Essay on Seamus Heaney Punishment Commentary

1458 Words Feb 6th, 2012 6 Pages

“Punishment,” a poem written by Irish author Seamus Heaney, speaks of the discovery of the body of a young bog girl, who as realized later in the poem, was punished for being an “adulteress.” (23) On closer inspection and as the poem shifts from past to present the faith of the bog girl is compared with the faith of another woman in more recent violent times, namely The Troubles in Northern Ireland. In this poem Heaney thus comments, through the use of literary devices such as enjambment, contrast, imagery, metaphors and alliteration and through his diction, on the cruelty of human nature, guilt and on the question of whether we have changed and evolved over time or whether we are still, deep inside, as barbaric and savage
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He would have stood by and watched them being tarred and feathered. This is underlined again through both the alliteration in “stones of silence” (31) where the repeating “s” sounds like a hiss of contempt, and through the choice of the word voyeur, which can be defined as someone who gains pleasure from other people’s pain. It seems as though even though Heaney did not agree with the punishments, he stood by and watched, too scared to help in case he would be the next victim. Thus he “enjoyed” watching the women, relishing in the fact he was not in their position. This is where the aspect of guilt comes in as Heaney, to safe his own skin, “stood dumb” and said nothing.
In the penultimate stanza the use of the words “betraying sisters,” (38) besides referring to the actual event where the Irish lady was tarred and feathered by her own neighbours, family and friends, also comments on the cruelty of human nature. We punish people, even this close to us for their supposed wrongdoing even if and when we ourselves are not perfect. The biblical reference explored earlier underlines this once more. Continuing on to the ultimate stanza, the poem is essentially perfectly summoned up. Heaney writes that even though he/humanity would secretly allow for “civilized outrage” (42) at the punishments, he/humanity would publicly “understand” the punishments. Too scared to speak up in fear of

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