Seamus Heaney Punishment Commentary

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“Punishment,” a poem written by Irish author Seamus Heaney, speaks of the discovery of the body of a young bog girl, who as realized later in the poem, was punished for being an “adulteress.” (23) On closer inspection and as the poem shifts from past to present the faith of the bog girl is compared with the faith of another woman in more recent violent times, namely The Troubles in Northern Ireland. In this poem Heaney thus comments, through the use of literary devices such as enjambment, contrast, imagery, metaphors and alliteration and through his diction, on the cruelty of human nature, guilt and on the question of whether we have changed and evolved over time or whether we are still, deep inside, as barbaric and savage as we once were. The first three stanzas immediately transport the reader back in time as the poet describes the body of the young girl. Contrasting eroticism and vulnerability through the use of the words “nape / of her neck” (2-3) a very tender image and “blows her nipples / to amber beads” (5-6) which coincidentally also refers to Irish culture as the Celtic people were very fond of amber beads, the poet immediately sets a tense and somewhat uncomfortable mood. It is clear the poet sympathises with the young girl as he can “feel the tug of the halter,” (1) that is the pain of the noose with which the girl was hanged, yet the way the body is described is so very detailed and anatomical that it almost takes away all of the emotional attachment. As a result, the reader is unclear as to what to think or feel. As the poem continues, the fourth, fifth sixth and seventh stanza are used to first introduce the means of punishment the bog girl received. “Her shaved head/ like a stubble of black corn,” (17-18) immediately reminds the reader of tarring and feathering as the victims of this horrendous act of violence first have their head shaven and are then covered in tar. The black corn described can thus be considered a metaphor for...
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