Inspiration: Seamus Heaney’s bog poems

SPOILER ALERT: this post contains minor spoilers about Dark and Deep

In my first semester as an English major, the first English class I took was an introduction to literary theory. It was, quite possibly, the best English course I took in the whole of my degree. The professor was an energetic young woman who had taught it many times before and had her reading list and class discussion topics polished until they shone. The book of poetry we worked from was Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996, a collection of poems by Seamus Heaney that encompasses many of his early books, including all of his bog body poems.

Those poems have haunted me ever since. I had them in mind as I wrote more than one part of Dark and Deep. The area that the settlers and Nuadh Brae occupy is too warm to host a bog, with its peculiar acidic waters that tan and preserve bodies instead of dissolving them. Unfortunately, therefore, the mire near Nuadh Brae had to be a fen, with alkaline water that doesn’t preserve.

Many of the bodies that have been exhumed from bogs in Ireland, Britain, and Scandinavia appear to have been human sacrifices. I have briefly mentioned before that people in Iron Age Britain believed that local deities occupied pools and wetlands, and would throw objects into the water in exchange for help and advice. Sometimes the object was a person.

The bog poem titles, if you want to dig them up (ha) for yourself, are:

Punishment: written about the Windeby I body, which was unfortunately later proven to be a boy, this is the poem that inspired my scene about the third festival night in Nuadh Brae; also Arthur’s final words to Anna (my little adulteress, I almost love you); as well as–in a world where I had resources to beg for use of copyrighted material–my preferred epigraph to Dark and Deep. It’s the final stanza of this poem. Look it up. Oh, and I suppose that earlier in the book there may have been an “artful voyeur” of someone’s exposed (though not darkened) combs.

Tollund Man: about the body Tollund Man, possibly the best-preserved bog body, still with fingerprints and stubble on his chin. The final stanza of this poem gave flavor to Anna’s walk down Finisteri; “lost, unhappy and at home.”

Grauballe Man: about the Grauballe Man

Bogland: best classified as the introduction to the bog body poems

Bog Queen: I haven’t been able to figure out which body this is about, more’s the pity

Strange Fruit: I believe about the Yde Girl

Finally, do read Act Of Union, even though it isn’t about bogs.


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