The Prosody of Scaffolding by Seamus Heaney. Poetry Analysis

November 19, 2021 by Essay Writer

Rhythm, meter, and overarching sound effects – also known as prosody – bring the words of a poem to life and offer readers a deeper understanding of the piece overall. To best grasp a poem’s prosody, the reader must first analyze and interpret the poem through the process of scansion. Analysis of scansion allows the reader to understand why a poet might establish particular patterns of rhythm and meter, perhaps uncovering the true tone of a piece or newfound significance in the verse. In Seamus Heaney’s poem, “Scaffolding,” the benefits of scansion become clearly visible. A conscious reader notices that the poem’s prosody actually supports and compliments the semantics of the poem in ways invisible prior to proper analysis. On the poem’s surface, Heaney uses metaphor to establish a connection between a well-built bridge and a well-built relationship. After analysis of the piece, an attentive reader will notice that Seamus Heaney’s use of rhyme and iambic pentameter bring consistency and structure to his poem, mirroring the overall motif of the work. Heaney’s ability to parallel the poem’s structure alongside its story is significant because it creates a confident relationship between the poem and the reader. By understanding this correlation between the poem’s semantics and prosody, readers of “Scaffolding” may begin to appreciate the beauty within this poem that lives beyond the page.

Many readers would classify “Scaffolding” as a loving and uplifting poem, a piece of art that eloquently transforms a person’s passion into verse. Yet, many of these same readers might not know why they find this poem so powerful. The answers to why this poem functions as a meaningful work of art become apparent through proper scansion. In this poem, Heaney utilizes an easy to understand couplet rhyme scheme. Through rhyme, Heaney forms trust and comfort between himself and the readers of the poem. Rhyme creates rhythm. Rhythm generates feelings of security because it gives readers a sense of familiarity and consistency with the poem – when the words consistently rhyme, readers know what to expect. This familiar relationship between poem and reader helps Heaney express the type of relationship he explicitly mentions within the poem – a relationship involving familiarity, confidence and stability. By integrating rhyme throughout the poem, Heaney creates a firm foundation for the reader to move confidently between lines. Heaney mentions this firm foundation using ideas such as “never fear” and “confident that we have built our wall.” Through rhyme and rhythm, Heaney establishes a foundation that helps the reader feel instantly familiar with the piece, creating a sense of understanding of what may come in the future. Heaney writes of a lasting relationship built using the precision of a master mason while also constructing the physical poem with an equally satisfactory attention to detail.

Heaney again utilizes his mason-like precision while constructing the meter of the poem. Following analysis, the astute reader notices that Heaney “built” this poem using the foundations of iambic pentameter. All lines consist of ten syllables except for the last and many contain feet that follow the iamb structure of alternating stresses. Heaney uses words such as “careful,” “solid,” and “confident” to describe the relationship within the poem. These same words mirror Heaney’s construction of the poem itself. His use of iambic pentameter creates a sense of confidence in the reader because – similar to the scaffolding described within the poem – it lays a foundation for the reader to use. This foundation enables the reader to continue through the poem feeling secure in what they read.

In the last line of the poem, Heaney breaks away from the comfort of pentameter. He writes,

“So if, my dear, there sometimes seems to be

Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall

Confident that we have built our wall.”

The last line includes only nine syllables, breaking the ten-syllable pentameter. Heaney uses words such as “breaking” and “fall” and then commits such actions by withdrawing from his pentameter. By doing this, Heaney again constructs a situation in which the prosody of the poem compliments the semantics of the piece. Readers see Heaney testing both his poem and his readers in the exact same way he tests the relationship in the example above. Without fear, Heaney breaks the scaffolds that have established the poem’s meter, confident that his poem and his relationship with his readers will stand just as confident as before.

Heaney’s use of prosody compliments the poem’s semantics with a unique sense of intelligence and true beauty. Simultaneously, Heaney creates a relationship between the poem’s story, structure, and the readers of the poem. His use of rhyme and iambic pentameter establish a rhythmic relationship with the reader, similar to the relationship explicitly stated in the poem. With the final line, Heaney “lets the scaffolds fall” and breaks his pentameter; however, he seems confident that he has “built a wall” using prosody that enables readers to feel a profound connection and understanding with this poem. A connection that brings readers to understand emotionally what Heaney explicitly stated within his poem.

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