Analysis of The Grauballe Man by Seamus Heaney

This is a short analysis of the poem The Grauballe Man by Seamus Heaney.

The second of Heaney's Iconic “bog body” poems focuses on another well-preserved specimen, dated from 55 B.C, making the man a contemporary of Julius Caesar.

The poem opens by attempting to establishing metaphorical equivalences between the body and the natural world it has emerged from.

This attempt at aestheticisation is causes discomfort for Heaney, who shifts in the second half into a reflection on the extent to which this type of aestheticisation obscures the reality of suffering.

In the end, Heaney resigns himself to the brutal reality of violence, suggesting the danger of beautifying reality.

The Grauballe Man Analysis:

As if he had been poured
in tar, he lies
on a pillow of turf
and seems to weep
Simile suggests both aesthetic creation (the body poured into a mould) and torture.

A metaphor describing the soil gives a sense of the precious nature of the body. It’s treatment like an artifact of beauty.

Pun suggests both the sadness at the heart of the atrocity, but also the fluid movements of his body parts. The second point emphasised by the enjambed line that flows into stanza 2.
the black river of himself.
The grain of his wrists
is like bog oak,
the ball of his heel
Metaphor capturing his arresting fluid image, but also the deep tragedy of the loss and his loss of vitality.

Simile establishes a chain of direct equivalences that Heaney draws between the body and the natural world of the bog from which he is dug. Here, he is compared to the trees of the bog, suggesting his oneness with nature.

Importantly, this wood is both decorative and highly prized, which captures the sense of ambiguity between atrocity and beauty.
like a basalt egg.
His instep has shrunk
cold as a swan's foot’
or a wet swamp root.

Simile again compares his parts to nature, but now mineral, rather than vegetable. Basalt is volcanic and appears to suggest the "eruption" of discovery. The enjambed line suggests the gradually unfolding nature of his apperception of the body.

Simile first of all connects him to the animals of the bod, but also the image is of drained humanity and vitality.


Simile second simile portrays an ever greater distance from human vitality but also suggests deep interconnection between bag and body. Half-rhyme at the end of the line creates a sense of uncanny disturbance mirroring effects of simile.

Smiles generally proliferate and fail to settle on a precise figurative equivalence, which captures the poet’ uneasiness about classifying this body as 1) an aestheticized exhibit, as it denies its humanity and suffering, or 2) as a murder victim, as it denies beauty.
His hips are the ridge
and purse of a mussel,
his spine an eel arrested
under a glisten of mud.
Metaphors establish a pattern of water- borne connections. Here, hips appear like the crevice of a mussel, possibly also suggesting hoarded treasure/secrets about humanity that the poet is trying to probe.

Metaphor captures the visual tension between fluidity and fixity, creates observer's overall sense of uneasy categorization.

Anthimeria of "glisten" transf. into a noun suggests the tension between the fluidity of his body (verb) and its static fixity (noun).
The head lifts,
the chin is a visor
raised above the vent
of his slashed throat
Imagery creates uneasy, uncanny sense of personification whereby the static image seems alive.

Metaphor captures a sense of militancy before exposing the body's vulnerability.

Metaphor initially seems euphemistic, like a designed part of the body for breathing under the bog, also possibly gill-like to suggest its adaptation.

The final image is brutal and direct and cuts short the figurative equivalence as it cut short the man’s life. It is antithetical when contrasted with the visor of the helmet metaphor that Heaney uses above. Captures the tension between beauty and atrocity.
that has tanned and toughened.
The cured wound
opens inwards to a dark
elderberry plage.
Assonance gives the short, powerful rigid sound that suggests the process of toughening and firming up also implied by the dentals (t) in following adjectives. Reacts to images of vulnerability in prev. stanza.

analysis-of-grauballe-man-by-seamus


Pun creates a sense of both it's aging over time and an oxymoron capturing the idea of “healing” violence.

The preposifional phrase is figurative and offers the poet the opportunity to identify a universal theme, a human secret (“the redress of poetry").

The metaphor for the poet’s identification of universal themes in the work. Looking for universality as a form of consolation for the atrocity.
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