Heaney’s A Constable Calls: Senior Cycle Revision Notes


How does this link in with Heaney’s other poems?  

The poem ‘A Constable Calls’ links in with many of Heaney’s poems as they all share the   theme of childhood memories. This includes ‘Mid-term Break’, ‘Digging’, ”The Early Purges’, ‘Blackberry picking’ and ‘Follower’. This similarity expresses Heaney’s childhood was full of events that have shaped who he is today. Just like ‘A Constable Calls’ they are memory poems which the detail has brought the past vividly to life and are evidence of how indelibly (permanent) these events from his childhood have been imprinted in his mind. .

Central themes

  • Uncertainty is a theme that we see throughout this poem. We can recognise that almost the entire poem has a sense of ambiguity (uncertainty); this is as Heaney can never be sure of what his emotions or his surroundings are. A quote which suggests uncertainty in the poem is when Heaney says “his cap was upside down.” This is because it illustrates a sense of turbulence running throughout Heaney’s mind and advocates that he cannot make sense of his surroundings. Upside down literally describes the positioning of the policeman’s cap, however metaphorically this may imply Heaney too is upside-down and can’t seem to foreshadow what is to come. Perhaps this is because the policeman was dangerous, or even because Heaney’s view of Protestants had been tainted by his parent as he grew up to see Protestants as rancorous
  • Most central idea apparent in the poem is fear. Constantly throughout the poem Heaney is fearful of the policeman. This fear was brought about by the accessories of the policeman. For example the quote “staring at the polished holster” signifies Heaney was petrified at the sight of the holster- which holds guns. If the constable had a holster then he had a gun and Heaney was worried the policeman would turn violent if he didn’t get what he wanted. We also know how scared Heaney is, which is perceptible from the great detail he talks about the gun. Despite the event happening several years ago Heaney was still able to describe the policeman’s items such as the gun and his bike very vividly. He has never been able to evade the fear of the event, similarly to Heaney’s other poems including: ‘Digging’; ‘The Early Purges’ and ‘Blackberry picking’.  Distrust and fear – Distrust between a Protestant policeman and a Catholic farmer: Arithmetic and fear’


  • Childhood memories. In this poem and in ‘Mid-term Break’, they share the theme of childhood memories. These childhood memories have shaped who Heaney is today. We can tell his poem has been written from his childhood by the fact the policeman was never described, yet all of his accessories were. It displays Heaney couldn’t remember much about the policeman because he was too petrified to look, if he was scared of the policeman’s bike, then how scared would he be looking at the policeman himself?


  • The images are factual and imaginative.
  • The word ‘black’ displays a further sense of fear; black represents evil and death, conjuring an image that suggests that the Catholic view of Protestants, such as the police officer, is sinister and malicious.
  • The central image is the policeman and his props. Props are the things in a room or scene. Props are the things that belong to someone. The props often reveal what a person is like. Props in this poem include a bicycle, uniform, a book, a baton and a gun. Heaney describes these props in such a way that we dislike the policeman.


Four Metaphors:

1) The first two of these examples are also personification. A metaphor which compares a thing such as a bicycle to person is called personification. ‘Its fat black handle grips…’ [This description compares the handle grips to a heavy person. This metaphor is personification. It is unattractive description. A child would fear something ‘fat’ and ‘black’. Heaney chooses words that tell us how Catholic families on farms viewed the police. The ‘handle grips’ could also suggest handcuffs.]

2) The pedal treads hanging relieved of the boot of the law…’ [The word ‘boot’ is a metaphor for the tough, cruel way the police behave. This description compares the pedals of the bicycle to a living being. This metaphor is personification. Heaney suggests that the pedal was relieved when the policeman got off. This description shows the boy’s fear.]

3) ‘Closed the domesday book…’ [Heaney compares the hardback record book of the policeman to a historical book. Heaney reveals his childhood fear here. He compares ‘the heavy ledger’ to the ‘domesday book’. In this metaphor, ‘domesday’ shows fear. ‘Domesday book’ was a hated survey of farms in England back in history. People believed that God would check at the end of time. It will send some to hell. The ledger could send Heaney’s father to jail. On a broader level the poem accurately records the sense of resentment and alienation felt by the Catholic Nationalist minority community in an artificially created State governed by the descendants of Protestant planters.]

4) And the bicycle ticked, ticked, ticked’. [Heaney is comparing the sound of the bicycle chain to a clock. A clock ticks. Heaney is referring to a clock that is used as a timer in a bomb. He means that the hatred between the police and farmers will lead to explosions.]


Sound effects

  • -Assonance ((Assonance is repetition of vowels)) Note how three ‘a’ vowels here reinforce the colour black and the boy’s fear: Its fat black handle grips’. (Think of ‘aahhhhhhh’! expressing one’s fear!)
  • Consonance ((Repetition of consonant sounds)) Note the six ‘d’ sounds in the middle of the second stanza. This hard sound increases the atmosphere of fear. ((Like in the films, doonn ddonnn donnn!)) An unpleasant, tense atmosphere is created by the use of sinister ‘s’, hard ‘c’,’g’,’b’ and harsh ‘r’ consonants.


  • Sibilance:  I sat staring at the polished holster’.
  • Rhyme
    • There is no regular rhyming pattern.
    • The only line rhyme is between the second and fourth lines of the third stanza.
    • The lack of line rhyming suits the conversational manner. Rhyming dictates word choice and can make word order seem stiff.
    • The lack of formal rhyming helps to keep the rhythm natural. Conversational words maintain the informal air.
  • Onomatopoeia  And the bicycle ticked, ticked, ticked’. The phrase sounds like a bicycle moving off or a clock. Because the sound of the words imitates a real sound, this is an example of Onomatopoeia.


  • Factual: ‘His bicycle stood at the window-sill’.
  • Distasteful, disgusted and sickened: ‘Its fat black handle grips’. ‘his slightly sweating hair’.
  • Sometimes humorous and mocking. An example of this is when Heaney imagined that the bicycle is a living thing that hates the policeman’s weight: The pedal treads hanging relieved of the boot of the law’. A shadow bobbed in the window’.
  • Sometimes the tone is tense: ‘Any other root crops?…No’.


  • Gloomy and threatening: ‘the bicycle ticked, ticked, ticked’.

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