Poetry is a literary form that enhances meaning through the use of literary devices. A word in a poem may be connected to other words not just through the standard grammar of English but also through sound and through its pointing to more than one concept. Seamus Heaney reveals truths about his relationship with his father (and our relationships with our parents) in “Follower,” by using sound- and meaning-based poetic practices.
“Follower” describes how a young boy follows his father while the father plows a field and then at the end reveals how the tables have turned over time. Heaney employs two sound-based poetic devices in the poem, rhyme and meter. Rhyme unites words through sound, creating connections between words that are not semantically related, such as “sod” and “plod.” Regular, predictable rhyme as in the abab form of this poem gives the poem a sense of unity.
The meter of the poem is basically iambic tetrameter; the first stanza establishes the meter and other stanzas use alternate meters occasionally for contrast. The back and forth rhythm of the iambs (“...his SHOULDers GLOBED like a FULL sail STRUNG” line 2) provides the reader with a sense of plodding along behind a horse plowing a field.
Two meaning-based literary devices also stand out in the poem. One is a simile. The reader gets a sense of the rounded shoulders of the father and how those shoulders are integral to the movement forward in line 2 with a comparison between the shoulders and the sail of a ship.
The other device is metonymy, where a large idea is represented through a single detail. In the first line of the fourth stanza, “hob-nailed wake” not only carries on the ship metaphor, but the father's heavy boots and thus his large self both physically and psychologically are represented by the single shoe detail, “hob-nailed.”
Poets craft for sound-related and meaning-related literary devices in order to give readers a richer experience in understanding their meaning. Through their use, Heaney allows his readers to consider the influences on their lives of their own parents.