides. The popularity of the poem lies in the fact that it articulates the feeling of a person who witnesses that forced union.
  • “Act of Union” As a Representative of Power: This symbolic poem alludes to one of the historical events, the Act of Union, that significantly joined Ireland to Great Britain. The decision made some happy while, on the other hand, some people, including the speaker, opposed this union. The speaker tries to explain this grand event by giving it a humanistic feeling. The start of the poem alludes to the birth of a baby. The poem skillfully explains the critical condition of the Irish landscape which is in labor and about to deliver. The image of two recumbent figures and their marriage in this act is further heightened in the poem when the speaker shows England’s dominance and ironic expression toward Ireland. The second stanza shows the pain Ireland is going to face after this collaboration. Although the two borders will make a single state, it will strengthen only Britain, and the Irish landscape will suffer pain and torture. Also, no political situation will free Ireland from the scars of violence.
  • Major Themes in “Act of Union”: Execution of power, superior versus inferior, and sadness are the major themes of the poem. This poem reflects upon the memory of one of the significant events that occurred in the past. To make readers understand the pain of the Irish landscape, the speaker has defined this act as a marital relationship in which a female endures a lot. However, the superior male exercises his power as if the relationship depends on a powerful singularity of the intent. The United Kingdom will gain more control once it joins its borders with Ireland. Unfortunately, this union would cost Ireland a fortune, and no political situation would compensate for the damages done by this act.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “Act of Union”

literary devices make poems meaningful and enchanting. The analysis of the literary devices used in “Act of Union” is as follows.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /e/ and /o/ “That leaves you raw, like opened ground, again” and again the sound of /e/ in “Beat at your borders and I know they’re cocked.”
  2. Anaphora: It refers to the repetition of a word or expression in the first part of some verses. Seamus has repeated the word “the” in the last stanza of the poem to emphasize the point such as;

“The rending process in the colony,
The battering ram, the boom burst from within.
The act sprouted an obstinate fifth column.”

  1. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /h/ in “His heart.”
  2. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /t/ in “The battering ram, the boom burst from within” and the sound of /r/ in “His heart beneath your heart is a wardrum.”
  3. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example:

“Your back is a firm line of eastern coast
And arms and legs are thrown
Beyond your gradual hills. I caress”

  1. Irony: Irony is a figure of speech in which words are used in such a way that their intended meaning is different from the actual meaning of the words. The poet has used this device throughout the poem to show the meaningful attitude of England such as;

“I grow older
Conceding your half-independant shore
Within whose borders now my legacy
Culminates inexorably.”

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. Seamus Heaney has used imagery in this poem such as “I am the tall kingdom over your shoulder”, “And arms and legs are thrown,” and “Beat at your borders and I know they’re cocked.”
  2. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects that are different in nature. The poet has used the extended metaphors of dominance and power to show how powerful countries execute their rights in the world.
  3. Personification: Personification is to give human qualities to inanimate objects. The poet has personified countries throughout the poem such as “I am the tall kingdom over your shoulder” and “I foresee will salve completely your tracked.”
  4. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from literal meanings. The poem shows symbols like sadness, dominance, and distress to show the consequences of the act of union.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “Act of Union”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction: The poem shows descriptive diction but a very lugubrious, tragic, and ironic tone.
  2. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. Seamus Heaney has used end rhyme in this poem such as; “head/bed”, “shoulder/older” and “again/pain.”
  3. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are two stanzas in the poem with each having the same lines.

Quotes to be Used

These lines from the poem, “Act of Union” are useful to quote while talking about the great changes that occurred in the past.

“I foresee will salve completely your tracked
And stretchmarked body, the big pain
That leaves you raw, like opened ground, again.”

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