A Constable Calls

A poem based on a childhood memory of a Policeman coming to the house, on a routine visit, to make note of the ’tillage returns’.  These figures would in turn, determine the tax his father would have to pay.

The bicycle description: ‘fat black handlegrips’, ‘the’spud’of the dynamo gleaming and cocked back’, ‘the pedal treads hanging relieved of the boot of the law’. It is presented almost as a weapon and we can feel the oppression it embodies for the boy, his father, the Catholic community.

The boy is simultaneously horrified and fascinated by the Policeman, his bicycle, the ledger, the gun. He is terrified about the knowledge he holds of the tiny fraud his father has committed, a line of turnips where the seed ran out’. This terror increases as he imagines the ‘black hole in the barracks’, where he or his father may be cast into.

Note how throughout the poem, the references to the current history of Northern Ireland (when Heaney was writing the poem-1970s) are hidden in the layers of meaning and fears of the boy and his community, back in the 1940s.

The policeman leaves with an ominous final line in the poem ‘His boot pushed off and the bicycle ticked, ticked, ticked.’ Time ticking away..or the ticking of a bomb…a time bomb?


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