Thursday 25 April 2019

Tollund Man by Seamus Heaney

In my previous post, about The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, I referred to Heaney's poem about the bog man found in Denmark in the 1950's. To find out how Tollund Man and Achilles go together in my universe, you'll have to read the post.

As always, though, I'm fascinated by the stories we tell ourselves about our past and how they inform our present day concerns. Seeing the Irish Troubles through the sacrificial death of an Iron Age man is just one example.

Photo by Krystian Piątek on Unsplash


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.


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.


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.

Given that it's Anzac Day in Australia, where we honour the fallen and remind ourselves about the sacrifices made by those who have gone before, 'lest we forget', this seemed like an appropriate poem for the day.

We have an entire world history of sacrificing our loved ones to the gods, to war, to causes beyond our ken. Will we ever learn the lessons?

Jennifer @Holds Upon Happiness posts a lovely Poem for a Thursday each week. I'm enjoying sourcing poems from my recent reads to join in with her as I can.

It might seem sacrilegious to finish a post about war and sacrifice with football, yet surely, our love of sport, is just another example of conflict and sacrifice just played out on a smaller field and with less carnage.

So Go the Mighty Bombers!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7/12/19

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