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Analysing Two Poems By Seamus Heaney English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2883 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This research is a process study including discussions and analysis of two poems by Seamus Heaney, one of the postmodern poets. The poems, which are going to be analyzed, are: Bogland and The Tollund Mortal.

In Heaney’s poetry we can see a connection between the mythical and the logical, the past and the present, to describe his thoughts and emotions, concerning the Irish troubles and human experiences. Heaney represent his feelings toward these problems by using imagery and structural techniques that are present in his poems .

Chapter one of this study is a review of the ideology of postmodernism with emphasis on postmodernism and poetry. It also includes the meaning of postmodernism, different views and criticism on Heaney’s poetry and his ideas about the principles of imagism.

Chapter two analyzes the poem Bogland and reveals some points in describing the poem such as its national sides and two key images in the poem and explains how the poet has achieved and used them in his poems. It also discusses about Heaney’s essay on a poem called The Bog Citizens by P.V Globe.

Chapter three is about the poem The Tollund Mortal and refers it to the deadly and violent features existing in The Bog Citizens. It discusses how the corpses from ancient area and primitive customs present themselves to the poem. It’s also about the strangeness in today’s conditions and how Heaney changes his descriptive statements and emotional account into images in his poetry. It says that what is considered is the history of present and the whole area is in imaginative language.

Heaney’s poetry is the imagination and dreams of freedom in his mirror and writing these poems is an act of expressing what is happening in his head.

Today postmodernism is considered as a reproduction of ancient traditions. Postmodernism like modernism, follows the ideas of rejecting boundaries between high and low forms of art, rejecting inflexible genre distinctions, and emphasizing parody, irony and playfulness.1

Postmodernism points to a growing reality in culture. Anything hurried, image centered, any stuff that shocks or no longer keeps the tradition in itself can be considered postmodern.

Dr. Christopher Carter, one of the professors at University of Louisville believes:

From Adrienne Rich to Jacques Derrida, poets continually attack conventional boundaries, recondition them, ignore them. Postmodern poets often subvert the very forms they appropriate. They pose as different selves while refusing to speak for anyone, risk the same audiences they attract, revitalize senses and emotions flattened by mass market culture. They compose a cacophonous music which thrives on interruption and frustrated expectation. Sonnets might have fourteen links, on the other hand seldom fourteen lines. Language, that cultural prison, becomes a site of communal resistance. 2

Postmodernism can also be considered in poetry. Among the famous postmodermn poets are: Jacques Derrida, Kathy Acker, Adrienne Rich, Charels Berstein, Yeats and Heaney.

Seamus Heaney in an essey From Feeling to Signal in 1974 has described his poetic activity and the development of his poetic intelligence, and he believes that at first a person starts to office just like any other imitators and then what he learns is really his special technique in poetry, he call it craft of writing. Then the poet achieves some results about technique, and in detail it is a collection of skills that the poet uses to create his own style and method.

About The Bog Community he writes:

I admire the range of a poem’s criticism to be more colorful, and I like it to be more firm. The words allow you to have this two-faced encounter. They smile at their reader’s pathway of reading and wink at the poet’s system of using them. Of succession, behind them there is much symbolic theorization, on the other hand not that in my conscious movement toward writing poetry. I was guided by the symbolic prescriptions, on the other hand I permit with a amalgam of generalities that in a vague system can best describe that symbolic label.And I find the principles of imagism, methodology of the symbolism, interesting: presenting an image as a mental and emotional knot in a moment of hour. I think all of these were inevitable by considering the succession I had in English literature that reached its peak with Eliot and Yeats.3

This part of modernist’s tradition needs no explanation. Heaney was also conscious of this concern and therefore maybe by reason of of this, in an essay in 1974, that is an influential essay for understanding his poetical grows, he talks about these matters in detail.

Writing about Heaney in 1968, Jim Hunter said:

“His own involvement does not exclude us: there are sporadic private references, and the descriptive clarity of his writing makes it easy to follow…Heaney’s existence is a warm, all the more optimistic one: his tone is that of traditional sanity and humanity.”4

Heaney described his area by writing Digging as the first poem of his first tome. In this and many later poems, like Tony Morison’s, he was concerned about the oppressed.

After writing the powerful bog poems of North (1975), he was considered as a political poet and was forced to live in the Irish Republic. The troubles of Ireland continued in his poems, on the other hand the richer harmonies in Field Business (1979), Station Island (1984), The Haw Lantern (1987), Seeing Things (1991), and The Spirit level (1996) present his strong intelligence in poetry, and that’s why Robert Lowell considers him as the best Irish poet since W.B Yeats.”

Heaney is the winner of the 1995 Noble Prize for literature.

Seamus Heaney and “Bogland”

The year 1969 is a significant year for Heaney, when he published Bogland. In this poem Heany brought himself from modernism to the postmodernism. It is rarely seen that all of the poets in passing from modernism to postmodernism experienced all of his points completely.

Two key images that have an influential role in his sight, exclusively when we move from his earlier poems, are untouched corpses and bog. How did the poet achieve these two images? The images are salient by reason of firstly, they don’t seem to have any mythological side and secondly, no one before Heaney has used them in poetry in this pathway. We see no trace of them neither in the plays of Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, J. M. Synge or Yeats and no sign of them in the short stories and novels of James Joyce, Samuel Beckett or Yeat’s poems. Irish writers had taken no notice of these boggy corpses until the publication of Heaney’s poems. On the other hand Heaney himself not only mentioned the presence of those corpses and the bog on the other hand also established a reality that has these days become a part of Ireland history.

The poem goes like this:

We have no prairies

To slice a big sun at evening

Everywhere the eye concedes to

Encrouching horizon,

Is wooed into the cyclops’ eye

Of a tarn. Our unfenced native land

Is bog that keeps crusting

Between the sights of the sun.

They’ve taken the skeleton

Of the Great Irish Elk

Absent of the peat, place it up

An astounding crate comprehensive of air.

Butter sunk under

More than a hundred years

Was recovered salty and white.

The ground itself is kind, black butter

Melting and opening underfoot,

Missing its extreme definition

By millions of years.

They’ll never dig coal here,

Only the waterlogged trunks

Of great firs, soft as pulp.

Our pioneers keep striking

Inwards and downwards,

Every layer they strip

Seems camped on before.

The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage.

The wet centre is bottomless.

Heaney reveals some points in describing this poem. First of all is that this landscape reminds him of his childhood. Secondly, bog is not just a landscape on the other hand it is a fame. In the past some creatures lived in it or some other sank in it. The butter, which was deposit beneath the coal to save it from decay, is taken absent white and salted, and it hasn’t decayed in one hundred years. This fame has national sides, further. Whatever was deposit in Dubline’s museum, was a sign of an exploration in the boggy area. The things found in the bog awaken the public and personal fame of the poet. Thirdly the poet uses analogy. Prairie is one of the characteristics of America’s soil. The prairie in the dusk doesn’t split the sun in Ireland. Heaney remembers this thought from the fame of American literature. The literature of pioneers, a kind of literature that is written with the opening of America’s continental border. Here, it is not that condition. In this fenceless land, the bog is layered and in each layer that is taken by Irish pioneers, the past generations, in former years have place up a camp. Here, the pioneer doesn’t proceed, on the other hand he goes down; and here the land will not reach its explanation after millions of years. Extracting coal from here is difficult, by reason of bog’s aqua has softened the firs. Heaney with the image of this bog and this retention reaches his poetical independence. On the other hand he doesn’t stop in this independence, he tries to bring this subject near to a contemporary system of poetic statement. In detail the rationale of Heaney’s popularity in Ireland is that he deepens the realm of death, this eternal subject episode of poetry, in the Irish homeland and the death of the language of poetry. Nowadays we come back to two main images of Heaney’s poem: bog and corpse.

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Heaney’s indication of The Bog Citizens, published in the same year as Bogland, is not without rationale. P.V Globe, the writer of The Bog Community, explains fully about the saved corpses of men and women found in Jutland. These corpses are bare and their throats have been section or they were suffocated. The writer believes that these corpses were deposit under the coal in the age of Iron, and he thinks that the men corpses were sacrificed in a custom in the age of the motherhood of “The Mother Goddess” and were sacrificed to guarantee the fertility of the land.

The Mother Goddess selects young men as her bedfellows and in the spring she split their blood on the grounds. One of these men whose head is saved in the museum Silkeburg, is named The Tollund Person that is the title of one of Heaney’s poems that we are going to discuss in the following chapter.

Seamus Heaney and “The Tollund Person”

What took place in the past and accompanied with violence, death and killing, threw itself into a risky coming. Heaney, with a reference to these events that happened in his kingdom, wrote the poem Tulland Mortal. In Death of a Naturalist he says: ” When I wrote this poem, I experienced a virgin feeling, the feeling of death”(124). Here comes the poem:


Some day I will go to Aarhus

To see his peat-brown head,

The mild pods of his eye-lids,

His pointed skin cap.

In the flat native land near by

Where they dug him absent,

His persist gruel of winter seeds

Caked in his stomach,

Naked except for

The cap, noose and girdle,

I will stand a spread out hour.

Bridegroom to the goddess,

She tightened her torc on him

And opened her fen,

Those dark juices working

Him to a saint’s kept body,

Trove of the turfcutters’

Honeycombed workings.

These days his stained face

Reposes at Aarhus.


I could risk blasphemy,

Consecrate the cauldron bog

Our holy ground and pray

Him to cause germinate

The scattered, ambushed

Flesh of labourers,

Stockinged corpses

Laid absent in the farmyards,

Tell-tale skin and teeth

Flecking the sleepers

Of four young brothers, trailed

For miles along the lines.


Something of his sad freedom

As he rode the tumbril

Should come to me, driving,

Saying the names

Tollund, Grauballe, Nebelgard,

Watching the pointing hands

Of kingdom citizens,

Not knowing their tongue.

Absent here in Jutland

In the antique man-killing parishes

I will feel lost,

Unhappy and at territory.

The poem is about the forces of fate. The chance of survival for the bog bodies. In the poem, the poet has considered the freedom very salient and valuable. There is no society, no assemblage, cold death and outside forces.

The first image is an image of a corpse who is quiet and caught in the torc of others. There is an emphasis on his brown skin. He is left unprotected, naked and destroyed on the other hand elevated at the same hour. There is a harsh feeling connected with the surrounding kingdom. The goddess is part of the native land. The only marks it leaves on victims, are the remains of their death, cap, noose and girdle.

The isolation from society is emphasized in the poem by dwelling on the strane reputation such as Tollund, Graubelle, Nebelgard. The at territory is just the person’s normal state and it is not supposed to be comfortable.

The poem has special kind of characteristics much the same to Yeat’s poetry. The most influential characteristic of it, is its strangeness in today’s condition. The poet didn’t necessitate to cause a strange existence in this poem, on the other hand the poem is strange itself, by reason of of those authentic corpses that were brought absent of the bog. . On the other hand the poetry of this area, which is entirely strange and frightening, cannot be written just with a descriptive language. We will see that Heaney himself came to this conclusion that offering a landscape all the more a landscape which is so frightening is not enough. The poet’s responsibility is not to describe a landscape either it’s gloomy and savage or it’s poetical and beautiful. He can’t just get affected and then produce his poetry. The main characteristic of a part of modernism in poetry is fragmentary presentation of the pieces. Heaney these days, has the subject, has his descriptive statement, has its emotional account, then he changes all of them into images. On the other hand in this poem, first of all he deals with external references by reason of every image of the poem and the pieces of poetry can refer to that event. Corpses from ancient area and from primitive customs present themselves to the poet. Nineteen corpses that earlier had lost their absolute geography, appears to the poet. Today’s area of the poet with these primitive corpses is in danger. The poet himself says that he is in fear. In the field of novel, we have seen distressful worlds in the works of “Borges”, “Nabakov”, “Italo Calvino” and “Margues” and in poetry in the works of “Robert Creely”, “John Ashbery” and nowadays in the works of Heaney that is closer to our hour.

Who will claim corpse?

To his vivid cast?

Who will remark `body’

To his opaque repose?

Heaney is one of the most political poets of the twentieth century, on the other hand in spite of social and political matters, he is the poet of presence. He has a certain belief and aim in poetry. The poet sees that after producing his poetry as a progressive conscious of his interval and the language of his history and his citizens, he reveals his dependency in his poetry. When he has passed all these matters, he arrived at a stop that the philosophers nowadays call it critical stop.


Heaney can be considered as a poet who showed loyalty to the classic English poetry and modern European-English poetry tradition. On the other hand by reason of of his protest against the traditions that is passed to him from the past, he shows his originality by turning away from past and traditional principles to modern conventions.

Heaney’s poems, which are related to, Sacrifice Ceremonies are, as they were, the images in Heaney’s mirror. They are his imaginations and dreams of freedom. What we have is a situation in which the existence turns absent, according to the logic of the poem, not to an unknown territory at all, on the other hand to what the poet always knew on the other hand had simply forgotten. It is as if the area is a hidden unconscious stuff in the poet’s imagination, and writing the poems is the act of expressing this existence. In these terms, the violence in Ireland is a reimburse of the ceremonies of sacrifice and Heaney’s poems present such transaction.


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