Bog Queen

A Bog Queen’s body lies dead yet sleeping at the interface between Nature and Man, waiting (the word is repeated from the previous piece) between turf face and demesne wall between the heathery levels below and glass-toothed stone above.

Her body has been subjected to the destructive forces of nature: a touch-code for Nature’s sightless trespassers: Braille for the creeping influences; victim of extreme temperature groped then cooled by the orbiting sun; consumed through my fabrics and skins by the seeps of winter and riddled with plant growth: illiterate roots that pondered and died/ in the cavings/ of stomach and socket.

Her waiting rôle is reaffirmed, her brain stained by the peat (darkening) but ripe still with imagination: a jar of spawn/ fermenting underground dreams; her memory alive to the Baltic amber of her high-born Viking origins.

For all her high birth, evidence of her simple, basic diet is preserved via the Bruised berries under my nails. She is aware of her fertility and regrets time’s detrimental effect on her regenerative function: the vital hoard reducing/ in the crock of the pelvis.

She has watched the deterioration in her burial trappings: the symbols of her royalty grew carious like rotting teeth; pieces of evidence offered by her jewellery were lost in the bog like the bearings of history; her regal sash like a black glacier is frayed and tattered, its wrinkling, dyed weaves still visible on her breasts’ soft moraines. Reference to phoenician stitchwork alludes to the exotic goods brought back by the Vikings as they traded along eastern Mediterranean shores.

Long winters have provided intimate reminders of her Scandinavian home: the nuzzle of fjords/ at my thighs.

She suffered initial defilement at the hands of the native Irish turf-cutter whose spade robbed/ barbered and stripped her but who redeemed himself by his respectful attempt to rebury her as caringly as he could: veiled me again/ packed coomb softly.

The real violation occurred when a peer’s wife bribed him to dig the body up: the callous wife of an English occupier/landowner bought the Irishman’s conscience, paying him to sever the body from its mother bog: slimy birth-cord/ cut for all to see.

The retrieved figure that rose from the dark was bereft of dignity: hacked bone, skull-ware,/ frayed stitches, tufts,/ small gleams on the bank.

  • The voice is ostensibly that of the first body dug up in Ireland, on the Moira estate (in Co Lisburn, NI) in the autumn of 1780 or Spring of 1781, at a time of English ‘occupation’ of Ireland;

  • braille: writing transposed into patterns of raised dots and ‘read’ by sightless people;

  • groped: used to denote ‘search’ but with connotations both of clumsiness and sexual inappropriateness;

  • cavings: hollow sections of bone; compare ‘cave’, ‘concave’;

  • socket: part of the body’s ball and socket joints, say at shoulder and hip;

  • Baltic amber: reference to fossil resins from the Baltic (late 13c. in Anglo-Latin; c.1400 in English); yellowish, translucent and used in jewellery; emblematic use of a fossilised tree resin found chiefly on the shores of the Baltic Sea that washes the east coast of Jutland; amber was traded as a basic commodity along the prehistoric trade-routes, both as an ornament or because it was pleasantly odorous when burning;

  • moraine: the mounds of earth and rock pushed ahead of advancing glaciers and left behind as they retreated;

  • vital: originallymanifesting life’, ‘belonging to life’ (Latin vita); an added sense of ‘necessary’, ‘important developed later via the sense of ‘essential to life’;

  • retted: seeks to describe the patterns of woven fibres still visible on the skin; “ret ” is probably derived from Old Norse with principal meanings of “soak,” or even “rot”;

  • fledge: originally meaning “having feathers” or ”fit to fly” the word is filled here with ideas of immaturity, the need for protection and protective matter within the bog;

  • coomb: Ulster usage referring to soft natural materials;

  • nuzzle:associated with ‘nose’ so literally “burrow with the nose” but added sense of ‘lie snugly, comfortably’;

  • floe: first used by Arctic explorers, probably from Norw. flo “layer, slab,” from O.N. flo; definite sense of water as in ‘flow’;

  • 14 quatrains; lines vary in length between 2 and 8 syllables; no rhyme scheme;

  • 10 sentence structure with variations on punctuation and enjambment;

  • The verb-tense is not past, but a continuous present;

  • main weaves or clusters of assonant effect in verses 1-4: [ei] Lay waiting later repeated/ face/ Braille;[ei] between/ demesne/ between/ creeping/ feet/ seeps/ me; [e] heathery levels/ head/ digested; [əʊ] stone/ groped over;[uː]toothed/ cooled/ through/ roots; [ɪ] fabrics/ skins/ winter/ illiterate/ in;

  • alveolar [l], alveolar plosive [t] frequent initially; paired bilabial [b] body/ Braille and velar [k] fabrics/ skins; cavings/ stomach/ socket;

  • personification: stone has teeth; water digests solids; roots can think but have no formal education;

  • (5) and (6) pick up the[ei] of cavings in brain/ nails;paired [ɑː] of darkening/ jar [ɔː] spawn/ hoard and [u] bruised/ reducing; interwoven alliterative effect of bilabial [b] bottom/ brain/ Baltic/ Bruised berries and, unusually, labio-dental fricative [v] echoing cavings: gravel/ vital/ pelvis;

  • Stanzas (7) to (11) ring some changes: assonant [ai] my diadem/ like/ dyed/ thighs/ hides/ hibernated; [eə] carious/ bearings; [e] gemstones/ retted/ fledge breasts/ heavy/ wet nest; [i:] peat/ weaves/ Phoenician; alliterative effects include velar [k] variant (s) sounds in (8) plus [tʃ] stitch- and [ʃ] phoenician ; alveolar nasal [n] from phoenician in (8) meets bilabial [m] in (9); (10) heralds the return of sibilants;

  • In stanzas (11) to (14) the closeness of nuzzle and swaddle is replaced by a vocabulary of violation: robbed/ barbered/ stripped/ bribed/ hacked/ frayed strong in plosive/ explosive sounds; sound effects also include [ei] spade/ veiled/ again/ frayed; [ai] bribed/ slimy/ I;

  • 5 consecutive enjambed lines in (11) contribute to a slow dolente music suddenly replaced in the final lines by a staccato litany of abuses with contingent clashes of vowel sound;

  • The body discovered in Ireland was deemed by some to be Viking, thereby creating a genuine, not-just-imagined connection between the 2 cultures;

  • The queen of Heaney’s poem accepts the indignities of Time with fortitude and confidence in her ultimate salvation. Like the dispossessed people of her adopted home, she survived centuries of waiting by becoming at one with the land and its suffering (MP p135)

  • an allegorising poem … on one level a delicately accurate account of her decay; also a symbol of disaffected native resentment biding its time underground (NC70);

  • she contributes to the notion of political sacrifice that has a sexual allure;

  • She is depicted as an unwilling revenant from the dead, a female version of the Sleeping Giant that will emerge to save the motherland;