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The opposition between architectonic masculinity and female feeling for mystery and divination underlines much of Heaney’s writing and may be seen in the two part divisions of Wintering Out and North

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Introduction

Sarah Bailiff                Yr 12 Lit

Seamus Heaney Long Essay

Question 4

“The opposition between architectonic masculinity and female feeling for mystery and divination underlines much of Heaney’s writing and may be seen in the two part divisions of Wintering Out and North[1]. In literature, representations of femininity and masculinity may be seen in terms of contests for power and possession. In Heany’s work, the representations of gender can be read as two opposing yet complimentary representations of gender interactions. The first of which, can be seen in ‘Tollund Man’, from Wintering Out, 1972. The poem represents “a woman who dooms, destroys, puzzles and encompasses the man”[2]. In this poem, Heaney conveys the seductive power of the bog  goddess, and the weakness of the unearthed ‘bridegroom’. The poem functions to comment on Heaney’s society, by relating it to the fate of the Tolland man, yet it also represents the power held by women in a gendered hierarchy created by foundations of fear. This was due to the way Irish society related ordinary women to ideas of Mary, the mother of god, and Celtic mythological heroines. In the poem, the bog is represented as a place of sex and marriage, but also as a place of execution and necrophilia.

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Middle

“I could risk blasphemy,

Consecrate the cauldron bog

Our holy ground and pray

Him to make germinate”

The religious instances of part two are particularly important in the construction of women in terms of power and possession as it reinforces the fears produced by men, by likening women to the mythological goddess in part one, and here, a representation of religious sacrament, or mother Mary, in part two. Mary’s role as the embodiment of maternity reinforces a biological instance on a woman’s function as reproducer.

Adoration of her paradoxical virginity masks a hatred of the unclean female body and denial of female desire. This belief is what drives the poem to function as a representation of the imagery of woman that drove men to misogamy. The hatred of ‘unclean’ women, teamed with the imagery of the ‘goddess’ raping a corpse in order to ensure the renewal and fertility of the territory. It depicts the idea that the goddess seduces ‘bridegrooms’ to satisfy her female desire and her biological instance to reproduce.  This imagery shows that women are portrayed as the dominant sex particularly to the male inclination to fear them. However, this religious reference also likens the bog to that of a Holy place “Our holy ground and pray”.

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Conclusion

*2137 words*


[1]  “The poetry of Seamus Heaney ” (Gender, colonialism, nationalism); edited by Elmer Andres – Pg 120

[2],3 “The poetry of Seamus Heaney ” (Gender, colonialism, nationalism); edited by Elmer Andres – Pg 128

* “Seamus Heaney – New Selected Poems 1866-1987”; Faber and Faber, London, 1990

** “The oxford English Dictionary” C.T. Onions, 1983, Oxford University Press

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