Seamus Heaney, as part of his ‘Bog Poems’ collection, wrote the poem, ‘Bog Queen’.
In this poem, Heaney brings together the main themes of his bog poems, including religion and sacrifice, pain and suffering, conflict within the Irish society and the links between the past the present. Heaney believes that Mother Ireland is Mother Earth, of which it pulls everyone together, showing that Irish land is of great importance. In this particular Bog poem, the Bog person made known here is a female woman.The poem opens with, “I lay waiting”, and giving the impression that she knows that she will be revealed once again.
Heaney here uses first person, which could signify that Heaney is identifying himself with the Bog Queen, showing that he has a deep connection with the woman and the themes of the poem. He uses first person to identify himself with the Queen, to show his anger towards the thoughts that Ireland is not learning from history, that it is going to lead into destruction. Heaney loves Ireland, but now what it does. The poem then progresses, “Between turf face and demesne wall, between heathery levels and glass toothed stone”.
The use of, “turf face”, shows that she is completely enveloped in the deep earth.Heaney uses the repetition of the word, “between”, showing again that she is concentrated deep into the earth. However the word, “demesne”, meaning land that was owned by a King, could show that because the woman was buried in such land of importance, then this is why she is revered as a Queen, the fact that she should be honoured to be sacrificed in such a place of high significance. This links to the idea that all bog people who were sacrificed were chosen, and therefore they should be extremely happy that they were chosen to be a sacrificial person.
The second stanza starts with a formal description of the Queen, “My body was Braille”, her body being said to be like the language of the blind. Smooth, gentle, but with small bumps. This could be said to be how Ireland is in Heaney’s eyes, he respects it, as it is his native country, however it has its problems, such as conflict, which needs to be addressed. Also, it can also show the idea that certain parties are blind to everything that is going on around them, how there has been conflict and history is just repeating itself, as her body is decaying, no one is seeing what is happening around them, they must open their eyes, and learn from their mistakes.
The word, “creeping”, is also used in this stanza, which gives the notion of something negative, not positive, it can be said that it is criticism of Ireland, showing the conflict within the Irish society. The stanza continues with, “dawn suns groped over my head…
and cooled at my feet”, relating to the theme of nature; the sun has covered all of her in its daily sunrise and sunset.The first line of the third stanza enforcing the Queen’s importance, “through my fabrics and skins”, she has been covered well, even showing a hint of sympathy from the people who buried her; they wrapped her well to survive the cold, “seeps of winter”. The Queen is then shown to be completely taken by the earth, with the use of, “digested me”, linking to the idea that the Queen is part of the earth. One other theme of the Bog Poems is the loss of the Irish language, due to English invasion.
Heaney shows this topic here when using, “illiterate roots”; the “roots” of Ireland have become lost, the language is illiterate it is unknown and becoming a memory. However when the roots are pushed into her body, they, “ponder and die”, connecting to the idea that she is like the language of the blind. The roots are unable to read her, they earth and its inhabitants are unable to understand her important meaning. The idea that the Queen knows she is going to be found is reiterated further on, with the repetition of, ” I lay waiting”,throughout the poem, Heaney could want the reader to believe that Ireland will return to its glory.
The further stanzas take a darker tone. The Queen continues to wait, however the process of her waiting is shown, “my brain darkening, a jar of spawn, fermenting underground”. Her brain is decaying; her containment is just a, “jar” of space. “Dreams of Baltic amber”, is further used to describe her.
This line is very interesting as it joins together what she stands for, her dreams, with what the earth is doing to her. Her dreams, unlike her body are being preserved by the, “Baltic amber”, although she herself is decaying, as her dreams are preserved, it gives the sense that as Ireland is connected so much to the earth, then there is still hope for it to resolve its differences.In the seventh stanza, Heaney connects the Queen with the earth and the history of Ireland. “My diadem grew carious”, the royal diadem, which is her crown, slowly, “grew carious”; the earth corroded it over time, just like Ireland.
The regality of Ireland, its, “gemstones”, its people and culture of importance, were lost to the earth, the “peat flow”. This stanza shows a certain fall from grace, that the Queen, Ireland lost everything, her delicate gemstones of her crown, links to the, “bearings of history”, her importance was lost.The Queen’s sash had turned into, “black glacier”, frozen over by the cold winter and turned dark and black. The Queen is furthermore linked to the earth itself, her breasts were, “soft moraines”, depicting soft hills, her breasts, they giving life, they feed.
The idea that the Bog Queen is the Queen of Ireland is shown again through the sexual tone. The mother uses her breasts to feed her child, it gives life, therefore the Queen gives life to Ireland, the sexual tone is used, to show that sex is life, without it, life will not continue. Her legs are personified to connect her to the land itself, “like the nuzzle of fjords at my thighs”. Her structure is the land, the Bog Queen, is Queen of Ireland.
The idea that the Queen gives birth and looks after her child, Ireland is shown in the ninth stanza. The “heavy swaddle of hides”, now, not only is the idea that the earth is engulfing her shown, but the reverse idea is put forward, that she herself is looking after her Ireland. Again the Queen’s idea that she will be reveled to the earth again is shown when she states her skull, “hibernated”, a state of which something doesn’t die, but simply rests and reanimates later on. The Queen will be made known, possibly saying that as the Queen represents Ireland and all its glory, then as the Queen will be reborn, so will Ireland, it will be returned to its former glory.
The Queen is now disturbed. The literal story is that the Queen was dug up, however she was buried back again after being, “robbed”, by the farmers around the land of which she was buried. “I was barbered and stripped by a turfcutter’s spade”. A certain amount of revenge filled anger and bitterness can be said to interpreted, the Queen is not happy, just like in royalty, if a Queen was unhappy, then there would be prices to be paid.
These few lines show hatred, a woman scorned in such a sense. The woman resents her disturbing discovery; the violent terms of, “barbered and stripped” show this. The farmer has cut through not only the woman, but also the land and precious Irish culture.Irish conflict and betrayal is shown further on.
Respectfully, when uncovering the Queen, the farmer, “veiled me again… packed softly”, showing that he done in carefully and with value.
The farmer reburied the Queen, as he was scared. If the body was found, then the land would surely be closed off and therefore the farmer would have no land to work on. Even though the Queen is to be respected, it can be said that to the farmer, she is just an obstacle, a lack of income if she is found. The “Peer’s wife bribed him”, again treating the Queen with an utter lack of disrespect.
He stole a lock of hair from her and gave it to the wife of the respected member. The lock of hair is described as, “aslimy birth cord”, representing an umbilical cord. When cut, it releases a mother from her child, now with the cutting of the Queen’s umbilical cord; she can now be releasedfrom the earth. The plait of hair, her umbilical cord is, “slimy”, possibly to show that the Queen has had enough the eventual decay has led to all her waiting to be over.
The eventual release of the Queen leads towards a violent and dark conclusion to the poem, “I rose from the dark”, her ascent from her rotting grave, “hacked bone, skull-ware, frayed stitches, tufts, small gleams on the bank”. She rises up, all the invasions and conflicts that have happened in Ireland will now be shown. It can be said that the Queen has now risen, to exact her revenge. Irony is shown; the earth has not only decayed her, but on the contrary, also preserved her.
Even though she was mummified, she watches over, she knows all that goes on, therefore Heaney shows her to be some sort of caution.In conclusion, the poem, “Bog Queen”, provides a range of imagery and language showing the various themes Heaney wants to put forward. He himself is pulled in two directions; he loves Ireland because he feels he has to, however he does not like what it does, to itself and to others. Even though feelings of hatred towards the imposing and destruction is shown from the English, Heaney also shows the destruction Ireland is causing itself.
Heaney used the Queen to symbolize Ireland, history never dies, it is just preserved, until one day, it will speak out.