What does the last stanza of Heaney's 'The First Kingdom' mean?

1 Answer

User Comments

kc4u's profile pic

kc4u | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted on

Heaney, as always relates the poet to the farmer (e.g Digging) but more importantly, he sees the 'first kingdom', the colonial era of political domination through the agricultural metaphor. But, interestingly enough, in this poem, the initial function of the farmer's world seems to be reductive.

As a post-colonial Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, in this poem, talks about the farmers as the first colonizers of the mother-earth. This metaphoric identification is double-edged. On the one hand, it includes the resisting world of the farmers into the colonial rhetoric, but on the other hand, it also implies an ironic inevitability of fighting colonization with counter-colonization. The discourse of protest is located within the discourse of the master.

Heaney sees the first kings as failed kings, bad farmers, who are overpowered by the temporal surge, that bristles with pathetic events speaking loudly of their misrule. From the epigrammatic beginning, the import of this agricultural rhetoric is made to be reductive.

The disturbing last stanza introduces an I, a questioning and doubting subjectivity which wonders the political import of its lineage of being a farmer. He is faced by a disturbing question of the farmer-colonizer identification. Is he then repeating the colonial discourse? Is his origin imperial too? Is his right to revolt ironically shaped by his colonial roots?He seems to be fuming at this possibility, being a trampled post-colonial consciousness.  The lure of the colonial discourse remain 'accommodating' in hegemony. The poem ends rather cynically with the bleak suggestion that things have hardly undergone any real emancipatory change in an apparent transition from the colonial to the post-colonial.