Bye, Child by Seamus Heaney is a poem that conveys the torment and sterility that is experienced by an abandoned child. The poem illustrates the sufferings that are experienced by a boy who is imprisoned inside a henhouse. The ‘henhouse boy’ is the ultimate symbol of negligence and alienation. The child is deprived from light; as he is treated like a caged animal, who is given scraps to eat from a trapped door. Evidently Heaney is affected by the boy’s traumatic experience.
Through a compact structure, the use of motifs and figurative language not only is Heaney able to express the depravity of the child; but at the same time he is able to sympathize and create an impact on his readers. The emotional drive and the message are fundamentally revealed through the structure of the poem. It is structured as a free verse poem and the first verse sets the scene of the poem. Heaney creates a generous facade in the first verse where the ‘little henhouse boy’ is comforted by the ‘yolk of light’ as he “ his eye to the chink. ” However Heaney disparages this soothing facade in the verses to come.
He portrays a sense of depression and isolation as they boy is described as “frail” and “weightless”. The boy’s surroundings are described as unhealthy and animal like. The boy spends his days in “vigils,solitudes,fasts” and ‘tears. ‘ The mood and tone of the poem significantly changes in the last verse. The poet interprets the child’s “gaping wordless” as indicating a breakthrough where the child is able to look beyond his confined world and into the light. Heaney also utilizes enjambment in each verse in order to underline the structure and clarify the message.
The message of the poem is further conveyed with the motifs of light and the moon. The light and the moon are significant recurring images throughout the poem. They serve as motifs that create emphasis on the child’s physical and emotional depravity. The boy is compelled by the ‘yolk of light’, which is alien to his surroundings. The boy has a “puzzled love of the light”. He strives to reach this source of light, which serves as comfort, hope, and a sense of freedom for the boy. The light signifies as a glimpse towards the outside world and is a deep contrast towards the monotonous life the boy leads.
The moon is also a significant image that the poet has created much emphasis on. The child is given moon like attributes as he is described as “sharp faced as new moons” and “luminous. ” The boy is even referred to as “little moon man. ” Evidently Heaney is illustrating the pale and unhealthiness of the boy due to the lack of light. Just as the moon provides light during nightfall, this boy illuminates the darkness of the “henhouse. ” These moon like attributes which have been given to the boy also makes him seem ghostly. The ghost like image of this feral boy is obviously a portrayal of the emptiness in his life.
In the end of the poem readers understand that the moons goes beyond the boys physical attributes. It highlights the distance between the boy and the reassuring outside world of love and happiness. ( ? “Of lunar distances ? Travelled beyond love. “) Besides the motifs of light and moon other forms of figurative language is used to describe the despairing life of the child. Heaney uses figurative language to convey the mistreatment and the alienation that the boy experiences. The overall environment is described through distasteful imagery of ‘cobwebs, old droppings, under the roosts and dry smell from scraps”.
This dreadful environment that the boy is succumbed to creates a significant impact on the readers, as they directly sympathize with the boys situation. The scraps of food are served through a trap door, giving the boy the image of an animal. The boy is “knelled and faithful” with the imagery of a dog; illustrating his innocence and ignorance towards the outside world. This disturbing image haunts the poet’s memory as he compares it to “a photo still glimpsed like a rodent On the floor of mind. Use of metaphors are evident throughout the poem as Heaney begins the poem with the metaphor ” yolk of light”.
Clearly through the use of such figurative language Heaney is able illuminate the child’s agony in a subtle manner, which have a direct impact on his readers. It is evident that this poem is Heaney’s revulsion against children who are abandoned, neglected and mistreated. Though this poem Heaney conveys with the use of various poetic devices the trauma that the child has experienced. His subtleness in illustrating the notions of alienation and negligence creates inevitable impact on his readers, as they sympathize with the boy’s situation.