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Grauballe Man
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Grauballe Man

As if he had been poured
in tar, he lies
on a pillow of turf
and seems to weep

the black river of himself.
The grain of his wrists
is like bog oak,
the ball of his heel

like a basalt egg.
His instep has shrunk
cold as a swan’s foot
or a wet swamp root.

His hips are the ridge
and purse of a mussel,
his spine an eel arrested
under a glisten of mud.

The head lifts,
the chin is a visor
raised above the vent
of his slashed throat

that has tanned and toughened.
The cured wound
opens inwards to a dark
elderberry place.

Who will say ‘corpse’
to his vivid cast?
Who will say ‘body'
to his opaque repose?

And his rusted hair,
a mat unlikely
as a foetus’s.
I first saw his twisted face

in a photograph,
a head and shoulder
out of the peat,
bruised like a forceps baby,

but now he lies
perfected in my memory,
down to the red horn
of his nails,

hung in the scales
with beauty and atrocity:
with the Dying Gaul
too strictly compassed

on his shield,
with the actual weight
of each hooded victim,
slashed and dumped.

Seamus Heaney

This poem is about one of the bog men found in Jutland, his date is about 290bc. Heaney studied at Queen's University, Dublin, and he must have taken in archaeology. Anyway he came across this book by P.V.Glob on the Bog People, which obviously inspired him to write the above, also Tollund Man and one about the Goddess Nerthus, who has a fascinating if somewhat gruesome tale to tell.
Glob shows a photo of Nerthus in his book, it is a 'cloven' oak-branch 9 ft in length and, according to Glob, possesses natural feminine form, the goddess herself. The branch was found in a sacrificial site at Foerlev Nymolle under a heap of stones. And it seems these few lines describe the branch, though Heaney says it is ash not oak...

For beauty, say an ash-fork staked in peat,
Its long grains gathering to the gouged split;
A seasoned, unsleeved taker of the weather
Where kesh and loaning finger out to heather

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Posted by moss
20th March 2008ce

In reply to:

De Haven/Lavelle: Ode to Stonehenge (Littlestone)

1 reply:

Seamus Heaney: The Tollund Man (Littlestone)

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