‘Casting and Gathering’ signifies the process of cultivation. Casting means throwing and gathering means harvesting. Perhaps Heaney wants to use the paradox of cultivation to talk about the conflict between the socialists and the capitalists. In the context of cultivation process he sees the conflict between the right and the left or the Capitalists and the Socialists.
He observes both the sides and symbolically uses the words ‘hush’ and lush’ to show a mingled feeling of fear and hope. He is, in fact, trying to promote a spirit of compromise. Casting and gathering are two stages of a same process. Similarly the two parties, apparently in conflict against each other, actually are two stages of a same process. There is another interpretation of the poem. According to Andrew Boobier, “In his poem, Casting and Gathering, dedicated to his friend Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney writes:
I love hushed air. I trust contrariness.
Years and years go past and I do not move
For I see that when one man casts, the other gathers
And then vice versa, without changing sides.
Heaney evokes here the push-pull effect of friendship, the fact that two people can have different natures, contrary impulses yet be united in the common bond of mutuality and respect for each other as fishermen and poets. The poem is also about growing up and learning to respect these differences, There is a dialectical movement in which the two opposing forces of Heaney’s and Hughes’ language (the ‘hush’ and ‘lush’) are not only synthesised into their bonds of friendship but also as a resolution within the poem and Heaney’s own contrary. The strong resolutions within Heaney’s poetic output in general are indicative of his allegiance to his Romantic forbears and his own particular need for balance and redress”.
Casting means throwing or scattering. Gathering means harvesting or collecting. Heaney here uses the paradox of cultivation. Cultivation consists of two processes—the casting of seeds and gathering of crops.
Casting and gathering were considered two opposite processes but that is an old idea. Heaney sees the two as the stages in the sowing process. Immediately Heaney comes to the contemporary strife of left and right. In the decades following the French Revolution the whole world was divided into ideological camps of right and left. It started a cold war between the socialists and the capitalist countries. The poets of the left were committed to revolution, and the forces of the right insisted on the status quo. Heaney’s consciousness grew in that atmosphere of conflict. In 1936 there was a big international resistance against the fascism of Franco in Spain. All the intellectual of the world gathered to support the republic against the fascist government. This is the background of Hemingway’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’. Lorca, a great Spanish dramatist lost his life in that struggle. All the intellectuals of the left supported republic while all the governments of the left supported fascist regime. The conservatives try to stay neutral in that struggle. Heaney, here, is trying to justify his neutralism but then, there was a general saying that in the strife between the right and the wrong, neutrality means support for the wrong. This is one of the issues which disturbed Heaney and it created in him a sense of guilt as well as a sense of fear, perhaps the fear of escaping one’s duty towards the oppressed. In Redress of poetry, Heaney asserted that the poet’s function is not to help the oppressed but only to console him. Consolation is only an escape.
He is graphically visualizing this strife in terms of right and left. On the left bank, perhaps it suggests that the revolutionary spirit has inspired the peasants and the countryside is resounding to it. Hush and lush may here means a mingled feeling of fear and hope. ‘Entirely free’ means the movement for the freedom was universal. On the right bank or on the other side there is a different scene and a sound is coming from there like that of the marsh bird or rail making shrill sounds and the fisherman gathering the fish. Perhaps we may say that on the left side, there is the sowing of crops. On the right side there is the harvesting of crops.
The poet is conscious but at the same time, he is dreaming, trying to grasp the reality beyond consciousness. He feels that now he has become mature and he can see both the sides. He sees the people on the left as well as people on the right engaged in hard labour. They do not care about any slogans “proof by the sound he is making” means that these people do not care about that strife. Perhaps the left is pronouncing that individual is not important, that he is only a part of the community or only a member of the society. The other side says that individual is everything. The poet claims that he loves peace (hush). He believes that life is made above contraries. Perhaps he has Blake in mind who sees life both as the tiger and the lamb.
The experience of his life has told Heaney that casting and gathering are the two stages of a process. One throws up and the other gathers. He tries to suggest that the two parties, apparently in strife against each other, actually are heading towards the same goal and this goes on sometimes one casts and the other gathers and at another time it is the former who gathers and the latter who casts. What he is trying to say is that communists and capitalists are not antagonists against each other. They are actually leading each other to the same common goal.
This poem is a beautiful example of advocating compromise but compromise may be a commitment and it can also be an escape. His senior countryman, W.B. Yeats, saw the position of the poet differently from Heaney. He has sympathy for both the fighting factions because both are honest and fighting for an ideal with a commitment to what they consider to be right. Yeats appreciates their idealism and commitment but he does not say that both are right. They may think that they are fighting for a right cause. He has sympathy for them— the sympathy for the individual but not with their cause. Heaney on the other hand does not distinguish between victor and the victim.