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 Home Background Is that the Way it was? A Poem

The Nobel Prize Winner's Poem about the Tollund Man

Seamus HeaneyThe famous Irish poet and Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney wrote an extract of his famous poem "The Tollund Man" in the guest book for Silkeborg Museum in 1973.

The poem was translated into Danish by Uffe Harder and Annette Mester in the book Markarbejde, published by Gyldendal in 1994.


En dag vil jeg tage til Århus *
For at se hans tørvebrune hoved,
Hans øjenlågs milde bælge,
Hans spidse skindhue.

I det flade land nærved
Hvor de gravede ham ud,
Hans sidste vælling af vintersæd
Størknet i hans mave,

Nøgen, bortset fra
Huen, løkken og bæltet,
Vil jeg stå længe.
Gudindens brudgom var han,

Hun strammede ringen om hans hals
Og åbnede sin kærmose,
De mørke safter gav ham
en helgens velholdte krop,

Han blev fundet af tørveskærerens
Undergravende virke.
Hans plettede ansigt
Hviler nu i Århus.


Jeg kunne vove blasfemi,
Indvie Heksekedel-mosen
Som vor hellige jord og bede ham
Lade det spredte kød
Af daglejere faldet i baghold

Spire frem,
De sokkeklædte lig,
Fremlagt på

Sladrende hud og tænder
Som pletter svellerne,
Fire unge brødre slæbt
Milelangt langs sporene.


Noget af hans triste frihed
Da han var på kærren
Skulle nå mig, mens jeg kørte,
Mens jeg sagde navnene

Tollund, Grauballe, Nebelgård,
Mens jeg så på landboernes
Pegende hænder
Uden at kende deres sprog.

Dér i Jylland,
I de gamle manddrabssogne
Vil jeg føle mig tabt,
Ulykkelig og hjemme.

* Heaney purposely writes that he will go to Aarhus to see the Tollund Man even though he knows that he is on display in Silkeborg. But in Heaney's opinion "Aarhus" goes better with the metrical feet.

Here is the original poem in English


Some day I will go to Aarhus
To see his peat-brown head,
The mild pods of his eye-lids,
His pointed skin cap.

In the flat country near by
Where they dug him out,
His last gruel of winter seeds
Caked in his stomach,

Naked except for
The cap, noose and girdle,
I will stand a long time.
Bridegroom to the goddess,

She tightened her torc on him
And opened her fen,
Those dark juices working
Him to a saint's kept body,

Trove of the turfcutters'
Honeycombed workings.
Now his stained face
Reposes at Aarhus.


I could risk blasphemy,
Consecrate the cauldron bog
Our holy ground and pray
Him to make germinate

The scattered, ambushed
Flesh of labourers,
Stockinged corpses
Laid out in the farmyards,

Tell-tale skin and teeth
Flecking the sleepers
Of four young brothers, trailed
For miles along the lines.


Something of his sad freedom
As he rode the tumbril
Should come to me, driving,
Saying the names

Tollund, Grauballe, Nebelgard,
Watching the pointing hands
Of country people,
Not knowing their tongue.

Out here in Jutland
In the old man-killing parishes
I will feel lost,
Unhappy and at home.

More about Seamus Heaney and the Tollund Man

Seamus Heaney gave a talk at Silkeborg Museum in 1996, where he described his childhood memories of the bog:

"When I was a child and an adolescent I lived among peat-diggers and I also worked in the peat bog myself. I loved the structure the peat bank revealed after the spade had worked its way through the surface of the peat. I loved the mystery and silence of the place when the work was done at the end of the day and I would stand there alone while the larks became quiet and the lapwings started calling, while a snipe would suddenly take off and disappear..."

About his poem - Bogland - Seamus Heaney told the following: "The title of the poem refers to the bogs I knew while I was growing up and the stories I had heard about the things that could be preserved in the bog such as supplies of butter that were kept there, and about the things that were even more astonishing to a child, such as the skeleton of an Irish elk which our neighbours had dug out".

 Related Stories
Curator Christian Fischer's story of the Tollund Man
One winter's day - or maybe it was an early spring day - approximately 2,300 years ago a man sat down to eat a meal...

The guest book of Silkeborg Museum
Read Seamus Heaney's extract of the poem in the guest book of Silkeborg Museum.
Zoom in

Listen to the poem about the Tollund Man read in English by the author, Seamus Heaney (Real Audio Player)

The poem as a MP3-file (735 KB) - Will be played in Windows Media Player, unless your computer has a different setting.

The poem as a small MP3-file (105 KB) - Will be played in Windows Media Player, unless your computer has a different setting.

 On the Web
Internet The poem Bogland
Read and listen to the poem Bogland in full as well as several other poems on this website about Seamus Heaney.

Internet Seamus Heaney
Read more about the author.

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