“Bog Queen,” by Seamus Heaney, is a first person account of an ancient woman, violently killed and buried in the Bogs of Ireland. The poem begins with a vivid description of the processes of both decay and preservation of a body that belongs to a predicted woman of royalty. The poem continues on to describe the woman as “waiting” for the rise of her own body and hoping that one day she will be free from the Boglands. This sense of hope for the Bog Queen is one that continuously relates to the potential change for Ireland’s societies.
Heaney uses vivid imagery to create an extended metaphor that shows the potential for Ireland to be reborn after many years of decay.
Heaney uses imagery to compare the decay of the Bog Queen to the social and political unrest of Northern Ireland. In the third stanza, the first reference to decay is mentioned when the the Bog Queen describes how, “the seeps of winter / Digested me” (10-11).
Heaney creates an image of a cold, wet season coming into the Bog Queen’s body and changing her. Heaney’s use of the word “digesting,” suggests a sense of eating away of the body, an emphasis on the processes of decay. The Bog Queen continues to explain that “the illiterate roots / pondered and died / in the cavings / of stomach and socket” (12-15). Heaney develops an image of roots in the ground inhabiting the Bog Queen’s body and again refers to the gradual decay of her inner organs.
The image of the socket creates a feeling of emptiness because the socket is devoid of an eyeball.
This is also another reference to the process of the decay of the organs. Along with this, the Bog Queen explains that as she waits to be found, “[her] brain darkening,[…] / fermenting underground (17, 19). The Bog Queen’s brain is literally fossilizing and is going through the same processes of the organ decay that the other body parts have gone through. Her brain is shutting down along with her dreams of rising again. Along with these images of decay, the Heaney begins to create images of death when the Bog Queen says, “My sash was a black glacier” (29). Heaney’s use the “black glacier,” creates an image of the cold death occurring to the Bog Queen. Ultimately, Heaney is creating the extended metaphor here because the Bog Queen represents Ireland. The images of the decay of the Bog Queen refers to the tensions between the Catholic and Protestant social and political issues that are causing the unrest in Northern Ireland. Each description mentioned by the Bog Queen connects to the decay of the cultures due to the fighting between the two sects.
Although Heaney does use imagery to explore the similarities between the decay of the Bog Queen and Ireland, he also uses imagery to present the hope for rebirth. The first sense of hope is presented through the Bog Queen’s statement, “I lay waiting” (1, 16). Heaney creates an image of a woman that is waiting but does not indicate what she is waiting for. Although this is still questionable, Heaney using the image of the Bog Queen waiting to foreshadow her rise and rebirth In stanza five, the Bog Queen compares her brain to “a jar of spawn” (19). Although the image of the Bog Queen’s brain is used to refer to the decay of the internal organs, the image created of the “spawns,” or baby fish eggs, introduces the paradox between life and death. Along with this image of “spawns,” the Bog Queen compares “The plait of [her] hair, / a slimy birth-cord (50-51).
This metaphor creates an image of a newly born baby that has just been unattached to its mother. The mother being disconnected from her child represents the disconnection of the Bog Queen from the Bog. The last remark of rebirth finally answers the initial question when the Bog Queen says, “I rose from the dark” (53). Through this, Heaney creates a very literal image of a woman being taken out the bogs after being hidden for numerous years. Again, this connects to the image of a baby being taken out of the mother’s womb and being born into the world. Heaney adds to the extended metaphor with the images of rebirth by creating hope for the country to again unite as one sect. He is stating that he understands that the social and political tensions are high between the Catholics and Protestants; however, he is presenting the argument that society does have the opportunity to be reborn.
Heaney use of an extended metaphor to compare the Bog Queen to the societal and political issues of Ireland presents a continuous process for the country has to go through to be reborn. Heaney first explains, through the Bog Queen, that at this time, the conflict between the Catholic and Protestant societies is putting tension on the possibility for an unified country. However, when the Bog Queen says, “I rose from the dark, / hacked bone, skull-ware, / frayed stitches, tufts, / small gleams on the bank,” Heaney is exploring the idea that the rebirth of the Irish society is possible, but forgetting the problematic past is unlikely (53-56). The decay of the country has gone through its processes, but Ireland does have the potential to rise again and be a unified country containing both Catholic and Protestant Irish individuals.
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