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Death of A Field | Summary and Analysis

Analysis of Death of A Field by Paula Meehan

Death of A Field is an incredibly knit, imagistic poem by the Irish poet, Paula Meehan. The poem focuses on the impact of growing urbanization upon a lovely country field. Death of A Field was published as the first poem in Meehan’s collection of poetry called “Painting Rain”, in the year of 2009. The poem concentrates on the concerns of the inevitable, economic and environmental issues of industrialization that destroyed the natural habitat of Ireland. In juxtaposition to these matters, the poem explores the themes of preserving a memory that will soon be lost as a consequence of developing capitalism. Moreover, these themes are expressed in the poem through the fluidity of the times of past and present as they traverse and transform an innocent and colorful memory into a sorrowful and lost memory.

Death of A Field | Summary and Analysis

Death of A Field is a free-verse poem written in the form of an elegy that invites us to mourn the death of a field. Even though the poem does not embody any rhyme or regular meter, the author brilliantly creates a beautiful rhythm out of this poem of lamentation. The poem begins with a sorrowful line on the inevitable urbanization.

 

Death of A Field Analysis, Lines 1-2

The field itself is lost the morning it becomes a site

When the Notice goes up: Fingal County Council – 44 houses

The speaker begins the poem by evoking the consequences that will seize “the field”, as soon as it becomes “a site” within the hands of the “Fingal County Council”. A significant note to be made here is, Death of A Field consistently plays around the words ‘the’ and ‘a’: the former is used to modify specific or particular nouns and the latter is used to denote non-specific or non-particular nouns. Such a tactic introduction conveys a process of metamorphosis into the poem, wherein the poem changes from a personal and private memory to that of a collective and public memory. Throughout the poem, from beginning to end, the poet shrewdly refers to the phrase, “the field”, implying the emphasis of the lamentation within the poem for her personal memories of the field. But as soon as she finishes the poem, the poet keeps the title as “a field”, evoking the transformation of the field to collective mourning.

The title of the poem can be said to forebode the coming incidents that will force the field to become part of a collective memory from a personal one. In this couplet, the poet warns the readers that the field will be lost, as soon as the “Notice goes up” and henceforth it will become “a site” for “44 houses”. Here, the Fingal County Council metonymically represents the idea of urbanization.

Death of A Field Analysis, Lines 3-8

 

The memory of the field is lost with the loss of its herbs

Though the woodpigeons in the willow

And the finches in what’s left of the hawthorn hedge

And the wagtail in the elder

Sing on their hungry summer song

 

The magpies sound like flying castanets

 Here, the poet begins with a monostich, a one-line stanza to highlight the importance of the loss of memory with “the loss of its herbs”. Following this line, in the course of time, the readers are invited to imagine the vivid images of the field created by the poet but at the same time, such an invitation to imagination connotes the necessity for urgency from the poet, for the preservation of the memories of the field. The speaker introduces a variety of birds like, “woodpigeons”, “finches” and “wagtail”, all of them inhabiting the trees of “willow”, “hawthorn hedge” and “the elder”, respectively as they “sing on their hungry summer song”. The poetic device of personification deployed by the poet in the phrase, “hungry summer”, elevates the imagistic quality of the field.

The lines, “And the finches in what’s left of the hawthorn hedge”, clearly indicate that the process of exploitation of nature was already beginning to take place. Moreover, the destruction of the habitat of the birds is also evoked in these lines. Moving on, the poet once again introduces the presence of another bird called “magpies”. These birds are well-known for their songs and calls and the use of similes in the monostich lines, “the magpies sound like flying castanets”, heightens their well-known sounds by comparing them to the instrument called castanets. Here, the readers witness the poet’s ability to create a beautiful rhythm using images, personification, and similes and as a result, to emphasize the beauty of the field.

Death of A Field Analysis, Lines 9-12

And the memory of the field disappears with its flora:

Who can know the yearning of yarrow

Or the plight of the scarlet pimpernel

Whose true colour is orange?

In these lines, the poet intensifies, even more, the magnificence of nature to the readers to juxtapose them against the severity of the “disappearance” of the “memory of the field”. Moreover, these lines speak out loud, about the idea of animism through their multiple uses of personification. The poet, evidently, describes the annihilation of nature from their perspective rather than from the point of view of a human being. Such an essentialization of nature echoes the emphasis on ecology and on the term called “ecopoetry”. The poem highly takes into consideration the environment and nature by giving them a life of their own. In these lines, “the yearning of yarrow” and “the plight of the scarlet pimpernel” are personified to bestow them with a living soul. Moreover, such use of the literary device, personification, provides the poem with an animated rhythm of lines. The poet even underlines and addresses the “plight” of the scarlet flower, as if she understands the flower, to say, “Whose true colour is orange?”.

Death of A Field Analysis, Lines 13-18

And the end of the field is the end of the hidey holes

Where first smokes, first tokes, first gropes

Were had to the scentless mayweed

 

The end of the field as we know it is the start of the estate

The site to be planted with houses each two or three bedroom

Nest of sorrow and chemical, cargo of joy

 The end of the field is “the start of the estate” or in other words, the start of industrialization or the beginning of the loss of memory. Therefore, these lines evoke the importance of “the end of the field” and moreover, they have repeated abundantly in the poem. The poet gives insight into the prominence of the “end of the field” even more as she aligns them with “the end of the hidey holes” where all the “first smokes”, “first tokes” and “first gropes” took place. The repeated use of ‘firsts’ to highlight their importance might suggest a memory around the world of childhood for the poet. In addition to this, the use of alliteration on the words, “hidey holes” and the use of consonance and assonance on the words, “smokes”, “tokes” and “gropes” in creating a calm and smooth musicality and rhythm to the poem, moreover, brings attention to the subject, “the end of the field”. Once again, highlighting the importance of it.

Moving along the lines, the next stanza expresses the start of the excessive housing development as the end of the pasture comes near. The “site” that needs to be “planted with houses each two or three bedroom” are referred to as the “estate” of “Nest of sorrow and chemical”. It is quite interesting to note here the poet’s technique of bringing two contrasting words, “sorrow” and “chemical”, together in one phrase. This might suggest to the readers the immense contrasting difference between the pastoral world and an industrial world. These two contrasting differences are even more brought together in the following lines to come.

Death of A Field Analysis, Lines 19-28

The end of dandelion is the start of Flash

The end of dock is the start of Pledge

The end of teazel is the start of Ariel

The end of primrose is the start of Brillo

The end of thistle is the start of Bounce

The end of sloe is the start of Oxyaction

The end of herb robert is the start of Brasso

The end of eyebright is the start of Fairy

 

Who amongst us is able to number the end of grasses

To number the losses of each seeding head?

 The lines here mainly evoke the major theme addressed in this poem — the arrival of industrial capitalism into the innocent pastoral world. Such a significant theme is brought into the poem as the poet combines different metonymic associations of the pastoral world with that of the metonymic associations of the industrial world. On one hand, “dandelion”, “dock”, “teazel”, “primrose”, “thistle”, “sloe”, “herb robert” and “eyebright” are all varieties of flora that connotes the natural world of the fields and on the hand, “Flash”, “Pledge”, “Ariel”, “Brillo”, “Bounce”, “Oxyaction”, “Brasso” and “Fairy” are all different chemicals that connote the man-made world of industrialization. Where the latter begins, the former ends. Such a contrast is brilliantly portrayed by the poet as she highlights the end of the past and the beginning of another present using the poetic device of anaphora.

As the audience, reads aloud along the lines of these anaphoric lines, we are confronted with the atmosphere of prolonging. The next couplet evokes such a prolonged tone in the poem, as the speaker in advance, asks the reader, “Who amongst us is able to number the end of grasses/ To number the losses of each seeding head?”, evoking a sense of infinite and innumerable losses to the world of the countryside.

Death of A Field Analysis, Lines 29-33

I’ll walk out once

Barefoot under the moon to know the field

Through the soles of my feet to hear

 

The myriad leaf lives green and singing

The million million cycles of being in wing

 The lines in this stanza begin after a long pause. A pause for the answer to the question asked in the above lines before. This pause might also suggest a sudden realization that grasped the speaker of the infinite loss to come and that persuades her to “walk out once” more through the paths of the fields. Therefore, these lines embody an attempt from the poet to capture and create another memory before it is lost.

The speaker walks “barefoot under the moon to know the field”, evoking a kind of pursuit for naked and new knowledge. The final two lines here are abundant with the poetic sounds of alliteration, assonance, and consonance that results in the echoing of a harmonious rhythm or even more, in the formation of a euphonic memory.

Death of A Field Analysis, Lines 34-39

That – before the field become solely map memory

In some archive of some architect’s screen

I might possess it or it possess me

Through its night dew, its moon white caul

Its slick and shine and its prolifigacy

In every wingbeat in every beat of time

 

In this stanza of the poem, the poet reaches the utmost level in her attempt to “possess” nature and the fields before they become a mere public “map memory”, elevated in the use of the repeated word, “some”. The last three lines in this stanza are abundant with sublime images and the poet uses an extended metaphor here to compare the speaker to the fields with a mother-child relation. The use of the word, “moon white caul”, clearly denotes such a comparison. Moreover, in the final lines, “In every wingbeat in every beat of time”, the poet becomes the mother to her child of nature.

These few lines in this stanza are abundant with images and throughout, the poem indulges in the images of flora and fauna. Such use of imagery elevates the mind of the readers to be more and more imaginative of the fields the poet attempts to bring in her poem. But although the inevitable outcome of industrialization will destroy the pastoral world, in the great use of imagery, anaphora, personification, similes, alliteration, and other rhetorical devices, that bestow the poem with musicality, rhythm and an element of memorableness, the poet strives to immortalize the world of poetry. In other words, the memory of the poet’s “the field” will forever remain with readers.

 

Death of A Field — About the Author

Paula Meehan, born in 1955, is a contemporary Irish poet as well as a playwright. Some of the notable works by Meehan include Return and No Blame, Reading the Sky, and The Man Who Was Marked by Winter.

 

 

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