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Seamus Heaney’s haunted poetry abounds in familiar spectres and family ghosts, tutelary spirits, presences and apparitions, visitations and resurrections, the most pregnant of which is the figure of Suibhne Geilt in the “Sweeney Redivivus” section of Station Island—a collection of poems inspired by Dante’s meeting with ghosts in the Purgatorio. Rising from the corpus of Seamus Heaney’s bog poems, the Tollund Man gradually becomes a central figure in the artist’s imagination. He first appears as a sacrificial victim in the eponymous poem, “The Tollund Man” (Wintering Out, 1972), hovers in “Tollund” (The Spirit Level, 1996), only to re-awaken ten years later in “The Tollund Man in Springtime” (District and Circle, 2006). In this last poem, he becomes a Sweeney-like alter ego for the artist.
This study aims at analyzing the reasons why Seamus Heaney chose to resurrect the Tollund Man at three key-moments in his poetic career: moving from the violent communal history of the 1970s to the relative appeasement of the 1994 IRA ceasefire, then to a confrontation with twenty-first century urban Ireland. Through the persona, perspective and voice of the revived “green man”, Heaney gives a haunting vision of the world we inhabit, while sharing his poetic experience of being “a parablist [...]/pinioned by ghosts”.
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