A comparison of ‘The Grauballe Man’, ‘Punishment’ and ‘Field of Vision’ by Seamus Heaney
The title ‘Field of vision’ has a triple meaning; the field which is in view, her field of vision, and the narrators field of vision. The title is an apt indication of the poem itself. Heaney presents the reader with images which at face value mean one thing, but when you look closer the meaning changes. For instance the ‘sycamore trees un-leafing and leafing at the far end of the lane’ not only describes the scene but also gives us an insight into the woman’s nature. Not only that but it is creating a very cyclical feel.
Much of the poem not only describes the woman’s view through her window, but the woman herself. ‘Straight out past the TV in the corner’ implies the woman is not interested in the mundane, or is perhaps intellectually above television. ‘Small calves with their backs to the wind’ provides the reader with an image of youth and the vitality of youth, however the next line, ‘the same acre of ragwort, the same mountain’ gives the impression of age, toughness and strength. Perhaps what Heaney is trying to tell us is that the woman has two aspects to her personality, reinforcing the dual image of ‘un-leafing and leafing’.
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The image of the strength and staying power are reflected in the woman, ‘she was steadfast as the big window itself. However this strength is also given another side, ‘her brow was as clear as the chrome bits of the chair’ could indicate either that the woman is very astute and clear thinking, or that perhaps not all her faculties are present. Again the reflection of her surroundings is echoed by the shiny ‘chrome bits’.
Heaney goes on to say that there is an education the window, however whether the accepted it or not is unclear. The image of the ‘well-braced gate’, a ‘lean, clean iron, roadside one’, implies strength and sturdiness, but with holes through which other things are visible. It is unclear as to whether the reader is looking in or out, however what is clear is the slight feeling of imprisonment, a physical barrier, similar to that of the woman’s wheel chair.
The first three verses all end with a full stop, however Heaney uses enjambment to continue the fourth verse into the fifth.
Within the fifth verse Heaney makes the message of the piece clear. With the ‘field behind the hedge (which) grew more distinctly strange’ as you were ‘focused and drawn in by what barred the way’. Heaney seems to say that the barriers in life, the wheel-chair and gate for the woman, can either hold you back, or allow you to see ‘deeper into’ life ‘than you expected’.
Throughout the tone and mood are positive, whilst it is anecdotal the poem contains a clear message, Heaney uses imagery to great effect, not only this but the verses seem to reinforce a cyclical nature, as the first describes the woman, the second the view, the third the woman again and the fourth and fifth, combined with the use of enjambment describe the view.
Punishment has strong themes of sex, betrayal, nature and judicial violence running throughout. Heaney adopts a personnel, sympathetic stance from the outset, ‘I can feel the tug…at the nape of her neck’. The ‘amber beads’ of the second verse implies a precious quality to the girl. Also amber has been known to preserve things within it, and this image of preservation and to an extent re-birth is repeated throughout. The imagery of re-birth and preservation is also present in Grauballe man with ‘like a forceps baby’, describing the dimples created by the use f forceps at birth and ‘as a foetus’s’.
Indeed punishment and Grauballe man share many images, both bodies which Heaney describes were preserved in peat bog, which would of caused the ‘tanned and toughened’ throat of the Grauballe man and the ‘oak bone’ colouring of the ‘barked sapling’ like girl in Punishment.
It is not however only the discovery and state of the bodies which link the two poems, but the descriptions of their apparently judicial killings. The Grauballe man for an unknown crime, for which it appears he is repentant, and the unnamed girl in Punishment for, we are lead to believe, an act of adultery. This act ties in with the image of her noose as ‘a ring’, symbolising eternity and marriage, and the ‘memories of love’, as well as her as a ‘poor scapegoat’. It is in this recognition Heaney admits he too, despite his sympathy would of ‘cast…the stones of silence’.
Both poems are believed to be references by Heaney to two of the more atrocious IRA attacks. The Grauballe man is that of several hooded victims, judicially killed and dumped. And punishment to a girl accused of sleeping with a protestant man, again the references to the ‘betraying sister cauled in tar’ is to the sisters of the girl who were tarred and chained to railings by the IRA.
Heaney says criticises both himself and society, as ‘the artful voyeur of…darkened combs…and all your numbered bones’, whilst ‘voyeur’ is perhaps a slightly sexual image, the subject of the voyeurism is in effect the IRA killings. Heaney implies through his description of the dead girl and Grauballe man that he and society is willing to stand and watch, casting the ‘stones of silence’ and in doing so are virtually responsible for the deaths themselves.
Despite these links to Northern Ireland the poems are fundamentally describing the bodies, it is only in the last verses when the link is created. Heaney effectively uses enjambment and some irony through both.
What could link Field of vision to these two poems, is the dual meanings of certain images. The duality of the woman’s personality in Field of vision, and the links with the violence of |Northern Ireland, combine well. However while field of vision was more personal and similar to ‘a constable calls’ or ‘blackberry picking’ in that the subject was close to Heaney in some way, both punishment and Grauballe man contain very personalised descriptions of Heaney’s character.