Thursday 9 November 2023

My Father Wrought

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013), The Redress of Poetry: Oxford Lectures (London: Faber and Faber, 1995), p. 63:

   Almost thirty years ago, in a poem called ‘Follower’, I wrote about myself as a child dragging along behind my father when he was out ploughing. The poem began:
                     My father worked with a horse-plough,
and as unremarkable as this may have been as a line of verse, it was still the result of some revision. Originally I had written:
                     My father wrought with a horse-plough,
because until relatively recently that verb was the common one in the speech of mid-Ulster. Country people used the word ‘wrought’ naturally and almost exclusively when they talked about a person labouring with certain tools or animals, and it always carried a sense of wholehearted commitment to the task. You wrought with horses or with a scythe or with a plough; and you might also have wrought at hay or at flax or at bricklaying. So the word implied solidarity with speakers of the South Derry vernacular and a readiness to stand one’s linguistic ground: why, then, did I end up going for the more pallid and expected alternative ‘worked’?
   The answer is, I suppose, because I thought twice. And once you think twice about a local usage you have been displaced from it, and your right to it has been contested by the official linguistic censor with whom another part of you is secretly in league. You have been translated from the land of unselfconsciousness to the suburbs of the mot juste.