Illumination of “Follower”



The poem that I chose to illuminate for our workshop was Follower, a poem by Seamus Heaney from his collection Death of a Naturalist. Seamus Heaney’s poetry has been in my life for many years, as my grandfather, the son of an Irish immigrant, came to love the poetry, often regarding Heaney as the only poet he could actually tolerate. Follower was a poem that he had read to me once before his death, and because of that, the poem has some sentimental value to me. Beyond my personal anecdote, however, I am also a fan of Seamus Heaney, finding comfort in the way that his poems were written about how the passing nature of our lives and how none of it is ever set in stone.

In my opinion, Follower highlights this very thing, by following the story of a young boy that would, well, follow his father around as he worked the fields. His father did not regard the boy as a nuisance, and for the most part, just seemed to tolerate the boy’s presence. However, the boy is the narrator of the poem, and as he grows older alongside his father, he finds himself complaining about his father’s endless presence, not appearing to see the irony in the fact that the man he once followed endlessly as a boy now relies him as an elderly man. The narrator of the poem comments, “Today / It is my father who keeps stumbling / Behind me, and will not go away.” (Lines 22-24) I took these lines to mean that the narrator does not understand why his father is following him. The word “stumbling” applies that his father is having trouble keeping up with him, which is why I believe him to be an elderly man.

My illumination attempts to reflect my belief that the narrator’s father is an old man by the time the poem is occurring in. To show this, I drew to figures on the page that were both split down the middle. The figure in the foreground is an adult male, split between the appearance of a man that one might associate with being a farmer willing to have his son be following him around the fields and a man dressed in a suit wearing sunglasses that conceal his eyes. I made the second half of the man look this way because I believe it shows that he is indifferent to his father, who can be seen behind him as one half of the character in the background.

The character in the background has been split between the appearance of a small boy that is directly behind the man that appears to be a farmer and an elderly man that is behind the “well-dressed” man. I attempted to use the colors available to make it clear that while these two men are related, the younger of the two has done what he can to distance himself from his father, causing him to not understand why his father is following behind him.

I had briefly considered having there be a third part for these split characters, with a young son for the narrator, to try and display how he may finally come to understand the experience of his father, but I felt that it would not serve to illuminate the poem. I think that the drawings, as they currently are, serve to show that any person is capable of reminiscing about their roots while also failing to grasp the significance they have on their lives in the current day. I also chose to have the second man be in “nicer” clothes in father to highlight the idea that this narrator, the second man, was effectively standing on the foundation provided by his father to improve his own life.


2 thoughts on “Illumination of “Follower”

  1. I’m interested in the fact that you chose a literal interpretation of the poem in order to illuminate. When I first read the poem it was the image of his “shoulders globed like a full sail strung” that stuck out to me. In addition, I believe that its very possible to read the last line metaphorically i.e. the ghost of his father is weighing heavily on him today or the fact that he is where he is today because of the advancements and impressions that he had made on him while he was a boy. Also interesting is the sort of dichotomy that you represent in your illumination. It is clear that at some point the son will inherit the role of the father and vice versa. The third character that you mention adding would have again added an entirely new element towards the illumination. Well done!

  2. I wasn’t familiar with this poem of Heaney’s and your illumination reminds me of the riddle of the Sphinx. Do you know it? What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?

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