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Seamus Heaney is widely recognized as one of the major poets of the 20th century. A native of Northern Ireland, Heaney was born in 1939, and raised in County Derry, and later lived for many years in Dublin. He was the author of over 20 volumes of poetry and criticism, and edited several widely used anthologies. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past." Heaney taught at Harvard University (1985-2006) and served as the Oxford Professor of Poetry (1989-1994). He died in 2013. 

As a poet from Northern Ireland, Heaney used his work to reflect upon the "Troubles," the often-violent political struggles that plagued the country during Heaney’s young adulthood. The poet sought to weave the ongoing Irish troubles into a broader historical frame embracing the general human situation in the books Wintering Out (1973) and North (1975). With the publication of Selected Poems, 1966-1987 (1990) Heaney marked the beginning of a new direction in his careerBogland was written in the 1960s and concerns the 'bog', one of the few words in the English language to come from Gaelic.

Bogland illustrates the poet’s quest to break free from artistic conventions and traditions. Historically, poets have struggled with the need to create their own identities as artists, and this struggle has been difficult for twentieth century Irish poets living in the shadow of influential writers such as William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). Searching for his own artistic roots, Heaney followed the advice of fellow Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh (1905-1967), who believed that the local, or parochial (relating to or supported by or located in a community), could transcend its mundane, or provincial, limitations to represent universal themes. The close examination of the landscape in “Bogland” provides the poet with a metaphor for exploring larger cultural themes.

One of the most omnipresent themes in Irish literature is the search for a national identity. Having lived in Northern Ireland during the “Troubles” (the political and religious conflicts between unionists and separatists, with origins that trace back hundreds of years), Heaney is keenly aware of the difficulties associated with establishing a national identity. The bog serves as the landscape’s archetypal memory, preserving everything that has occurred. It contains an organic record of each generation that has lived on it. Therefore, Ireland’s identity is constantly redefining itself as successive generations add to the bog and are made part of the whole. In the dark roots of Ireland, the poet is trying to explore his origins free from the political, religious, and artistic limitations that confine him on the surface.

Bogland, a part of Seamus Heaney’s bog poems, carries many of Seamus Heaney’s themes and motifs inside of it. Some of these are, Irish Culture and time. Seamus uses this poem as a metaphor for Irish culture and history. The poem consists of seven four-line stanzas (quatrains), which is also the final work in Seamus Heaney’s second collection of poetry, Door into the Dark. Heaney was born in the small town of Mossbaum, in County Derry, and is considered one of the most accomplished of the writers from Northern Ireland. As is much of his early poetry, “Bogland” is heavily influenced by the writer’s rural upbringing and reflects his close ties to the Irish landscape. The title originates from Ireland’s swampy (damp/moistly) countryside and from Heaney’s childhood memory of the local interest generated by the discovery of an elk’s (large northern deer) skeletal remains in a bog near his hometown. The event was significant because, as he writes, “I began to get an idea of bog as the memory of the landscape, or as a landscape that remembered everything that happened in and to it.”

THEME & ANALYSIS OF THE POEM (Extensive Reading)


Heaney’s early poems can be seen as fundamentally concerned with childhood, and with the horrors as well as the wonders of nature, drawing the reader into a world full of "the smells/of waterweed, fungus and dank moss", to look into places where ‘there is no reflection’ – poetry which is also an exploration that aims ‘to set the darkness echoing’.

This fascination with the hidden secrets of the earth takes another direction in the bog poems, which utilize a metaphor begun in Bogland, but with a different, more intense focus, as the land itself seems to come alive, revealed as the source of mystery and power.

In the bog people, victims of tribal sacrifice, the poet seems to have found such images, and develops the metaphor in drawing parallels with the political and social situation in Ireland. This connection to the past allows him to comment on the present in an oblique yet forceful way.

However, this does not imply that Heaney’s poetry necessarily became entirely political. Critics have pointed out that his work is less an ideological statement than an effort to generate historical awareness, and that while his themes contain both resistance and defiance, they do not make an active political statement. Instead, he speaks about political ideas through his description of the land, the use of mythology and history and the religious atmosphere, the images of prejudice, violence and intolerance. His pastoral style uses images of rural Ireland to suggest greater universal ideas. As one critic has said "Heaney staked out the boundaries of his poetic, devoting himself to excavations of his chosen land."


The earliest bog poem, appropriately entitled Bogland, is more nationalistic and more about the essence of Ireland than the later poems, which are more deeply concerned with mythical associations, with the connection between violence and religion.

The beginning of the poem sets the nationalistic tone clearly as the possessive pronoun ‘we’ is used more than once, to convey a sense of unity with the land. In the first lines "we have no prairies/To slice a big sun at evening", what is apparently a negative statement of absence is turned into a positive assertion, as Heaney speaks of "our unfenced country" and "encroaching horizon".

At the same time the poem emphasizes the layers of the land, layers of history ‘bog that keep crusting’ in continuous expansion, so that the land seems to stretch forever, endless in both horizontal and vertical dimensions. The bog is in layers, each layer a page of history, yet like the encroaching horizon, it at first reveals nothing, seems a statement of absence.

The poem establishes the bog as the source of all Irish memory and ancestry, linking the present to the past through the constancy of the land, as "butter sunk under/more than a hundred years/ was recovered salty and white". The ground conserves rather than destroys, not the realm (country) of fire but of water "they’ll never dig coal here/only the waterlogged trunks of great firs". The land is "itself...kind, black butter", revealing it’s secrets as it is "melting and opening underfoot."

This brings in the motif of digging and exploration, "our pioneers keep striking/Inwards and downwards" which again in the use of the word ‘pioneers’ connects to America, while it relates to a tradition of Irish poets to the diggers, bringing treasures to light.

The poem ends with a reference to something greater, to Northwest Europe, perhaps the seed of the myth of the North in the later bog poems. There is a suggestion of a continuous enrichment, as "every layer they strip/seems camped on before", emphasizing again the metaphor of the bog as history, the memory of the landscape.

The ‘Atlantic seepage’ and ‘the wet center’ is a reiteration of an earlier point "they’ll never dig coal here" the earth is preserving and not consuming, but this is connected to a larger pattern here, in an exploration attempting to find a core, a final center but conceding that this center is ‘bottomless’.

The poem conceives the past as a dimension to be explored dynamically rather than simply received, constructed from a drive to establish a connection between forces shaping a nation’s consciousness. At the heart of the poem, beyond the overlapping of the past and present, is the timelessness of nature.


  1. Sir It will be a very helpful for literature students sir I will requested to summarize of BA 3rd year major english critical thinking and Practical criticism subject


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