April 2, 2007

Seamus Heaney: “Punishment”

Posted in Poetry at 8:00 am by The Lizard Queen


I can feel the tug
of the halter at the nape
of her neck, the wind
on her naked front.

It blows her nipples
to amber beads,
it shakes the frail rigging
of her ribs.

I can see her drowned
body in the bog,
the weighing stone,
the floating rods and boughs.

Under which at first
she was a barked sapling
that is dug up
oak-bone, brain-firkin:

her shaved head
like a stubble of black corn,
her blindfold a soiled bandage,
her noose a ring

to store
the memories of love.
Little adultress,
before they punished you

you were flaxen-haired,
undernourished, and your
tar-black face was beautiful.
My poor scapegoat,

I almost love you
but would have cast, I know,
the stones of silence.
I am the artful voyeur

of your brain’s exposed
and darkened combs,
your muscles’ webbing
and all your numbered bones:

I who have stood dumb
when your betraying sisters,
cauled in tar,
wept by the railings,

who would connive
in civilized outrage
yet understand the exact
and tribal, intimate revenge.

–Seamus Heaney, 1975


  1. […] I couldn’t get Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘Punishment’ out of my head. Read it here. Not to mention also concentration camps, prisons, and the charming Army barber at Kapooka who will […]

  2. toast said,

    Ahem. Didn’t realise when I linked to this page it would come up as a full comment. Ah well. Heaney fan from way back. And I’m glad to have found your site via this poem, nice work.

  3. […] This emotional transfer of malice is also beautifully captured in Seamus Heaney’s poem Punishment, which examines the tarring and feathering of Irish Catholic women who fraternised with British […]

    • Whoa what? said,

      Hi, I think you’re great

  4. Abc said,

    How beautifully heany laughs at the system.considering him as one of the voyeurs,he really mocks at the poeple who secretly enjoys ‘nakedness’ of the woman.

  5. chris said,


  6. Ajay said,

    The entire poem is a metaphor for the IRA’s cruelty towards British sympathisers. RIP Seamus Heaney.

  7. […] visions of hell, with fantastic verbal imagery and a dark and dirty sense of humour. 5.) Punishment – Seamus […]

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