How does Heaney make Punishment a disturbing poem?
Heaney’s poem Punishment is about the ‘bog people’. These are people whose corpses were naturally preserved in sphagnum bogs. The poem has eleven quatrains, each of which presents a different image of a young girl whose body has been discovered. Heaney is thinking about her death and imagining how she looked.
The title, Punishment, is ambiguous. Heaney opens the poem by describing her death, shocking the reader. He says, ‘I can feel the tug of the halter at the nape of her neck,’ to convey the image of the young girl being dragged to the execution site. The word ‘halter’ creates an image of a horse being led by its reigns, showing the girl is being treated like an animal. Heaney engages the reader’s senses by saying ‘the wind on her naked front’. By saying ‘it blows her nipples to amber beads, it shakes the frail rigging of her ribs,’ Heaney shows how cold it was the day this girl was executed. This fabricates an alarming image in the reader’s mind of a vulnerable young girl, about to be murdered.
He talks about how she was killed, which was by drowning. He says, ‘I can see her drowned body in the bog, the weighing stone, the floating rods and boughs’. He sees, in his mind, the girl being drowned, how she was held under the water by a heavy stone. The ‘rods and boughs’ would have been used for flogging the girl, and this is a disturbing thought for the reader. Heaney says, ‘she was a barked sapling that is dug up’, using this natural image to contrast the previous sinister images he had created. A sapling is a young tree, and Heaney uses this to show that the girl was young. The term ‘that is dug up’ shows her vulnerability.
The kennings, ‘oak-bone, brain-firkin’ are used to describe the girls appearance. Her bones would have become like wood from the acid in the bog. A firkin is a small wooden barrel, which is what Heaney is describing her head as. Her skin would have become dark and leathery, so...