Conflicting loyalties, pity and guilt, private and collective, supply ‘Punishment’ with its emotional charge… Heaney is looking for a tenable position (MP p. 137). Heaney measures the sense of injustice generated by an iron-age community’s brutal intolerance of rules perceived to have been violated. It leads him to articulate a troubling irony: iron-age justice that puts an adulteress to death is not so far removed from elements in contemporary Northern Irish society that mete out punishment when sectarian rules are seen to be breached. Prompted perhaps by graphic images of a bog body Heaney creates a scenario in which his first person speaker (let us call him ‘Observer’) attends the iron-age execution of a young woman accused of adultery. Observer […]