The Lammas Hierling – Ian Duhig

The Lammas Hierling is a poem that can be very confusing at first glance, however the fact that it is so ambiguous means that it is open to interpretation. The poem looks at the relationship between a farmer and one of the workers he has hired, the worker is ‘doted on’ and the farmer ‘grew fond’ of him. It is when we get further into the poem that the confusion begins; the worker is seen to be a ‘warlock’, a shape shifter highlighting the semantic field of magic. The farmer then shoots the worker and dumps the body in the river, but there ‘was no splash’ – the body has disappeared. As a result the farmer being left unable to sleep and always alert, he seeks God for answers.

Themes –

  • Grief: there is this element of grief over the loss of the farmers wife and the fact that he still has ‘disturbed […] dreams’ of her shows that he is not fully acceptant of her passing and is still mourning.
  • Supernatural: there is both supernatural and real elements to this poem, and it is these events which lead the farmer into becoming an insomniac and forever seeking ‘Father’ (God) for answers and forgiveness.


Tone of the poem –

  • There is a lot of ambiguity surrounding this poem because of the contrast we get from real to supernatural. There can be a lot of different meanings as there is no clear explanation to this poem.


Structure –

  • The poem is made up of 4 stanzas of 6 lines each.
  • Enjambment creates even more confusion around the poem as the story flows from one stanza into the next. The reader has difficulty understanding it at first glance, like the farmer has difficulty understanding what he saw.


Techniques –

  • There is some alliteration used (‘Disturbed from dreams of my dear late wife’). Harsh and sharp sound, shows how distressing and hitting this dream was. It could also foreshadow the bullets that are about to be fired.
  • The poet also uses contrasting Supernatural vs real, animal vs human, sleep vs awake, life vs death.
  • The poet also uses Irish slang (‘muckle sorrow’), this helps set a scene for the poem and further enhances the contrasting image of the calm, serene nature with the violence of guns and bullets.


Important quotes –


Is a Christian name for a holiday that takes place on August the 1st, it is a time to hire workers.


‘pale form’

This is interesting because the worker spends his time working on a farm, therefore it doesn’t make sense for him to be ‘pale’. Shows that he is no longer the human who was hired to work.

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