Churning Day


A thick crust, coarse-grained as limestone rough-cast,
hardened gradually on top of the four crocks
that stood, large pottery bombs, in the small pantry.
After the hot brewery of gland, cud and udder,
cool porous earthenware fermented the butter milk
for churning day, when the hooped churn was scoured
with plumping kettles and the busy scrubber
echoed daintily on the seasoned wood.

It stood then, purified, on the flagged kitchen floor.



Churning Day is a poem that focuses on an everyday farming action.  However, the way Heaney describes it is extraordinary.




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When you have answered all 6 questions you need to click on the letter Q below and fill in the answers on the computer and print it out. There will be one extra extension question, to really test you.


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Out came the four crocks, spilled their heavy lip
of cream, their white insides, into the sterile churn.

The staff, like a great whiskey muddler fashioned
in deal wood, was plunged in, the lid fitted.
My mother took first turn, set up rhythms
that, slugged and thumped for hours. Arms ached.
Hands blistered. Cheeks and clothes were spattered
with flabby milk.



  Where finally gold flecks
began to dance. They poured hot water then,
sterilized a birchwood bowl
and little corrugated butter-spades.
Their short stroke quickened, suddenly
a yellow curd was weighting the churned-up white,
heavy and rich, coagulated sunlight
that they fished, dripping, in a wide tin strainer,

heaped up like gilded gravel in the bowl.




The house would stink long after churning day,
acrid as a sulphur mine. The empty crocks
were ranged along the wall again, the butter
in soft printed slabs was piled on pantry shelves.
And in the house we moved with gravid ease,
our brains turned crystals full of clean deal churns,
the plash and gurgle of the sour-breathed milk,
the pat and slap of small spades on wet lumps.