Bone Dreams by Seamus Heaney – An Analysis
Bone Dreams is an obscure and difficult poem to understand. In all my
searching on the internet, I found very little to help me in my
analysis of this poem and so the ideas are basically my own. I might
be wide of the mark, but for anybody struggling to understand this
poem, it might at least give you some ideas of your own. I make no
apology for asking questions or for sounding vague or even muddled in
places. I hope that this essay is of help to somebody, somewhere.
The poem begins in a thoughtful mood; the voice is relaxed, “White
bone found/on the grazing” suggesting that the speaker is walking in
the countryside when he discovers a piece of bone in the grass. He
uses tactile imagery to describe his find, the bone is “rough, porous”
and has “the language of touch”. This image would be powerful if not
for the mildness of the language, which conveys a musing quality in
its passivity, for example, “found” and “grazing” - these words have
nothing of a hurry about them and suggest a peacefulness of mind in
the opening stanzas.
He continues to describe the piece of bone, making comparisons with a
“ship-burial” and notes the impressions in the grass as “yellowing,
ribbed”. The word “ribbed” is suggestive, with its subject matter of
bone, to a rib-cage.
The bone takes on a significance which is greater than its intrinsic
worth – which is nothing – because the speaker equates it with
treasure; it is, “flint-find”, a “nugget of chalk”, the word nugget
being quite often associated with gold, and therefore he says it has a
value in itself. “Flint” suggests history, a link to the stone-age and
the find is, in fact, described as being, “as dead as stone”. So here
we have the remnants of an animal skeleton, held in the hand and being
read as something important – it has history, it lies in the grass in
a land with a history and so the “nugget of chalk” begins to grow in
importance in the mind of the finder. Of course, you can also write
with chalk, and the act of and implements of writing are often found
in the metaphors and similes of Heaney’s poetry.
In the third stanza, the speaker “touches it again” and it is almost
as if this act of touching for a second time sparks off a series of
thoughts, tangential in quality, and as tangents do, they move freely
from one image to another, imbuing the writing with a dreamlike
quality. It is almost as if the bone has him in a powerful trance. The
bone, which has become part of the landscape, has transformed into a
device for releasing thought processes. Landscape, being one of the
favourite themes of Heaney, is in itself a part of history. It is the
history of Ireland and its people and its landscape that often
preoccupies the poet and, here, we see some of this preoccupation
allowed flight as his mind takes off in a series of flickering
thoughts and associations.
Almost as soon as this begins to occur, his thoughts...