Heaney’s attitude towards death is presented in different perspectives within Funeral Rites. A pun, based on a homonym, embedded within the title itself, suggests one’s right to have a funeral : for there to be an occasion for family and friends to mourn one’s death whilst celebrating their life. In Funeral Rites, Heaney demonstrates the beautiful serenity associated with death, while also highlighting the tragic aspect of death and dying. Funeral Rites is composed of three parts (the first of which I am going to focus on in this essay), with Heaney focusing on different attitudes towards death and dying within each section. For example, in the first section, Heaney concentrates on funerals in the past, as established by use of the past tense. The transition to present tense in the second section is confirmed by the strong adverb ‘Now’, and future tense in the third section highlights the change in customs within the change in time period. With Funeral Rites’ distinct structure, Heaney is indicating his nostalgia for the past, as well as highlighting his outlook on the situation in Ireland.
Funeral Rites’ tri-partite structure is reminiscent of the structure of North. North is separated into three sections, with each representing Heaney’s altering attitudes towards death. The first section contains two poems in dedication - clearly personal to Heaney. By introducing North with two personal poems, Heaney situates the reader in a ‘world of warmth, solidarity and almost mellow fruitfulness’1. We experience Heaney’s childhood as comforting, and sense his nostalgia.
In Part One, Heaney portrays an image of overall death and suffering through his bog poetry. Through examination of the bog poems alone, one can easily notice Heaney’s changing perspective of the bog bodies. Come to the Bower, the second bog poem in North, has soft, positive connotations. Phrases like ‘dark-bowered queen’ and ‘Venus bone’ are used, coupled with sibilance (‘skins and see’, ‘reddish as a fox’s brush’) to further soften the mood and soothe the reader. In addition, Bog Queen is equally gentle, with sensory imagery used to describe the body, which first presents Heaney’s attitude of death as peaceful, and ceremonious.
However, in The Grauballe Man, Heaney begins his into the illustration of death as increasingly violent. He does this through withdrawing the body’s connection to nature, with ‘rusted hair’ and ‘forceps baby’, while furthering the image of violence by ending the poem with harsh, strong consonants (‘slashed and dumped’). This violent portrayal of death continues in Punishment and Strange Fruit, as Heaney focuses on the sacrificial bog bodies. These bog poems contain negative connotations of death and suffering, and as Heaney relates them to situation in Ireland (‘I who have stood dumb when your betraying sister, cauled in tar, wept by the railings,’), we can distinguish his declining attitude towards death.
Heaney begins Funeral Rites: ‘I shouldered a...