Seamus Heaney and the bog people.

I listened to a BBC Arts and Ideas podcast while walking Wilson today.  It was an interview conducted by Matthew Sweet with Nobel-prize winning poet Seamus Heaney, and his work written in response to seeing images of bog bodies, a recurring symbol in his work.  He first read about the bog people in a book by P.V. Glob called The Bog People, containing photos of Tollund Man.

I wish I could link to the actual podcast, but the BBC doesn’t keep them online more than a week or two, and it was originally posted in early December.  I haven’t read any of  Heaney’s poetry before, but the sound of his voice reading “Punishment”, linking the treatment of women who dated British soldiers in Northern Ireland in the early 70s to the bog bodies, some of which were murdered and buried in the bog.  His voice just pierced me. Walking through the quiet snow-covered city streets with these images of hatred, revenge, and death was a very powerful experience.

I would very much like to own an audio recording of some of his poetry, and read more about these bog bodies that so inspired him.

Try to read this and not be moved.

Seamus Heaney

I can feel the tug
of the halter at the nape
of her neck, the wind
on her naked front.

It blows her nipples
to amber beads,
it shakes the frail rigging
of her ribs.

I can see her drowned
body in the bog,
the weighing stone,
the floating rods and boughs.

Under which at first
she was a barked sapling
that is dug up
oak-bone, brain-firkin:

her shaved head
like a stubble of black corn,
her blindfold a soiled bandage,
her noose a ring

to store
the memories of love.
Little adultress,
before they punished you

you were flaxen-haired,
undernourished, and your
tar-black face was beautiful.
My poor scapegoat,

I almost love you
but would have cast, I know,
the stones of silence.
I am the artful voyeur

of your brain’s exposed
and darkened combs,
your muscles’ webbing
and all your numbered bones:

I who have stood dumb
when your betraying sisters,
cauled in tar,
wept by the railings,

who would connive
in civilized outrage
yet understand the exact
and tribal, intimate revenge.

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