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By Seamus Heaney

As if he had been poured

in tar, he lies

on a pillow of turf

and seems to weep


the black river of himself.

The grain of his wrists

is like bog oak,

the ball of his heel


like a basalt egg.

His instep has shrunk

cold as a swan’s foot

or a wet swamp root.


His hips are the ridge

and purse of a mussel,

his spine an eel arrested

under a glisten of mud.


The head lifts,

the chin is a visor

raised above the vent

of his slashed throat


that has tanned and toughened.

The cured wound

opens inwards to a dark

elderberry place.


Who will say ‘corpse’

to his vivid cast?

Who will say ‘body’

to his opaque repose?


And his rusted hair,

a mat unlikely

as a foetus’s.

I first saw his twisted face


in a photograph,

a head and shoulder

out of the peat,

bruised like a forceps baby,


but now he lies

perfected in my memory,

down to the red horn

of his nails,


hung in the scales

with beauty and atrocity:

with the Dying Gaul

too strictly compassed


on his shield,

with the actual weight

of each hooded victim,

slashed and dumped.


Seamus Heaney, "The Grauballe Man" from Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996. Copyright © 1999 by Seamus Heaney. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC,  http://us.macmillan.com/fsg. All rights reserved.

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Source: Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999)

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Poet Bio

Seamus Heaney
Born on a farm in Northern Ireland, Seamus Heaney received a scholarship and left his family at age 12. A widely-read and accessible poet, Heaney’s subject matter often remains with his roots—rural life in Ireland. Heaney won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 and was formerly named the prestigious Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard.

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