Bogland Summary

In Seamus Heaney's poem "Bogland," the speaker examines the place of the Irish bogs in the cultural consciousness. The bogs act as preservative forces for history, but the form of energy that they are able to offer through peat, which can be dried and used as fuel, does not live up to the usefulness of a resource like coal. The language used in this poem indicates that the speaker has conflicting emotions toward the bog; it is characterized as a loving entity, yet its futility is clear. The speaker lingers on the action of digging. The Irish pioneers dig into the bogs, pulling up a Great Irish Elk and food preserved in the bogs from a century ago. As described in this poem, digging may be useful because it leads to such discoveries, but the digging seems aimless, for the bogs have no bottom.

The poem is dedicated to T. P. Flanagan, an Irish painter and friend of Heaney's, whose work was known for its representation of the Irish landscape. Flanagan resisted the notion of being either a strictly abstract or strictly representational artist, but his work enhanced the Irish landscape by adding to it an ephemerality and luminosity. "Bogland" also works to add depth to Ireland's physical presence, personifying the landscape while representing the perspective of its inhabitants.