Seamus Heaney, Bernard MacLaverty and film are words that do not necessarily sit together. But thanks to the inspiration of a young NI film producer, they have become an award-winning combination.
Bye-Child started life in the fountain pen of Seamus Heaney. Producer Andrew Bonner was won over to poetry and the power of creativity by the poem which gives a glimpse into the dark world of a feral child.
It begins with the epigram:
He was discovered in the henhouse where she had
confined him. He was incapable of saying anything.
It was Bonner's brainchild to turn the stark imagery of the poem into a ‘scary little jewel of a film’.
With the combined talents of Bonner as producer and NI novelist and dramatist Bernard MacLaverty (Cal, Grace Notes, Lamb, The Anatomy School) as director on board, the pair put together a strong cast including their first choice's, Susan Lynch and Dick Holland to create what the critics called a ‘harsh, poetic, truly haunting and horrific’ short film.
The film gained a nomination for Best Short Film at the 2004 BAFTA Film Awards and won MacLaverty the Best First Time Director at the BAFTA Scotland Awards in November 2004, although he jokes that the only award he thought he was up for was ‘The Oldest Newcomer’.
Both Bonner and MacLaverty now live and work in Glasgow.
MacLaverty is famed for many reasons, from his four novels and five collections of short stories to the many adaptations of his work for other media - radio plays, television plays and screenplays. He is a member of Aosdana in Ireland and is currently Visiting Writer/Professor at the University of Strathclyde.
He is also employed as a teacher of creative writing on a postgraduate course in prose fiction run by the Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies at the University of Aberdeen.
With a background in teaching, Bonner tutored on the Harry Potter film set, managed an indie band and worked on a wide range of TV and film projects before producing Bye-Child, his first film.
This opened the door to international film festivals, from Palm Springs to Tehran, and spurred him on to make his second short, Icicle Melt, which premiered as a finalist at the Turner Classic Movies Classic Shorts competition at the BFI London Film Festival.
In addition to making an award-winning film, the pair have expanded the possibilities of the film medium to embrace education, with the DVD and integrated website functioning as a complete educational resource pack for teachers and those interested in film-making.
They are proof that the NI film industry has space for those, old or new, who have enough determination, talent and patience to work through until the final cut.
Bye, Child by Seamus Heaney is a poem that conveys the torment and sterility that is experienced by an abandoned child. The poem illustrates the sufferings that are experienced by a boy who is imprisoned inside a henhouse. The ‘henhouse boy’ is the ultimate symbol of negligence and alienation. The child is deprived from light; as he is treated like a caged animal, who is given scraps to eat from a trapped door. Evidently Heaney is affected by the boy’s traumatic experience.
Through a compact structure, the use of motifs and figurative language not only is Heaney able to express the depravity of the child; but at the same time he is able to sympathize and create an impact on his readers. The emotional drive and the message are fundamentally revealed through the structure of the poem. It is structured as a free verse poem and the first verse sets the scene of the poem. Heaney creates a generous facade in the first verse where the ‘little henhouse boy’ is comforted by the ‘yolk of light’ as he “[puts] his eye to the chink. ” However Heaney disparages this soothing facade in the verses to come.
He portrays a sense of depression and isolation as they boy is described as “frail” and “weightless”. The boy’s surroundings are described as unhealthy and animal like. The boy spends his days in “vigils,solitudes,fasts” and ‘tears. ‘ The mood and tone of the poem significantly changes in the last verse. The poet interprets the child’s “gaping wordless” as indicating a breakthrough where the child is able to look beyond his confined world and into the light. Heaney also utilizes enjambment in each verse in order to underline the structure and clarify the message.
The message of the poem is further conveyed with the motifs of light and the moon. The light and the moon are significant recurring images throughout the poem. They serve as motifs that create emphasis on the child’s physical and emotional depravity. The boy is compelled by the ‘yolk of light’, which is alien to his surroundings. The boy has a “puzzled love of the light”. He strives to reach this source of light, which serves as comfort, hope, and a sense of freedom for the boy. The light signifies as a glimpse towards the outside world and is a deep contrast towards the monotonous life the boy leads.
The moon is also a significant image that the poet has created much emphasis on. The child is given moon like attributes as he is described as “sharp faced as new moons” and “luminous. ” The boy is even referred to as “little moon man. ” Evidently Heaney is illustrating the pale and unhealthiness of the boy due to the lack of light. Just as the moon provides light during nightfall, this boy illuminates the darkness of the “henhouse. ” These moon like attributes which have been given to the boy also makes him seem ghostly. The ghost like image of this feral boy is obviously a portrayal of the emptiness in his life.
In the end of the poem readers understand that the moons goes beyond the boys physical attributes. It highlights the distance between the boy and the reassuring outside world of love and happiness. ( ? “Of lunar distances ? Travelled beyond love. “) Besides the motifs of light and moon other forms of figurative language is used to describe the despairing life of the child. Heaney uses figurative language to convey the mistreatment and the alienation that the boy experiences. The overall environment is described through distasteful imagery of ‘cobwebs, old droppings, under the roosts and dry smell from scraps”.
This dreadful environment that the boy is succumbed to creates a significant impact on the readers, as they directly sympathize with the boys situation. The scraps of food are served through a trap door, giving the boy the image of an animal. The boy is “knelled and faithful” with the imagery of a dog; illustrating his innocence and ignorance towards the outside world. This disturbing image haunts the poet’s memory as he compares it to “a photo still glimpsed like a rodent On the floor of [his] mind. Use of metaphors are evident throughout the poem as Heaney begins the poem with the metaphor ” yolk of light”.
Clearly through the use of such figurative language Heaney is able illuminate the child’s agony in a subtle manner, which have a direct impact on his readers. It is evident that this poem is Heaney’s revulsion against children who are abandoned, neglected and mistreated. Though this poem Heaney conveys with the use of various poetic devices the trauma that the child has experienced. His subtleness in illustrating the notions of alienation and negligence creates inevitable impact on his readers, as they sympathize with the boy’s situation.