This poem, like many of Heaney's earlier works, deals with the relationship that Heaney has with his father and in particular how he desires to follow in the tradition of his father and his descendants. This metaphor of following is made explicit in the description of how Heaney as a boy used to follow his father as he ploughed the field, in awe at his father's skill and strength, as he mapped "the furrow exactly." However, the final stanza features a massive reversal, as the adult poet comments on how now, in the present, he and his father have reversed places from their positioning when he was a child:
I was a nuisance, tripping, falling,
Yapping always. But today
It is my father who keeps stumbling
Behind me, and will not go away.
The description of Heaney's father "stumbling" behind him and never leaving him both serves as a comment on the dilapidating impact of old age but also the way in which Heaney's memory of him and his hope that he is following in his father's footsteps is following him. In a sense, what Heaney does is to place the reader in the position of follower as well. The title indicates the importance of this position as first Heaney, and then his father occupies it. By the end, however, the reader realises that he or she is likewise placed in the position of follower, as the reader is trying to follow Heaney's meaning just as surely as Heaney as a child tried to follow his father. The reader is left to experience what Heaney felt as a child as he walked in his father's footsteps and tried to understand him.