Critical Analysis of “The Tollund Man” by Seamus Heaney
“The Tollund Man” is inspired by the sealed body of a prehistoric man, discovered in a bog in Denmark. It is said that the man was put to death as part of a sacrificial rite. It was deemed that by doing so, fertility of the crops could be improved. Apparently, the poem suggests customs, which were being followed in the Iron Age, but deep down it symbolizes the history of Irish people. Seamus Heaney illustrated that violence is routine matter for the Irishmen in Northern Ireland and it is habitual for them to sacrifice life so as to save the life of other fellowmen.
In the start of the poem, the poet gives detail description of the body of Tollund Man and wishes to visit Aarhus so he can see his body. “Some day I will go to Aarhus”. Seamus Heaney vows to visit Aarhus, the ‘temple’ of the Tollund Man, because he has developed a deep sense of religious devotion. Critics are agreed that “The Tollund Man” is pilgrimage like “Grauballe Man” is arrival and the celebration of being there. The tone of the poet is expectant yet somewhat tense. The poet has given minute detail of every part of the body; “peat-brown head”, “mild pods of his eye-lid” and “pointed skin cap”. The imagery, which is skilfully crafted by the poet is “bridegroom to the goddess”. It indicates the sacrifice for Nerthus. “Opened her fen”, “dark juices”, “tightened her tore” symbolizes as bizarre type of sexual amalgamation. Heaney’s imagination is vivid in this regard. In the upcoming lines, Heaney compares Tollund Man with a saint, as his body is incorrupt. The Tollumnd Man successfully armed the death with the hope that it will be beneficial for his fellowmen. He died while expecting that crops will grow and his death will be fruitful for the people of his society.
The Tollund Man is considered as devoutness. Tone of the poet indicates the helplessness of the man in front of the gods. In order to gain the favours of god people are compelled to perform these kind of rituals. The Tollund man may be a martyr for many people but Heaney’s point of view is different from the mob. According to him, the Tollund man is neither a king nor he is martyr but just a victim. It was believed that the goddess, each winter, wanted sacrifice of new bridegrooms to certify the fertility of the crops in the next spring season. The poet is against the religion as well as principle of bringing peace by sacrificing lives in front of gods. In other words, he is against violence. He compares “”the old man killing parishes of Jutland” with his own land. Although, the incident of the death of Tulland Man belongs to the Iron Age yet it symbolizes the event, when Christ was crucified. He died for the welfare of humanity as the Tollund man did. It further symbolizes the struggling of Irish people, who lost their lives for the future and welfare of their children. The sacrifices of Irishmen are still fresh in the mind of Seamus Heaney as he was Irish not British. He once wrote “Be advised, my passport’s green/No glass of ours was ever raised/To Toast the Queen”. Somehow, Heaney has a relationship with the Tollund Man as he drives through the countryside he envisages the man’s last drive, of “sad freedom”, as he rides to his death. Nevertheless, the poet shares grieve and sorrows of Irish widows and children and he tries to explain it through this poem by using the technique of symbolism.
“I could risk blasphemy,”; Second section of the poem suggest that the poet has fear that he has committed blasphemy as he does not find these violent rituals fruitful. Again, Seamus Heaney has seen the struggle of Irish people, who were killed ruthlessly in the civil war. They may be called freedom fighters but first they were labourers and ordinary people. They were innocent, who neither wanted any kingship nor were they devoted to wealth but a free life. Recalling of the names of Tollund, Grabaulle, Nebelgard suggests that like Yeats, Heaney has also close association with those who were killed in the war. Heaney blubs for his fellow citizens. Here we find universality in the work of Seamus Heaney. We know that the bog men were different from Irish people by their religion, language, and race yet humanity is mother of every religion and it must be preferred on races and nations.
In the last section of the poem, the poet has feelings of isolation. The tone is no more expectant and he has no willpower to go further. The poem shares the themes of death, religion, culture, rituals, myth, customs, powerlessness, violence alongwith theme of isolation and despair. The poem ends with statement; “I will feel lost/unhappy and at home”.
Heaney was a universal poet. He defended poetry because he was a pure poet. Like Keats, he did poetry for the sake of poetry. He claims that poetry should be free from politics but in “The Tollund Man”, he cannot not keep himself away from it. He, by using the technique of symbolism, reiterated the history of Irishmen. In “The Redress of Poetry”, he recommends that poetry should be free from politics and social issues but ironically, in this poem he underestimated his own rule. The poem consists of themes extending from childhood of poet in Northern Ireland and the strife of its history. The poems is not only about the story of Tollund Man but it also states the civil unrest between Catholics and Protestants, and the resentment of British law imposed on the Irish people. In short, “The Tollund Man” is skilful craftsmanship of Seamus Heaney in the field of English Literature.