In "Punishment," Heaney is describing a "bog woman," a woman who was punished and killed, later to be thrown in a bog. This was a common practice of ancient tribes; bogs were also used for ritual sacrifice. The chemical make-up of the bog preserves the body down to minute details. For example, eyelashes are often preserved, hair color, muscle tone, etc.
In this poem, a young girl has been punished for adultery; Heany makes this victim—called the Winderby Girl—relevant to his era, seeing similarities with Irish women punished for having relationships with British soldiers.
I can feel the tug
of the halter at the nape
of her neck, the wind
on her naked front.
This beginning introduces the poet's empathy with the girl: his feeling of the tug of the noose on the neck of the naked bog girl. In the second stanza, the wind blows against the nipples of her breasts that are like "amber beads," and "shake" her thin ribs. The speaker, in the next stanza, can see her body, drowned in the bog,...
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