Seamus Heaney's "Follower" appears in his first major poetry collection, Death of a Naturalist, which was published in 1966 and brought the young poet a great deal of critical attention. The volume is understood to be a largely autobiographical meditation on Heaney's childhood in County Derry, Northern Ireland. Like Heaney, the speaker in "Follower" is a farmer’s son who finds beauty and value in traditional farming practices but struggles to take them up himself. The poem touches on themes that appear throughout Heaney’s work, such as family dynamics, agricultural work, and Irish identity.
My father worked ...
... and the furrow.
The horses strained ...
... over without breaking.
At the headrig, ...
... the furrow exactly.
I stumbled in ...
... to his plod.
I wanted to ...
... Yapping always.
But today ...
... not go away.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
A Biography of Seamus Heaney — An overview of Heaney's life and work that pays special attention to his early years.
Seamus Heaney Reads "Follower" — Listen to the author read the poem aloud.
A Documentary on Irish Farming Traditions — The first several minutes of this video (2:10-6:00) show a farmer working with an antique horse plow. The documentary goes on to describe the tools that replaced traditional plows.
Heaney's Annotations in Death of a Naturalist — Images of a copy of Heaney's first book, Death of Naturalist, which he annotated. This includes a short annotation of "Follower."
The Belfast Group — An overview of the Belfast Group from Emory University, which houses the largest collection of Heaney's literary archive, per his donation.
1My father worked with a horse-plough,
2His shoulders globed like a full sail strung
3Between the shafts and the furrow.
4The horses strained at his clicking tongue.
5An expert. He would set the wing
6And fit the bright steel-pointed sock.
7The sod rolled over without breaking.
8At the headrig, with a single pluck
9Of reins, the sweating team turned round
10And back into the land. His eye
11Narrowed and angled at the ground,
12Mapping the furrow exactly.
13I stumbled in his hobnailed wake,
14Fell sometimes on the polished sod;
15Sometimes he rode me on his back
16Dipping and rising to his plod.
17I wanted to grow up and plough,
18To close one eye, stiffen my arm.
19All I ever did was follow
20In his broad shadow round the farm.
21I was a nuisance, tripping, falling,
22Yapping always. But today
23It is my father who keeps stumbling
24Behind me, and will not go away.