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The Grauballe Man

 As if he had been poured
in tar, he lies
on a pillow of turf
and seems to weep

the black river of himself.
The grain of his wrists is like bog oak, the ball of his heel like a basalt egg.
His instep has shrunk cold as a swan’s foot or a wet swamp root.
His hips are the ridge and purse of a mussel, his spine an eel arrested under a glisten of mud.
The head lifts, the chin is a visor raised above the vent of his slashed throat that has tanned and toughened.
The cured wound opens inwards to a dark elderberry place.
Who will say ‘corpse’ to his vivid cast? Who will say ‘body’ to his opaque repose? And his rusted hair, a mat unlikely as a foetus’s.
I first saw his twisted face in a photograph, a head and shoulder out of the peat, bruised like a forceps baby, but now he lies perfected in my memory, down to the red horn of his nails, hung in the scales with beauty and atrocity: with the Dying Gaul too strictly compassed on his shield, with the actual weight of each hooded victim, slashed and dumped.

by Seamus Heaney
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