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Bog Queen Poem Analysis Essay


Fourth Edition, November 2011

ENL 258: Best Essays in Literary Theory

2nd Place Winner

Now and Then
by  Angela Tieng


History is the study of a human past; but, for Ireland, history is not merely that. History is as much the living, breathing present. Ireland’s people are aware of their dejected “history,” which stares them in the face every day, anew. The violence and innumerable pains Northern Ireland has suffered at the hands of religious and political conflict, with both England and the Republic of Ireland, unfortunately, are still fresh and clearly visible. Collectively, Seamus Heaney’s “bog poems” reveal a single, vast metaphor; where the Tenor is all of the agony, physical and mental, and the vehicles are the bog people, as well as the bogs themselves. Heaney utilizes imagery and figurative language inspired by the bogs and other earthen materials to create a repetitious metaphor for a grounded, yet, constantly moving, deeply-layered history. Within the “bog poems,” and most of his other poetry,—“Heaney’s writing probes a nexus of connections between the poetic and the politic” (O’Brien 82).

When thoughts of Ireland cross my mind, I picture rolling green hills, sheep crossing narrow, winding roads and then, the bogs. Bogs are Ireland, in a sense—“We have no prairies/To slice a big sun at evening--/…Our unfenced country/is bog that keeps crusting/Between the sights of the sun” (“Bogland”, ll. 1-2/7-8). The bogs, alone, are so representative of life, and sustenance for the Irish—“For ages, peasants in search of fuel have cut blocks of peat from the depressions, to dry and later burn for warmth and cooking” (Glob ix). It would be unjust not mentioning the bogs themselves as a source of inspiration for Heaney’s “bog poems.” Not only above ground were the living kept alive with aid from the bogs, but beneath the ground, beneath the many layers, something else was kept “alive”—“for the Irish bogs may be thought of as openings into the dark of history…the central theme in several oh Heaney’s works was the literal repossession of the ground” (Parini 3). The bogs possess bodies and history, both of which were “repossessed” with the emergence of the “bog people.”

P.V. Glob’s The Bog People: Iron-Age Man Preserved is an obvious source of inspiration for Heaney’s “bog poems.” Glob’s quixotic way of describing the exquisitely-preserved bodies that had emerged from the peat-bogs of Northwestern Europe had moved Heaney. Because of extremely high amounts of humic and tannic acids, in collaboration with the exclusion of oxygen, which prevents any bacteria from promoting decay, the peat bogs “can preserve bodies for millennia, often in remarkably good condition” (Glob ix). Ironically, the bodies were placed into the bogs to be “gotten rid of” and forgotten about; however, the bodies were, near perfectly, preserved. Evidence of their torturous demise was preserved as well. In fact, even details such as the contents of their last meal were preserved. The bogs were scientifically proven to be void of any oxygen, still, ‘life” was preserved. With this emergence of “life” from the bogs, a symbolic imprint of history also arose—“The selfsame forces set us in our mould:/to life we woke from all that makes the past./We grow on Death’s tree as ephemeral flowers” (Glob xvi).

It can be inferred that Heaney’s “bog poems” were woven together by a significant thread: the way the bog bodies facilitate the relationship between

the Iron-Age world of the bog people and the modern world of their archaeological reappearance…their peculiar capacity to compress time, bog bodies are exemplary mnemotopes and speak of a life anchored in an everyday that was then but is also now (Purdy 1).

Like Northern Ireland’s history, the bog peoples’ demise began a long time ago, but when the bodies were found, or “dug” up, they appeared remarkably preserved — to the point where details such as facial hair, or what meals they partook of were noticeable—“His last gruel of winter seeds/Caked in his stomach” (“Tolland Man”., ll.7-8). Archaeologically speaking, the bogs contain elements for successful preservation. In the following quote Heaney outlines how poetry is also a mechanism by which history is preserved:

Poems [are] elements of continuity, with the aura and authenticity of archaeological finds, where the buried shard has an importance that is not diminished by the importance of the buried city; poetry as a dig, a dig for finds that end up being plants (Purdy 3).


Applying individual and lyrical methods to the application of history in the form of artful language posed a whole different problematic issue for Heaney and his poetry. As a child, Seamus Heaney was conditioned to be “emotionally and intellectually proofed against the outside world. It was an intimate, physical, creaturely existence…mingled with the sounds of adult conversation…” (Heaney-Nobel Lecture 1). From an early age, Heaney consistently had to face the world from two different, warring angles: creativity and reality.

The crux of Seamus Heaney’s inspirations for the “bog poems” comes from an unrelenting battle he waged with his own self-identity as a poet, and the responsibilities he carried as a lyrical artist from Northern Ireland. When asked in an interview by Dennis O’Driscoll—“How should we regard a question like Czeslaw Milosz’s ‘What is poetry that does not save/Nations or people?’” Heaney replied by saying—“It’s a cry wrung from him in extremis, de profundis, the cry of the responsible human…betwixt and between them [those two positions]” (O’Driscoll 381). As a Catholic Nationalist residing in Northern Ireland during a time of deep troubles, Heaney’s situation challenged his lyricism to the limits. Anthony Purdy’s essay alludes to Eileen Cahill’s statement in “A Silent Voice: Seamus Heaney and Ulster Politics”—“Heaney clearly suffers the tension between his personal dedication to a reflective art and his public responsibility towards political action” (Purdy 4). Despite the risks of possibly being deemed a “blasphemer,” Seamus Heaney decided to push the limits with his writing. The character being spoken of in Heaney’s “Casualty” could possibly be a reference to himself—“But my tentative art/His turned back watches to:/He was blown to bits/Out drinking in a curfew/Others obeyed…” (36-40). The character alluded to in “Casualty” was being “disobedient” by staying out past curfew, though highly aware of the dangers that come about by doing so, he still proceeded to “rebel” for his individual selfhood was at stake. Nevertheless, he paid a heavy price for doing so.

Heaney did include political issues within the contents of his poetry, quite obviously at that; however; he did so in a way that makes readers pause and question their existence within the world they live in. Heaney alludes to this in the O’Driscoll interview—“poetry is like the line Christ drew in the sand, it creates a pause in the action, a freeze-frame moment of concentration, a focus where our power to concentrate is concentrated back upon ourselves” (383). Looking at “Punishment,” it can be noted that Heaney, or the speaker, was questioning his own position within the realm of responsibility as both a human being and a Catholic from Northern Ireland amidst the religious and political upheaval of the time. “Punishment” is a poem that depicts the brutal punishment of a young woman who was found guilty of adultery. With use of figurative speech, such symbolism and imagery, it can be said that Seamus Heaney felt deep sympathy for the girl—“I can feel the tug/…I can see you drowned,” almost as if he was right there with her as she was going through the torture (1-3). He also used an abundance of imagery to evoke the feeling of exactly what happened to her—“it blows her nipples/to amber beads,/it shakes the frail rigging/of her ribs” (2-5). This example suggests feelings of loneliness and solitude. The victim was, ultimately, alone in her demise. Her lover was not being brutally killed. She was given the blame, and severely punished for it—“My poor scapegoat” (28). Another example of strong imagery was the reference to the noose—“her noose, a ring/ to store/ the memories of love” (20-22). Instead of a literal ring of some sort to represent the “love” between the girl and her lover, what she now had to remind her of him was the noose around her neck: that was the memory for her to hold on to and remember him by. As the poem goes on, it can be noted that although the “voyeur” is apparently sympathetic, and wishes to have been of aid to the poor young girl, he knows that in reality, all he ever could have really done was watch from a distance. He starts by revealing how much he cared for her pain by using “love,” which is the epitome of strong feeling, as a metaphor for his strong sympathy—“I almost love you” (29). Then he goes on to say—“but would have cast, I know,/the stones of silence” (30-31). The speaker is fully aware that he would have, most likely, stood in the distance and mind his “own business.” He knows that it would be completely pathetic. The stones are a metaphor describing that the speaker’s silence was just as bad as the actual weapons used in the murder.

What these bog bodies represent to Heaney and Northern Ireland is a stamp of time, of history, a history of pain and hurt that will never grow old or “ancient,” but always remain new and sacred. In my interpretations, Heaney revered the “bog people” as royalty in the “bog poems.” For example, in “Bog Queen” the title alone refers to the woman as royalty, and within the poem, more “royal” references are mentioned—“My diadem grew carious,/gemstones dropped/ in the peat floe/like the bearings of history./My sash was a black glacier” (25-28). Another example of “royalty” or “saint-hood” of some sort is mentioned in “Strange Fruit”—“Beheaded girl, outstaring axe/And Beatification, outstaring/What had begun to feel like reverence” (12-14). Just as his poetry forever upholds history through the tests of time with language, so do “the bog people” with the everlasting impressions that their images leave on people.

Though Seamus Heaney admits that he will never have the skills as did his ancestors in regards to literal digging, he mentions in his poem “Digging” how he will uphold history and the legacy of all that Northern Ireland entails with his writing—“But I’ve no spade to follow men like them./Between my finger and my thumb/the squat pen rests./I’ll dig with it” (28-31). With his “bog poems,” Heaney continues to reveal a pattern of linguistic and cultural interaction, stemming from deeply-rooted history that continues to “breathe” and change with every word. The importance of this paradigm is emphasized in “A New Song”—“But now our river of tongues must rise/From licking deep in native haunts/To flood with vowelling embrace, Demesnes staked out in consonants” (30-33). Seamus Heaney’s “bog poems” continue to reveal the ground “repossessed,” which is what he had hoped for all along. The “bog people” characterized in his poems are the vehicles for the perplexing metaphor Heaney uses to reveal this “repossession” of the history of Northern Ireland that will never become a distant memory in the hearts and minds of his people.

 

Works Cited
Glob, P.V.The Bog People: Iron-Age Man Preserved. New York: New York Review
            Books, 1965. Print
Heaney, Seamus. “Nobel Lectures-Literature 1995”.Nobelprize.org. 15 Dec 2010.
            http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1995/heaney-lecture.html.
O’Brien, Eugene. Seamus Heaney: Searches for Answers. London: Pluto Press, 2003.
            Print
O’Driscoll, Dennis. Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. Print
Parini, Jay. “Seamus Heaney: The Ground Possessed.” The Southern Review, Vol. 16,
            No. 1, January, 1980, pp. 100-23. Infotrac.Contemporary Literary Criticism.
University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth Library, North Dartmouth, MA.
23 NOV. 2010. http://infotrac. Galegroup.com.libproxy.umassd.edu/itw/infomark
            Purdy, Anthony. “The Bog Body as Mnemotope: Nationalist Archaeologies in Heaney
Tournier.”Style, Vol. 36, No. 1, Spring 2002, pp. 93-110. Infotrac.Contemporary Literary Criticism. University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth Library,
North Dartmouth, MA. 23 NOV. 2010.
http://infotrac.galegroup.com.libproxy.umassd.edu/itw/infomark/...

 

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Heaney’s Bog Poems



Introduction

Heaney’s early poems can be seen as fundamentally concerned with childhood, and with the horrors as well as the wonders of nature, drawing the reader into a world full of "the smells/of waterweed, fungus and dank moss", to look into places where ‘there is no reflection’ – poetry which is also an exploration that aims ‘to set the darkness echoing’.

This fascination with the hidden secrets of the earth takes another direction in the bog poems, which utilize a metaphor begun in Bogland, but with a different, more intense focus, as the land itself seems to come alive, revealed as the source of mystery and power.

Heaney has noted that writing at the time of the Troubles meant that "the problem of poetry moved from a matter of finding the satisfactory verbal icon to being a search for images and symbols adequate to predicament."

In the bog people, victims of tribal sacrifice, the poet seems to have found such images, and develops the metaphor in drawing parallels with the political and social situation in Ireland. This connection to the past allows him to comment on the present in an oblique yet forceful way.

However, this does not imply that Heaney’s poetry necessarily became entirely political. Critics have pointed out that his work is less an ideological statement than an effort to generate historical awareness, and that while his themes contain both resistance and defiance, they do not make an active political statement. Instead, he speaks about political ideas through his description of the land, the use of mythology and history and the religious atmosphere, the images of prejudice, violence and intolerance. His pastoral style uses images of rural Ireland to suggest greater universal ideas. As one critic has said "Heaney staked out the boundaries of his poetic, devoting himself to excavations of his chosen land."


Bogland

The earliest bog poem, appropriately entitled Bogland, is more nationalistic and more about the essence of Ireland than the later poems, which are more deeply concerned with mythical associations, with the connection between violence and religion.

The beginning of the poem sets the nationalistic tone clearly as the possessive pronoun ‘we’ is used more than once, to convey a sense of unity with the land. In the first lines "we have no prairies/To slice a big sun at evening", what is ostensibly a negative statement of absence is turned into a positive assertion, as Heaney speaks of "our unfenced country" and "encroaching horizon".

At the same time the poem emphasizes the layers of the land, layers of history ‘bog that keep crusting’ in continuous expansion, so that the land seems to stretch forever, endless in both horizontal and vertical dimensions. The bog is in layers, each layer a page of history, yet like the encroaching horizon, it at first reveals nothing, seems a statement of absence.

The poem establishes the bog as the source of all Irish memory and ancestry, linking the present to the past through the constancy of the land, as "butter sunk under/more than a hundred years/ was recovered salty and white". The ground conserves rather than destroys, not the realm of fire but of water "they’ll never dig coal here/only the waterlogged trunks of great firs". The land is "itself...kind, black butter", revealing it’s secrets as it is "melting and opening underfoot."

This brings in the motif of digging and exploration, "our pioneers keep striking/Inwards and downwards" which again in the use of the word ‘pioneers’ connects to America, while it relates to a tradition of Irish poets to the diggers, bringing treasures to light.

The poem ends with a reference to something greater, to Northwest Europe, perhaps the seed of the myth of the North in the later bog poems. There is a suggestion of a continuous enrichment, as "every layer they strip/seems camped on before", emphasizing again the metaphor of the bog as history, the memory of the landscape.

The ‘Atlantic seepage’ and ‘the wet center’ is a reiteration of an earlier point "they’ll never dig coal here" the earth is preserving and not consuming, but this is connected to a larger pattern here, in an exploration attempting to find a core, a final center but conceding that this center is ‘bottomless’.

The poem conceives the past as a dimension to be explored dynamically rather than simply received, constructed from a drive to establish a connection between forces shaping a nation’s consciousness. At the heart of the poem, beyond the overlapping of the past and present, is the timelessness of nature.


Tollund Man

The Tollund Man is a poem that promises a pilgrimage: "Some day I will go to Aarhus". In the first few stanzas the tone is expectant, determined, yet at the same time the future tense is an indication of the remoteness of the poem from the time it speaks of. While the poem never wanders in conviction, there is an element of foreignness and distance, which is reinforced by the place names ‘Aarhus’, and later ‘Tollund, Grauballe, Nebelgard’.

The Tollund Man is unnamed. The pilgrim will go "to see his peat brown head"; he goes to worship, in a way, yet the tone remains impersonal. The Tollund Man is passive, his eye-lids "mild pods". A victim, the action of the poem relates not who he is but what is done to him, and in the end he "reposes" in "sad freedom". The Tollund Man, like the girl in Punishment, is portrayed as a scapegoat for society’s crimes and ignorance.

The Tollund Man’s own journey begins when "they dug him out", destroyed and elevated at the same time. The meticulous observations of the narrator are again, detached, "his last gruel of winter seeds/caked in his stomach" yet also emphatic, emphasizing vulnerability "naked except for/the cap, noose and girdle" the remains of a ritual death.
The pilgrim makes a respectful promise to "stand a long time", but the action itself is passive, promising not to move.

The last line of this stanza "bridegroom to the goddess" takes on a more ominous, forceful tone as the bog itself is personified and equated to Ireland, female and overwhelming "she tightened her torc on him". The language indicates the powerlessness of the victim in the face of greater, unfathomable powers, but at the same time metaphorically insists on his quasi-divinity, worked "to a saint’s kept body", bringing in religion and relating it to violence and ritual death. The Tollund Man becomes almost, a surrogate Christ. He is left to chance, "trove of the turf cutters" and finally resurrected until at last "his stained face/Reposes…"

The poet links religion with the ordering of violence or sacrifice in order to bring peace again in comparing "the old man killing parishes of Jutland" with his own land.


The second part of the poem suddenly becomes more emphatic after the stillness of the previous line "reposes at Aarhus" as the narrator says "I could risk blasphemy". Again here, religion is directly connected to violence but this time the pilgrim says he could "consecrate the cauldron bog/our holy ground". Religion derives it’s power from the land, as the land demands sacrifice, a 'bridegroom’, to whom the pilgrim will "pray/him to make germinate". Deriving his power from the land which turned him to a saint, the Tollund Man as victim, is linked to the "four young brothers", to whom he is both kin and saint, to "flesh of labourers" and "stockinged corpses". His paradoxical survival and repose should, the poem implies, give him the power to raise others. At this point, the language is both bleak and harsh, and can be interpreted as an impotent longing to obliterate the wrongs of the past, attempting to see this resurrection as redemption from violence, but seeing only the similarities of a ‘ritual’ of death, uncontrolled and meaningless.

The last part of the poem returns to the quiet beginning, but here, instead of determination and looking forward, there is sorrow and despair, a sense of isolation which is linked to language. The pilgrim insists that the ‘sad freedom’ of the Tollund Man "should come to me…/saying the names" yet showing that ultimately exile means "watching the pointing hands/ of country people/not knowing their tongues" as language is defined as the root of culture, of nationality. Along with religion, and a sense of history and myth, language is central to Heaney’s poetry, and here the idea of isolation is brought sharply to the reader through the idea of being ‘lost’ in a foreign land, yet ultimately the paradoxical nature of exile is realized, the poet realizes that he feels at home in a state of homelessness, and welcomes the feeling of being lost, of not belonging to society, a sort of ‘sad freedom’ he shares with the Tollund Man, no longer tied to religious forces. The poem ends in a statement which describes both the isolation and empowering sense of exile: "I will feel lost/unhappy and at home".



Bog Queen

Bog Queen is a story of decay, describing processes the body has been through until found and excavated. It is different from the other bog poems in that the body speaks: "I lay waiting." There is a sense of restraint here, creating suspense. The body lies "between heathery levels" suggesting an overgrown world, nobility rotting.

"My body was braille" creates a vision of communication between the body and the land, "the creeping influences". In a sense the process of decay can be read as symbolic of Irish history, and the degradation of Irish culture as a result of English intervention: "the seeps of winter/digested me, the illiterate roots/pondered and died". Still the body speaks "I lay waiting" enhancing the reality of her strange existence, yet also asserting that she remains undefeated. She is not destroyed, rather she is altered, made part of the land, "brain darkening/ a jar of spawn" hinting at new beginnings.

She is a frozen, preserved work of art, described meticulously in icy images, her sash "a black glacier", the winter cold "like the nuzzle of fjords".

All this is described in slow, deliberate language, ‘waiting’. Yet, like in Tollund Man, the tone grows more forceful towards the end, as she describes "the wet nest of my hair/which they robbed". This again might be read as relating to English interference, as the body says "I was barbered/ and stripped/ by a turfcutter’s spade". Her discovery is a matter of chance. Here, the clipped language brings a sense of anger which in the last stanza turns to triumph "and I rose from the dark", evoking her past and glory. With the rising of the body, Heaney offers a hope for the rise Irish cultural identity and nationalism.

A detailed, vivid account of a woman given an opportunity to speak, telling her strange existence between the world of life and death, the poem is also, on the metaphorical level, related to incarnation of goddesses who demand sacrifice, related to the feminsation of the land in Tollund Man, and perhaps to the image of a Mother Ireland calling for new sacrifices.

Her excavation elevated to the level of a rising, a metaphoric connection to the theme of invocation in Tollund Man, yet not a resurrection because she had never died.


The Grauballe Man

One critic has noted that if Tollund Man is pilgrimage, Grauballe Man is arrival and the celebration of being there. Certainly, in this poem, there is a new standpoint, an immediacy that is apparent from the first. "As if he had been poured/ in tar he lies/on a pillow of turf/and seems to weep/the black river of himself."

He is at one with the turf, a vivid picture of the union between the land and the man, a metaphoric union. At first, the image is one of stillness, harmony, yet there is an edge of suspense as the language evokes a world dominated by dark colors, water, sorrow and sleep.

"The grain of his wrists/is like bog oak" begins a list like description of the exhibit, for this victim is not a victim but a work of art. There is no commentary on these images, human feeling and empathy are noticeably absent, leaving just an attempt to accurately define the beautiful horror the viewer seems to see. The body has been established as art, and the viewer describes it as such. There is less myth-making, the terror here, unlike Tollund Man, comes as the peaceful image of sleep is turned into a fearful picture of violent death.

The Graballe Man is not passive, there is nothing ‘mild’ about the way he is described, "the chin is a visor/raised above the vent/of his slashed throat".

It is here that the central point of he poem is made clear: "who will say ‘corpse’/ to his vivid cast?/ who will say ‘body’/ to his opaque repose?"

This has also been seen as the turning point for the use of the bog metaphor, as the poet makes us aware of the clash between myth and reality, beauty and atrocity. These lines are a rationale for the description, but they also ask us to question the work of art the poem constructs, as the actuality of terror asserts itself: "I first saw his twisted face/ in a photograph" and the idea of sublime art is undermined by reality. Yet "now he lies/perfected in my memory". The picture is a more balanced one, he is "hung in the scales/with beauty and atrocity", constructing a complex idea of sculpture, yet awakening also the ethical response, which is held back until now.

The poem ultimately addresses the issue of art as a reflection of life and can be read as arguing life is too strictly compassed' in art. The poem itself cannot reveal the full horror of life’s horrors, yet attempts to understand them, through it’s metaphors, returning in the end to reality as it climaxes in a terse expression of death "each hooded victim/slashed and dumped".



Punishment

Punishment has often been described as the central point, the climax of the bog poems, as the Winderby Girl is a metaphor for Ireland. It begins with a focus on her body, describing it in anatomical detail on a level similar to Grauballe Man, yet this time there is a degree of empathy absent from the last poem. It is intensely personal, rooted in the senses "I can feel the tug/of the halter". The image of the "frail rigging/of her ribs" creates the idea of a ship in a storm, further reinforced by the next line "I can see her drowned".

The persona scrutinizes her into parts, an onlooker. She is sacrificed at the hands of oppressors, but still contains information about her culture, managing to preserve her identity despite the overwhelming cultural storm.

The next stanza begins a more violent image "her blindfold a soiled bandage" but the violence is softened "her noose a ring/ to store/the memories of love", as the description becomes more immediate, more emphatic, transformed to a lament of pity "my poor scapegoat". Heaney finds himself guilty however of remaining silent out of loyalty to the tribe. He says he "would have cast…/the stones of silence", as in Grauballe Man, as an artist, he is both part of the situation and outside it. "I am an artful voyeur" he both claims and admits, and in watching reality he remains an onlooker who has "stood dumb".

The girl is juxtaposed here to her "betraying sisters" (also a reference to France and Spain) "cauled in tar/wept by the railings". This cyclical view of history is typical of Heaney’s poetry; springing from a sense that past is present, in the sense of both here and now. In Punishment, the poem implies that the past functions as a scapegoat, taking the blame for social ills for which we are responsible. Yet we do not feel responsible because we do not feel it is our fault. The poet’s role, Heaney believes, is to redeem the past and make it live again. Thus, the past and the present become one, and the girl in ‘Punishment’ is reflected in her ‘betraying sisters’, as the poet uses the link between past and present to explore the darker aspects of the human experience from betrayal to death.

Ultimately, Heaney shows that in the face of "tribal, intimate revenge" it is difficult to speak out, though we "connive/in civilized outrage".


Strange Fruit

Strange Fruit, the last bog poem, is not only different in style it is also different in structure, written in sonnet form. It deliberately misses rhymes, its line length widely inconsistent, pointing towards the recognition of conclusion, deliberately breaking and failing patterns in the resolution of a long, complex metaphor.

"Here is the girl’s head" it begins, and in contrast to Punishment, it’s description emphasizes all that is repulsive. This girl is not likened to a ship withstanding a storm, or storing memories in a noose, but is "an exhumed gourd". She is constructed using images of plant-life, natural life, but nature here is never beautiful. She is "oval-faced, prune-skinned, prune-stones for teeth" her broken nose "dark as a turf clod". The picture is not meant to mystify. This body is no more than a document of ancient violence. There is no indication of myth.

Murdered, forgotten, nameless, terrible,
Beheaded girl, outstaring axe
And beatification, outstaring
What had begun to feel like reverence.

Heaney’s attempt to elevate the bog people to a mythic level is destroyed here, the final bog poem refusing to colour present violence with the hue of acceptability of rationality, finally asserting the meaningless of sacrificial or ritual death.



Conclusion

The political aspect of the bog poems is undeniable. Some critics such as Blake Morrison have seen this in a negative light, arguing that while "it would be going too far to suggest that the bog poems generally offer a defense of Republicanism" he sees them as a form of ‘explanation’ which according to Morrison "give[s] sectarian killing…a historical respectability".

Ciaran Carson’s critique takes a different direction, seeing that with the bog poems the poet became ‘the laureate of violence’ and "an anthropologist of ritual killing’ who seems to be "offering his ‘understanding’ of the situation almost as consolation…as if he is saying suffering like this is natural" so that it is as if such acts are removed to 'the realm of inevitability'.

However, it can also be argued that although Heaney’s work is full of images of death and dying, it is at the same time deeply rooted in life, endlessly metaphorical, it holds out an offer of endlessness, of cyclical history, of eternity. Heaney’s poems are ultimately peace poems, intensifying the sense of beauty in contrast to the horror of violence and the pathos of needless death.

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