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Sunil Mirpuri

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Sunil Mirpuri September 27th, 2006 IB English HLII Commentary Punishment Seamus Heaney's poem "Punishment" illustrates the revival of history through the eyes of an empathetic narrator and a two-thousand year old mummy. Throughout the poem, Heaney uses a very descriptive and imaginative language in order to create a tone of sympathy towards the reader; nevertheless, this tone is accompanied by a tone of adoration and admiration towards the bog girl. However, by the end of the poem, the narrator completely changes his tone from admiration to understanding and empathy for the killing of the girl. Seamus Heaney uses detailed images, a very descriptive style of diction and a simple form of structure in order to emphasize the narrator's changes in tones and attitude throughout "Punishment." The diction in "Punishment" embodies a very detailed yet grotesque style of writing. The entire poem is a description of the York Girl, a two-thousand year old petrified body which had been preserved under the earth and then dug up in 1817 in Holland. ...read more.


The reader does not feel sympathy towards the York Girl anymore but empathy for her killers. He ends "Punishment" by writing, "yet understand the exact/and tribal, intimate revenge." By the end of the poem, it is clear that the narrator too understands and accepts the York Girls punishment. "Punishment" contains several images which emphasize Heaney's change in his tone from sympathy to empathy. The first eight stanzas individually illustrate a gruesome picture in a passive and almost harmonic manner. "her shaved head/like a stubble of black corn,/her blindfold a soiled bandage,/her noose a ring" is an example of one of these penetrating yet harmonic stanzas. Heaney uses a set of horrible images yet through the use of his language, the stanza manages to remain passive and harmonic to the reader. Moreover, this stanza contains a metaphor which further adds to Heaney's penetrating yet passive tone, "her shaved head/like a stubble of black corn." Heaney compares the York Girl's putrefied head to black corn, emphasizing the gruesomeness of the stanza. ...read more.


Heaney's division of the stanzas using punctuations emphasize the meaning of the ending and the starting lines of the stanzas. The structure of "Punishment" although it may seem very simple is actually very helpful when analyzing the different parts of the poem. Seamus Heaney's poem "Punishment" manages to reveal certain characteristics which allow the reader to perfectly conceptualize the narrator's emotions and attitude towards the York Girl. Through the use of several detailed and carefully selected words, Heaney is able to make a transition in not only his thoughts, but in the actual tone of the poem. Heaney's stylistic devices, such as metaphors, alliterations and juxtapositions emphasize the narrator's sympathetic love, which then changes to an understanding of the bog girl's death. Finally, the structure of "Punishment" adds and emphasizes to the tones and attitudes of the narrator and, at the end, helps the reader understand the division of Heaney's thoughts. All in all, Seamus Heany's "Punishment" is a perfectly established portrait of a historical event mixed with the emotions of a sympathetic and empathetic narrator. ...read more.

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Response to the question

This response is for a question about how Seamus Heaney changes his narrative voice in his poem' Punishment'. There is an unbroken focus on the narrative voice and how it changers within the poem displayed by this candidate, though there ...

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Response to the question

This response is for a question about how Seamus Heaney changes his narrative voice in his poem' Punishment'. There is an unbroken focus on the narrative voice and how it changers within the poem displayed by this candidate, though there answer is greatly limited by the fact that this is quite often all they refer to when commenting on Heaney's voice. I would suggest that to improve there should be a greater understanding of how Heaney changes his voice, and candidates should provide a number of appropriate examples from the text in order to convey their analysis efficiently. It would also be worthwhile to comment on other aspects of the language to compliment the analysis of narrative voice such as emotive language, authoritative language, discourse, Personal Address (this was done to an extent) etc., as a lot of Heaney poems use narrative voice, so commenting on this alone limits this answer from achieving the top band of marks.

Level of analysis

The Level of Analysis here is average for a GCSE candidate expecting a high C to low B grade. There is a good analysis of the use of narrative in the poem but to achieve further marks the candidate should look to other poetic devices used by Heaney to present the narrator's attitude to York Girl. They could do this by considering how the poet uses authoritarian language in contrast with emotive language (this has been done but very vaguely, and it would be worth the extra time to make this more explicit; the candidate did however do well to comment on how this language change affects the reader and draws empathy/sympathy from them.

Quality of writing

The Quality of Written Communication here simplistic, and at times the grammatical standard required of a GCSE candidate slips a little, so a spell-check and proof-read for errors in writing would be greatly recommended. The use of punctuation could be varied, with the candidate adopting a far great variety of punctuation points to demonstrate to the examiner that they are confident, competent writers.

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Reviewed by sydneyhopcroft 06/03/2012

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