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To keep myself on track - 1370°C

Nov. 29th, 2005

11:46 am - To keep myself on track

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Ok. So I've been terribly behind in school for some time, hence the taking-a-year-out to catch up thing. I'm going to start making notes about what i'm working on, so that i can remind myself to actually *work* on the essays i have due.

The current project to tackle is an essay on Seamus Heaney's two poems "Punishment" and "Tollund Man." Both of these poems are about "bog bodies," human remains preserved in the peat bogs of various countries. The bodies Heaney discusses in his poems are Windeby Girl, found in Germany, and the Tollund Man, discovered in Denmark. Both were ritually killed in the Iron Age for unknown reasons, though archaeologists speculate that Tollund Man was sacrificed to gods (he was hanged and then carefully arranged in a grave as opposed to being cremated like most people of the Iron Age who died naturally) while Windeby Girl is suspected to have been killed for adultery (Tacitus describes a punishment for adulterous women that closely resembles aspects of Windeby Girl's remains). Heaney's poems relate the deaths of these bog people to events of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Many critics see the analogy Heaney makes in these poems as too simplistic. In the case of "Punishment," the poem i will be focusing most heavily on, they seem to accuse Heaney of perpetrating simplistic and "oppressive" gender stereotypes of women. My argument, briefly, is that "using" a gender stereotype to effect is not the same as "perpetrating" or "validating" those stereotypes. In particular, stereotypes exist for a reason, not because they are necessarily universal statements that apply in every situation, but because they do describe things that people think, or thought, about certain groups of people. The fact that we form stereotypes at all says something about human nature. Moreover, i firmly believe that known stereotypes are quite useful as poetic devices, precisely because they are easily and commonly understood.

If you want to read the poems, they're

Punishment

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 adulteress,
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 darkening 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 civilised outrage
yet understand the exact
and tribal, intimate revenge.


Tollund Man

I
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 country near by
Where they dug him out,
His last gruel of winter seeds
Caked in his stomach,

Naked except for
The cap, noose and girdle,
I will stand a long time.
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.
Now his stained face
Reposes at Aarhus.

II

I could risk blasphemy,
Consecrate the cauldron bog
Our holy ground and pray
Him to make germinate

The scattered, ambushed
Flesh of labourers,
Stockinged corpses
Laid out in the farmyards,

Tell-tale skin and teeth
Flecking the sleepers
Of four young brothers, trailed
For miles along the lines.

III

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 country people,
Not knowing their tongue.
Out here in Jutland
In the old man-killing parishes
I will feel lost,
Unhappy and at home.


In addition, i'm going to be addressing a stanza of Paul Muldoon's poem "Quoof" that satirises "Punishment." I had a bear of a time decoding the images/metaphors in this, but i reckon i've worked all of it out with the exception of the significance of the dead girl wearing a "bomber jacket."

That stanza is

Someone on their way to early Mass
will find her hog-tied
to the chapel gates--
O Child of Prague--
big-eyed, anorexic.
The lesson for today
is pinned to her bomber jacket.
It seems to read Keep off the Grass.
Her lovely head has been chopped
and changed.
For Beatrice, whose fathers
knew Louis Quinze,
to have come to this, her perruque
of tar and feathers.


Thoughts and ideas are, of course, appreciated, and much thanks to endon_neu for letting me bounce ideas off of him in IM all morning.

Current Mood: sick but oddly motivated
Current Music: belief - the scared

Comments:

[User Picture]
From:endon_neu
Date:November 29th, 2005 10:50 am (UTC)
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Hey, anytime, I'm all about the bouncing... ;p
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[User Picture]
From:endon_neu
Date:November 29th, 2005 10:51 am (UTC)
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Ahem...of ideas, that is...*wanders off absent-mindedly*
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