This is a very old set of notes on English texts, written for the NSW Higher School Certificate in 1998. It may be useful to students studying the poems, but does not reflect any current syllabus.
The child-poet is gathering frogspawn in spring, after the flax has rotted. He collects big jarfuls of eggs, and watches them grow into tadpoles. His teacher tells him about frogs, and frog-babies. One day, the poet encounters the adult frogs, croaking at him. He runs from them, thinking that they are gathered for vengeance.
There are two "stanzas" in this poem, dividing it into childhood and end of childhood, but there are actually three distinct divisions by tone, mood and language. The first is "All year the flax-dam... In the shade of the banks", the second "Here, every spring... In rain", and the third "Then one hot day... the spawn would clutch it".
The lines themselves are relatively even in length, but are actually enjambed, so that the poem is delivered conversationally. There is no rhyme.
In parts one and three of the poem, the language is quite frequently disturbing - "festered", "heavy", "gargled", "slobber", "rank" etc. This gives a menacing atmosphere to the childhood tale, which is counterpointed by the second part, which is pure childhood - "daddy frog... mammy frog". The vocabulary becomes less sophisticated during this interlude.
Conversational in rhythm, although the language and convoluted sentences pull the poem back into a formal, prose-like structure.
The first part has a detached tone, almost no reference to emotion being made aside from that of the child's "best of all". The second part is delivered in a tone of childlike satisfaction - "wait and watch". The delivery moves to the second person for the only time now, in reflection of the teaching of Miss Walls. There is an overlay of ironic "knowing better" in this part of the poem.
The last part becomes a narrative of the poet's feelings, and so the tone is panicky, yet still there is the layer of adult reflection that draws the reader back from the poem a little.
The mood of part one is foreboding, transposed with the child-poets ignorance. The imagery is almost entirely disagreeable, but the child still speaks of "best of all". The second part is a direct retreat into childish innocence, the simplicity of language leaving a mood of childish joy. The third part is ominous and then dismayed.
Alliteration - "flax... festered", "heavy headed", "sweltered... sun", "bubbles... bluebottles", "strong... sound... smell", "jampotfuls... jellied", "wait and watch", "coarse croaking"
Onomatopoeia - "gargled", "croaked", "hopped", "slap and plop", "farting", "clutch".
Repetition - "dragon-flies, spotted butterflies", "daddy frog... bullfrog... mammy frog... frogspawn"
Metaphor - "strong gauze of sound"
The imagery is almost entirely natural, and almost always has a rather squalid association, carried by the verbs, "rotted", "weighed down", "gargled". The imagery in the first part is coherent, each part in a way being part of the frogspawn. The second part moves away from visual imagery, to the abstract image of a teacher, talking to young children, and a young child self-importantly informing someone else of his lessons. The third part focuses on the image of the bullfrogs, and their actions. The similarity of parts one and three imbues the frogs with all the characteristics of the countryside.
The theme is that of what might be hidden under innocent joys and the bland lectures of teachers. Heaney subverts the traditional twin images of childhood and the countryside to a darker end, to display guilts and fears, and the panic of the awakened innocent.
The poet is looking at a bog body, hung, found naked. He can imagine how it would have been, can imagine having watched. He then addresses her, in pity, but telling her, if he had been there, he would have not spoken, as he did not speak when Catholic girls were tarred for seeing British soldiers.
The poem has eleven stanzas, each with four short lines. The poem is enjambed across both lines and stanzas, destoring the rhythm that would be implied by such a structure. Even with the enjambment, the pauses in the poem are breatless, each description as short as possible. There is no rhyme in the poem. Heaney uses prose punctuation for the poem, using full stops only after capitals.
The language in the first two stanzas is visual, and anatomical. Often the images are natural.
The first part of the poem (up to the third line of the sixth stanza, exactly half way through) is in the third person - describing the woman to another, or to himself, Heaney focuses on her, on her body and death. The second part of the poem, although addressed in the second person to her - "Little adulteress... my poor scapegoat", is actually focussed upon Heaney himself.
The use of the third person in the first four stanzas produces a tone of gentle sadness - she is frail and cold, but nameless, personless and distant. The violence of "her shaved head... her blindfold a soiled bandage,/her noose a ring" makes the tone more forceful, more powerful. The violence is softened in the second person address. "undernourished... scapegoat" are addresses of pity, and the vague "they" who punish are kept at a, not neutral, but impersonal distant. In the last three stanzas Heaney's thughts are on himself, and he is not angry, but confused, hesitant and rather detached.
The opening is surprisingly peaceful, brought about by the focus on the girl's body, and the method of execution held in the background. The mood becomes violent in the fifth stanza, but the personal expression of love and desire transforms the mood into that of a lament. Heaney's emotional ambiguity, expressed in the last three stanzas, and especially the last, brings about an uncertain mood, confused and helpless.
Double alliteration - "halter... nape... her neck... her naked... her nipples"
Alliteration - "body... bog", "stones of silence", "shaved... stubble", "blindfold... bandage".
Metaphor - "the halter [=noose]", "nipples... amber beads", "the frail rigging of her ribs", "she was a barked sapling", "her blindfold a soiled bandage", "her noose a ring/to store/the memories of love", "scapegoat", "your brain's exposed/and darkend combs", "your muscle's webbing"
Kennings - "oak-bone", "brain-firkin", "flaxen-haired", "tar-black"
Similie - "her shaved head/like a stubble of black corn"
The image of the body occupies most of the poem. It is mostly described in mteaphor and similie, and is composed of numerous sub-images. The body is first associated with a sea-storm, with wind, and "rigging", the descriptions emphasising frailty. The images of the death itself are heavy, eg "the weighing stone", and the bog itself, which kill not only the girl but "the floating rods and boughs". The imagery of the found body, although the tree metaphor continues, is more literal, the hair and bandage are visual descriptions.
Heaney then presents his own imagination, and its products as imagery. He uses the image of his own desire to draw himself closer to the long-dead girl. Now he begins with the desciption of her in his mind's eye, and ends with his morals. Heaney and his actions are the primary image of the poem's second half. It is his own virtual voyeurism he focuses on. The image of the girl becomes clichéd. The final non-mental image is of the contempory Irish Catholic girls, tarred for seeing British soldiers. Heaney understands their pain, as dramtised in the bog body, and understands also the need for revenge.
There are several themes in Punishment. One is the use of beauty and sexuality being turned on their possessors throughout time. Another is the compromises made in the presence of cruelty, through uncertainty, fear and anger. Another is the futility and hyprocrisy of mourning and sympathy for those whom you accept should be destroyed. A general need for revenge through cruelty in human nature, and the ensuing contradictions with the nature of socirty is the poem's primary theme.
In the childhood world of Blackberry-Picking, it is late August. If conditions are ripe, if there is "heavy ran and sun", the "blackberries... ripen". The first bite is addictive, and the children gather containers together and pick blackberries, enough to fill a bath. But they cannot eat them all, and "the fruit ferment[s]". Every year the pattern repeats, they always gather too much.
The poem is divided into two parts, the first longer, describing the gathering of the blackberries, and their consumption, and the second about half that length, the ruin of the remainder. The line length is much greater than in the later poems, but Heaney makes his customary use of enjambment and an almost prose-like grammatical structure in Blackberry-Picking. Heaney quite often uses rhyme - "clot... knot", and near-rhyme, "sweet... in it", but without making it intrusive.
The words, densely packed, peppered liberally with verbs and adjectives, establish the tone. It is intentionally almost too rich. The poem fills the mouth as the blackberries do. The poem becomes hypnotic in its unrelenting linguistic intensity. However, the poet is careful to balance the copiously sonorous phrases with words that more than hint at a darker side to the bounty of blackberries.
Heaney makes scant use of any pronoun in the first part of the poem. There is a reference to "you", used in an impersonal, educational manner - "you ate the first one... ", and a reference to "we" and "our". It is, however, the blackberries that are allowed to dominate this part of the poem. The second part allows the speaker and his unnamed companions to intrude upon the opulent nature of the blackberries. However, all their emotions are involved in the "lovely canfuls".
The "lust" for blackberries is a blood lust. Their "flesh [is] sweet", like "blood". The children are willing to suffer a great deal of pain to satisfy "that hunger". Then Heaney's tone becomes decidedly ominous - the blackberries are "like a plate of eyes", their palms are stained with the juice, as "Bluebeard's" were stained with blood.
The final part of the poem is an desolate relation of the half-innocent greed of the blackberry-pickers, and their horror and jealousy at their prize's ruin. They "hoard" the blackberries in the way that the "rat-grey fungus... glut[s]" on it. It continues in the petulant tone of an upset child - "It wasn't fair/That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot" and concludes in a more distant, grave, accepting tone, revealing that even the child knew the berries would not "keep".
The luxurious rhythm and language of the poem leads to an indulgent, but slightly oppressive mood, as if the reader is immersed in the "heavy rain and sun" of "late August". The desire for the blackberries is half-sickening, a hunger that is more in the mind than in the stomach drives the pickers. They are possessive and greedy, picking even the unripe "green ones", filling a "bath". The disgust at the "rat-grey fungus" is half horror and half envy. How dare it destroy the "sweet flesh"? The child is desperate for more, each year he yearns for more blackberries, though he knows their fate.
Heaney makes extensive use of poetic devices in Blackberry-Picking. Examples of his alliteration include "first... flesh", "peppered... pricks... palms", "berries... byre", "fur... fungus", "fruit fermented... flesh" and "sweet... sour". Heaney also uses a vocabulary rich with varying sounds, so that saying the poem is rather like eating the blackberries, it is "like thickened wine". Similar sounding words are used frequently; "milk-cans, pea-tins, jampots", "hayfields, cornfields", "trekked and picked", "fungus, glutting", meaning that the poem much be read slowly to savour its resonant cadences.
There are three primary images in Blackberry-Picking. There are the child blackberry-pickers, carrying "milk-cans, pea-tins, jam-pots", the "fur" that steals their treasure, and the blackberries themselves.
The children are an image of unrestrained desire. They succumb to the "lust for/Picking" easily, savouring the sweet taste of the first berry, but hoarding the rest in numbers they cannot possibly consume. They are controlled by their craving. They, too, represent humanity in the poem, in their envy of that which is "gutting on [their] cache", and their sense of injustice - "it [isn't] fair" that what they have so greatly desired and gained is snatched from them by the swift processes of time.
The "fungus" is the first explanation called by the speaker for the destruction of their "cache". It aids in the destruction of their fruit, and is the object of their hatred and derision. However, "once off the bush... the sweet flesh would turn sour" by its nature. The speaker knows this, although he does not acknowledge it to the end of the poem.
The blackberries attract several differing connotations. First, they are part of childhood, a yearly summer ritual, an object of enjoyment, of "trekk[ing] and pick[ing]" throughout the countryside. The childhood-pleasure aspect of blackberry picking is emphasised by the children's choice of containers - household objects, cheap and in easy reach.
Next, the blackberries are intensely desirable, they are "glossy purple", they have "sweet flesh", they "tinkl[e]" pleasantly when thrown into a container. It is their richness that is so desirable, their contents "summer's blood".
They are also ephemeral, which is part of their desirability. Every year the speaker challenges the laws of nature and "hope[s] they [will] keep". Even as the picking days are continuing the berries grow from "green" to "red" and finally "ink... up" to "big dark blobs". They change inexorably, finally, "once off the bush" and finally "smel[l] of rot".
Finally, the blackberries corrupt. Only "at first [can] just one" be eaten. The pure enjoyment of the eating is subsumed by greed for more, until finally, most are lost to the processes of time, when they should have been left on the bush. The pain involved in getting them is multiplied when they are consumed by an outside force, the "fur".
Blackberry-Picking explores the dissatisfaction often involved in gaining an object of desire. Heaney is unveiling greed. The unrestrained quest for more of the same, for greater amounts of fulfilment leads to the destruction of the object of desire. Removed from its home in the sun, and hoarded, life is slowly destroyed, changed beyond recognition and enjoyment by hostile forces and by time.
Often, however, the lesson is not learnt. A recurring delusion takes hold, where there is a perpetual consciousness that life, love and youth do not "keep", but the temptation for another try is always succumbed to.
It begins with the rebels "on the run", fleeing with the only thing they had time to carry, the barley stuffed "in the pockets of [their] great coats". Their inadequacy against the English legions is emphasised in their battle tactics, farm boys fighting with their own tools - "pike[s]... cattle... hedges", and again when, finally brought to open battle they "shak[e] scythes at cannon". The hillside, smeared with their blood, becomes their grave, but when summer comes, "the barley [grows] up out of the grave".
The poem is written in sonnet form - fourteen lines, although without any division into sections.
The poem uses the past tense. They "moved", they "died", they were "buried", and finally "the barley grew up out of the grave". Heaney never makes these events person specific, it is all of "we" who died, and "they" who conquered. His definite events and precise images give the poem emotional impact, and the more generalised speaking voice refuses to allow the reader's emotions to settle into distant pity - he must become more involved. It is the voice of humanity speaking to him.
The surroundings receive more description than the speakers, in their uniform of "great coats". It is the personified hillside that "blush[es]" not any rebel. It is the hillside that is named, that is coloured in blood. It is the actions of the fighters that words are devoted to, not their thoughts.
Requiem For the Croppies is spoken in the collective persona of the 1798 United Irish rebels. Heaney uses the first person plural - "we" - of the rebels to convey the poem, and the third person plural - "they" - when speaking of their English enemies. This device makes the poem more universal, although circumstance and place clearly identify the speakers, they have a more general identity.
The tone is rendered quite distant by the use of the first person plural, the universality Heaney is attempting to create precludes a simultaneous personal tone. There is a sense of urgency, of desperation conveyed by their actions. They must move "quick and sudden in [their] own country", the insistent tempo emphasised by the shortened adverbs. They must "[find] new tactics happening each day", improvise. They must be fleet, they are disorganised and hurried - "no kitchens on the run, no striking camp" - cut of from all that is comfortable and "livable". Heaney is stripping heroism down to its essentials - an idea and an action.
The mood is sombre, there is tragedy in the poem from the opening images, to the burial "without shroud or coffin". Fatalism hangs over the entire poem - "a people, hardly marching - on the hike" is not a promising sign. On their own territory "cavalry must be thrown", but in the open force will win, it is a "fatal conclave" before specifics are given.
The final line is delivered in a matter-of-fact, understated tone, merely what happened, but it modifies the mood greatly. There is no death or burial here, but growth in the summer sun.
The poem both opens and closes with the image of barley. It is the little the fighters have gathered, that they devote "pockets" to. It is closely related to them, an image of their native environment, and their reason for fighting. Thus, in the closing line, it is the "barley [that] grew up out of the grave" - the symbol of the countryside, the image of their struggle is left behind them.
The images of their "hike", their "tactics", their life "on the run" has twofold meaning. It is first a dramatic exposition of their desperation, their movement "quick and sudden". It is also, however, a further image of their heroic ideal, that Ireland is their country, that they are at home in its ways, that there "cavalry must be thrown". Their weapons are effective on their own ground, their "pike[s]" kill in the countryside, as their "scythes" cannot in the open, when force is all and idealism nothing.
It is on "Vinegar Hill" where the battle is separated from ideals. The bravery of "terraced thousands... shaking scythes at cannon" is momentous, but pointless. Heroes are cut down in a "broken wave", and are buried without recognition in the form of "shroud or coffin".
However, the final image is a small victory of idealism. When conditions are favourable, in the "August" warmth, the barley seeds grow from the unmarked graves, the symbols of home carried with the fighters become the growing barley that all can see.
This triumphant conclusion, the final words after death, is not in spite of the "thousands [who] died" in "the fatal conclave", but a consequence of it. The two images are balanced by the word "and". It is the necessary conclusion of the battle that something remains and grows.
Heaney uses the specific image of Irish freedom, and of the 1798 rebels, to explore the theme of life and death. The life of the idealist and fighter is "unsatisfactory". There is no rest, no relaxation, "no kitchens on the run, no striking camp". All men are reduced to one level. The weak must fight on the sly, and hope that no "fatal conclave" is in store, that "new tactics" will buy them time.
Yet destruction may come, a hillside soaked in blood. Given sufficient power of opposition, it will be brought about. The life lived, and its ending then becomes "unsatisfactory". Life is a "broken wave", and so might be death.
It is "December in Wicklow", in Heaney's own Ireland. He wanders, looking for "a comet that was lost", "through damp leaves". He remembers advice "[his] friends'/Beautiful prismatic counselling", as he expresses his "responsible tristia". He is not a prisoner, a political refugee, not staring at the fire instead of at the skies.
Exposure is a ten stanza poem, the short line length similar to that found in many of his later poems. Enjambment is constantly used, the poem often speaks in complete sentences - "a comet that was lost/Should be visible at sunset". The narrative style of the poem is further enforced by the poem's lack of rhyme.
The pronoun "I" is used often in the poem, the speaker is never "we". Heaney is making a more personal, less universal and less political statement than in Requiem for the Croppies. He does, however, make several political references, to "internee[s and] informer[s]" and the "émigré[s]" of the French Revolution.
The setting makes it appear that the "I" of Exposure is Seamus Heaney himself. He is in County Wicklow, Southern Ireland, describing the scene in highly specific terms. The types of trees are mentioned, the leaves on the ground, the chill in the air. Much of his setting is an elaboration on "It is December in Wicklow".
The "December" image provides the primary tone for the first part of the poem - wintry. A note of longing enters Heaney's voice when he speaks of "A comet that was lost", and his melancholy melody expands into his cry "If I could come on a meteorite!", before falling into the rueful reflection "Instead I walk through damp leaves... the spent flakes of autumn", that the "hero... his gift like a slingstone" is in his imagination only.
He wonders, disheartened, if his "weighing [of his] responsible tristia" is only "for what is said behind backs", not for "the ear... for the people". The rain outside, matches his sadness, but at the same time lifts his spirits, the collective voice is that of "let-downs and erosions", but the individual part is that of the "diamond absolutes". Heaney is not "internee nor informer" who must "take... protective colouring" and seek heat from "sparks", missing the "once-in-a-lifetime portent".
The mood is dictated by the images. In the opening sequence, the "alders [are] dripping", "the last light" is fading, the scene "cold to look at". "The comet that was lost" is not there. The poet grieves and longs for the "meteorite", not "damp leaves". His attitude to the "unsatisfactoriness of life" is that of disbelief and dismay. He is desperate for a vindication, for a reason to speak, to speak "for the ear... for the people".
His mind is choked with "let-downs and erosions", but considering each by each, he can see more clearly that which is beyond erosions, "the diamond absolutes". He is thankful that the lot of the "internee [or] informer" is not his, that his is the eye that looks for the "comet's pulsing rose", not the breath that "blow[s] up... sparks/For their meagre heat".
In the first half of the poem, Heaney contrasts the wintry landscape with the sparkling heavens. The "last light" is vaguely reflected on birches, it chills his spirit merely to look at "the ash tree". He has subverted natural images of beauty to a vaguely sinister use. The beauty of the trees is subjected to the "December", and becomes wintry in its turn. This is a reflection of Heaney's state of mind, his "responsible tristia" turned traitor against him, now the weapon of "the anvil brains of some who hate [him]".
His feet are among the "spent flakes of autumn" - fallen leaves. He and his poetry seem unable to rise from the "muddy compound" in a meteoric path. The "hero" is imprisoned in his mind, he is anchored in decaying leaves.
Heaney is longing for the normally unattainable - the comet, unreachable, distant and dramatic. He prays for it to take an earthly form, to come to him, as the comet occasionally does as a "meteorite", "a falling star". It is not fire he wants, but light and dramatics, the province of the distant heavens.
Instead, he muses to himself, "How did I end up like this?" Advice is scattered to him in all the colours of the rainbow, but criticism falls on him as heavy as the blow of an "anvil". The imagery in this part of the poem is passive. The "beautiful prismatic counselling" falls uselessly on him, like the "last light" falling on the birches. He sees himself as "sit[ing] weighing and weighing", running back over the same ground again and again. The rainfall is partly an image of the deluge of thoughts echoing in the poet's head. It is, however, described as "conducive". The "voices" of the rain sing two themes at once, one is the "mutter about let-downs and erosions", the other a "recoll[ection of] the diamond absolutes". His "weighing and weighing" turns to Heaney's advantage, it contains within itself a reminder of something greater - something unchanging and transcendent.
He is not an "inner émigré", a refugee from his own mind. He has not fled "from the massacre", confusion and terror symbolised by the depths of winter. His imagination and spirit is not buried with his feet in "spent flakes". He does not write for the momentary impact, "the meagre heat". Instead, he looks for the "once-in-a-lifetime portent/The comet's pulsing rose". If it is there, he will be one who sees it.
Heaney is concerned in Exposure with the seeming "unsatisfactoriness" of his own life. He explores images of desolation and mundanity to attempt to condemn himself. He is not speaking out - "his gift like a slingstone/whirled for the desperate". But Heaney concludes from the very "voices" of his despair, that being carried on a "falling star" is not what is needed.
It is the unchanging, "the diamond absolutes" on which he focuses. He cannot see the comet as he watches, but as he sits "weighing and weighing", he is on the watch. Life surrounds him in its most frigid aspects, but he decides that "meagre heat", while perhaps "satisfactory", is not enough. His life is not fundamentally "unsatisfactory", he is reaching beyond it, and will see what few others "feeling/Every wind that blows", will look for, a "once-in-a-lifetime portent".
Heaney wants to go to Demark to see the wizened remains of the bog-body at Aarhus. He was executed with his last meal still in his stomach. He wants to worship him, against all religious constraints. He wants to call upon his to raise the dead Irish. He wants to derive a sort of power from the body, from the country, from being alone.
The poem is divided into eleven stanzas, and three parts. The first part has five stanzas, and the second and third three. The first part of the poem is a description of what Heaney will see when he views the body. The second part is the relationship between the religious sacrifice and the dead Irish, and the third Heaney in the country of Denmark.
There is little rhyme (although Heaney uses end of line assonance occasionally), but there is a singsong rhythm in the up and down of the vowel sounds, despite Heaney's use of enjambment.
Heaney makes a point of the place-names he uses in "The Tollund Man" - "Aarhus", "Tollund", "Graubelle", "Nebelgard", "Jutland". The language used to describe the body is quite impersonal - "his peat brown head", "a saint's kept body". He tries to emphasise the body's quasi-divinity.
The poem has a first person persona, an "I". The Tollund Man is never named except in the title, it is only "he". Despite this, the bog is personified as "she", the divine worship of the primitives takes on the same identity as the people themselves. The poem is narrated in the future tense - with a sense of a perhaps, a distant. Heaney never wanders in his conviction that he will go, and he will do exactly this and that, but it is not a trip he is contemplating with urgency. It is a "Some day" poem.
The opening tone of the first part is "mild" - Heaney will passively "see", and "stand for a long time", the meticulous observer. The description of the primitive "goddess" to whom the man was sacrificed makes the tone more ominous, more fateful. She "tighten[s]", "work[s]", and only away form her can he "repose". Heaney's tone is more emphatic in the second part, his verbs and language becomes stronger. He "could risk", "consecrate", "pray". His voice is doom-laden.
The tone of the last stanza is mournful. "Freedom" is "sad", a man who is "a home" must also be "lost,/Unhappy". He is passive, accepting.
The opening of the poem is expectant, determined - "Some day I will", and respectful, he intends to "stand for a long time" in the presence of the dead, the "bridegroom to the goddess". There is a sense of powerlessness on the part of the corpse, of larger forces drawing him along. He is consumed by the "torc" and "fen" of the "goddess". He is then left to chance, to the "turfcutters'/Honeycombed workings". He becomes anguished in the second part, calling upon words such as "blasphemy" to describe his impotent longings obliterate the wrongs of the past. In the third part the Heaney-persona feels quiet despair, quiet strength, "sad freedom".
Alliteration - "peat... pods... pointed", "tightened... torc", "trove... turfcutters" "blasphemy... bog", "consecrate... cauldron", "tell-tale... teeth... trailed", "something... sad... should... saying", "pointing... people"
Assonance - "Aarhus... head", "mild... lids", "bridegroom... goddess", "torc on", "honeycombed workings", "cauldron... pray", "ambushed/Flesh", "teeth... sleepers", "miles... lines".
Metaphor - "a saint's kept body"
The first image is that of the corpse, who is quiet and impersonal, the poem's victim of fate, caught in the "torc" of others. He is "mild", and everything is done to him. He is "dug... out", "worked", left as a "trove". He is exposed - "naked", and finally he sleeps. He is described in a wizened state, careful emphasis made on his brown skin, the workings of the fen. He is destroyed and yet elevated at the same time.
There is a bleak, harsh feeling associated with the surrounding country, the "cauldron bog", the "tumbril". They are the "old man-killing parishes", the larger for which the smaller is sacrificed. The "goddess" is part of the country - it absorbs and strangles, alone or destroyed at will. The only marks it leaves on its victims are the remains of their death "cap, noose and girdle".
The first victim of fate is extended to the others, "the scattered, ambushed/Flesh of labourers", of victims "trailed/For miles along the lines." Their fellow in the Tollund Man should be somehow spiritually akin, his preservation making him their saint. His paradoxical survival and "repose" should give him the power to raise the others.
Heaney's primary use of Denmark (and foreignness) as imagery is in the third part. The isolation from society is emphasised by dwelling on the strange names "Tollund, Graubelle, Nebelgard,", "not knowing their tongue". The "at home" is not supposed to be comforting, it is just the persona's normal state. He is always "lost,/Unhappy". But at the same time, the isolation from language gives a "sad freedom", too highly priced.
The poem is about the forces of fate, the chance survival of the bog body, the "saint's kept body", against the "scattered... flesh of labourers". But even the body was tied to religious forces out of his sphere. In "The Tollund Man", freedom is bought at a high price, that of being "lost/Unhappy". There is no society, no group, merely cold death, and outside forces.
Summaries of selected poetry by Seamus Heaney (Higher School Certificate 1998) by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia License.
Note that Seamus Heaney's poetry is copyright all rights reserved.