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Seamus Heaney was a great poet who was influenced by his surroundings and the mystic secrets of the landscape. He was taken in by the idea of the beautiful peatlands that could preserve almost any object or person it swallowed. Over the years the peatlands has been used for a variety of things.
In this essay I will explore the links between Seamus Heaney and how he relates through his two poems ‘Bog Queen’ and ‘Punishment’ the historical links from the bog bodies era to today.
As I previously mentioned the peatlands was used for a variety of things, these things consisted of the construction of building materials, filters, fuel, and peat moss. Not only did the peatlands provide hard materials but also it was a habitat for many mammals, birds and it even provided a reasonable home for plants to grow such as wild berries.
During the iron ages these natural organisms provided a way of life to the people who lived off the peatlands.
Not only does Seamus Heaney link the historical features in his poems but we can also see these features for ourselves when things such as, when the stone age people brought over animals for grazing because the land was rich in minerals and nutrients, this is still done in Irelands society today. Many people believed that the peatlands was much like a history book as it is renowned for preserving the organic and in organic remains of settlements such as, tombs, farms, track ways, implements, and bog bodies.
The bog bodies were people who either was buried, killed, or committed suicide and was then swallowed by the land of the peat. The peatlands is such a brilliant preserver of skeleton, skin, hair, internal organs and clothing, when it comes to finding out about the bog bodies’ scientists can analyse in much detail the body’s stomach contents, the body’s diseases, the date of death and how the person died. Not only do they look at the body but they also very closely examine its clothing.
By taking the time to look in great detail of the way the clothes were weaved, what colours they were, the fabric used and also the sticking techniques, it helps scientists to date the body as close as they can. These brilliant bog bodies have the extraordinary power to abolish temporal distance, to make the past present. These amazing dead bodies are unbelievably hundreds of years old however people still believe that from their facial expressions we can only begin to imagen the life the bog body had and whether they were killed, murdered, executed or had committed suicide.
Scientists can tell from these bodies there social status by clothing, jewellery and they can also tell this sometimes by taking into account the bodies last meal. The peatlands manage to preserve the body so well that scientists can take a look into the body’s stomach in order to see this. Both of the amazing poems in which I will be studying are both quatrains with links of the past; they are also long narrow poems, which are usually very old fashioned.
In some ways these poems are very similar, however on some aspects of the poems they are very different, but on the other hand they both show historical links of the past and the present. Starting with the poem ‘Punishment’, this poem is based on the 14-year-old girl who was hung for adultery and you see a lot of reference towards this young girl, she is known as the windeby girl. This is known as a controversial poem as it reflects Seamus Heaney’s ambiguous relationship with the IRA as he has the understandings of the crimes whilst also condemning them.
A very good tool in which this is expressed is the way in which this poem is written as it is through the eyes of Seamus Heaney himself. This is clearly highlighted throughout this poem. You are able to notice this straight away as in the first stanza on the first line it says ‘I can feel the tug’. This immediately tells the readers that this isn’t going to be a pleasant subject in which the poem is written. By using the word tug it is a very onomatopoeic way to start a poem, and by using such a strong line to start the poem it emphasizes the way in which he identifies himself with her.
As Seamus Heaney carries on to explain what he sees in the rest of the stanza he uses the alliteration of ‘nape’ and ‘neck’ to imitate the rope pulling on her neck. The last line of the first stanza is boat imagery that is used throughout this poem. You can spot this as Seamus Heaney writes ‘On her naked front’ referring to the lady at the front of a boat. Moving on the second stanza you once again have boat imagery on lines three and four as it says ‘it shakes the frail rigging / of her ribs’ you can tell this is boat imagery as rigging is the part of the boat.
However, the previous line to the boat imagery is bog imagery, you can see that most of the imagery used in this poem has a connection to water, and you will continue to notice this. The phrase ‘to amber beads’ is as I said not only bog imagery but also as the peatlands managed to preserve things just as amber does this but it is also a natural object of the world just as the peatlands are. Bog imagery is also continued into stanza three. The words in which identify this are ‘drowned’, ‘body in the bog’ and ‘weighing stone’. These are all carried on lines one, two and three of the third stanza.
If you haven’t already noticed each stanza of this poem contains enjambment, this means that each line runs over. An easy way to spot this is to see whether each line contains a comma or a full stop at the end. However not only is bog imagery used but also boat imagery is used once again, in the final line of this stanza, ‘floating rods and boughs’. Contrasting the point of most of the imagery is someway connected to water; in the fourth stanza tree imagery is used. The windeby girls’ skin is compared to a tree without bark as Seamus Heaney wrote ‘ she was a barked sapling’.