There are many similarities between the poems “Cynddylan on a Tractor” by R. S Thomas and “Docker” by Seamus Heaney. Seamus Heaney is an Irish Catholic who lived in Northern Ireland for most of his life. He was a lecturer in Belfast during the 1970s at the peak of the Northern Irish Troubles. He was witness to the sectarianism and institutionalised discrimination that was part and parcel of Northern Irish life during this period; the poem “Docker” reflects this. The docker works in the shipyards of Belfast, whose employees were 95% Protestant and where sectarianism was rife.
In “Docker”, the subject is shown to be someone who cannot separate himself from his work and religion. The two completely control everything he does. However, his god is not the loving God of the Gospels. The docker’s god is more like the wrathful pedantic god of the Old Testament. “God is a foreman with certain definite views Who orders life in shifts of work and leisure. ” But for him God and work are one and the same; the dockyard is his life. “Mosaic imperatives bang home like rivets,… A factory horn will blare the resurrection. ”
These lines also demonstrate Heaney’s sympathy for his subject. His commandments or prejudices have been hammered into him “like rivets”, his only understanding of religion is through the medium of his work, “a factory horn will blare the resurrection”. The docker is no specific person, he could be anyone. He is an anonymous composite – the face of the Irish sectarian. This distorted quasi-Protestantism has led him into deep-seated prejudice and bigotry against Catholics. The hatred has manifested itself into violence. “That fist would drop a hammer on a Catholic”
“Cynddylan on a Tractor” and “Docker” Comparison in Detail
This is so entrenched in the docker’s beliefs that it doesn’t even need to be said – his bigotry is part of his persona. “Oh yes, that sort of thing could start again” “Oh yes” adds a colloquial tone to the statement, as if it is a maxim being given by an elder. Set against the backdrop of the recent Troubles in Northern Ireland, this is particularly believable. Heaney uses language very skilfully to portray the docker and his life. He uses metaphors, similes and visual imagery to describe the docker’s physical appearance. “Cap juts like a gantry’s crossbeam, cowling plated forehead and sledgehead jaw.
Speech is clamped in the lip’s vice. ” These images help us to visualise the docker, he is cold, hard, inflexible – but industrious. The vocabulary Heaney uses to describe the docker conveys a minatory atmosphere, the “slammed door” and “that first would drop a hammer”. There is a fear in those around him, “tonight the wife and children will be quiet”. This is a man who takes no nonsense; his family do as he says. When we read, “will be” the inference is “commanded to be”. Heaney also uses auditory imagery to describe the docker’s actions. The verbs are onomatopoeic, “bang”, “blare”, “slammed” – they are loud, aggressive, and violent.
He writes the poem as a warning against the self-destruction such bigotry and prejudice can produce. In the pub, he sits “in the corner, staring at his drink” “strong and blunt as a Celtic cross”. He has isolated himself form everyone around him; he has only himself and his contorted opinions. His wife and children live in atmosphere or intimidation; he has alienated them too. The tone of the poem is colloquial and almost conversational. Heaney makes the reader feel like he or she knows the docker. He is part of our community and; the actions and behaviours of this man are present in us as well.
Heaney uses informal language such as “Oh yes… ” and “the wife” to convey this. R. S Thomas was a Church of England minister and from 1942-54 he was Rector of Manaton, a hilly isolated area of south Wales, much of it uninhabited. As an adult, he learned the Welsh language in order to understand the farmers in his parish. Much of his poetry is about the people of Manaton, reflecting their lives and their culture. R. S Thomas writes the poem “Cynddylan on a Tractor” as a warning to mankind about the destruction of nature caused by mankind’s insensitivity to nature.
He portrays Cynddylan, sitting proud on his tractor as being insensitive and destructive. He does not see the beauty of the countryside that is around him, yet he believes that he is innovative, he is modernising his agricultural technique. Yet R. S Thomas is not a Luddite, he is not against progress or invention, but in this poem he is warning about the folly of pride. It is Cynddylan’s pride which causes him to be oblivious to the damage he is causing to nature. However this is not a poem about a specific person; it is an everyman story – “Cynddylan” is the Welsh for “man”.
Thomas uses many different techniques effectively to portray Cynddylan. The connotations of the language describing Cynddylan and his actions are all pejorative, “breaking”, “emptying”, “scattering”. This is juxtaposed with the positive imagery used for nature, “mirror of silence”, “bright jays, “kindling”, and “singing”. Visual imagery is used to illustrate the idyllic rural sunrise, but this is contrasted with the description of Cynddylan, who is cold and insensitive. “The sun comes over the tall trees Kindling all the hedges, but not for him Who runs his engine on a different fuel.
” Onomatopoeia is used by Thomas to create auditory imagery. The unpleasant, harsh sounds of the tractor, “the clutch curses” are contrasted with the pleasant sounds of the countryside, “all the birds are singing”. Metaphors are used to illustrate Cynddylan’s pride, “he’s a new man now, part of the machine. ” Cynddylan behaves as though he were a “knight at arms”. He breaks the “fields’ mirror of silence” – his obliviousness to what he is doing is clear. The tone of the poem is mocking and sarcastic. We realise that Cynddylan’s pride is ill-founded.
Thomas mocks his nai?veti? and ignorance, “riding to work now as a great man should”. Thomas is mocking all human pride, and how foolish it is to build up our ego because of a new possession – in Cynddylan’s case a tractor. There is a tone of sadness too, in the final rhyming couplet. “As the birds are singing, bills wide in vain As Cynddylan passes proudly up the lane. ” It seems final – man is moving away from nature and the damage may be irreparable. The poem opens in a conversational tone “Ah, you should see… ” it is as if the reader already knows both the poet and the subject.
Its effect is to help us empathise with the poet as he speaks about Cynddylan. Moreover, it makes it feel as though “Cynddylan” were part of our community; part of us, and any of us is capable of emulating his behaviour. There are many similarities between “Cynddylan on a Tractor” and “Docker”. Both poets are writing from their own experiences about issues they feel strongly about. Both the docker and Cynddylan are anonymous; they are everyman figures who represent humankind as a whole. Anyone can display the undesirable qualities exhibited by the subjects.
However, neither Heaney nor Thomas writes his poem to condemn the person he is writing about. To an extent he empathises with him, he doesn’t condemn the man, but he condemns what he is doing. Both men, the docker and Cynddylan, are totally unaware of the harm they are doing to the people and the environment around them. Furthermore, the issues raised in the poems are enduring. Prejudice persists in every corner of the world and issues surrounding the environment are more relevant now than they have ever been with the advent of global warming and climate change.
Anyone can learn from the poems – they are universal. Similarly, both poems are sixteen lines long. “Docker” however is split into four quatrains whereas “Cynddylan on a Tractor” is written continuously. Each of the four quatrains in “Docker” present a section of the subject’s life; sitting in the pub, his sectarianism, his uncompromising religion and his domestic life. The imagery, however, in each poem is contrasting; in “Docker” it is harsh and industrial; in “Cynddylan on a Tractor” it is pleasant and natural.
Personally, I prefer the poem “Docker” because, as I live in Northern Ireland, it has more resonance with my life. Although it is set before I was born, the prejudices and the destructive religious fervour Heaney describes are still commonplace if less obvious and socially acceptable. To an extent, I can empathise with the “docker” and his rigid religiosity. However, I also like “Cynddylan on a Tractor”. I can understand Thomas’ exasperation with people’s undeserved pride in their possessions and dominion over nature.