Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 362
This poem by Seamus Heaney is about, as the title suggests, a casualty. Specifically, it is about a man who was a casualty of the 1972 attack by the British Parachute Regiment on Bogside in Derry. Thirteen people were killed. In the first section of the poem, graffiti on the wall reads, "PARAS THIRTEEN...BOGSIDE NIL."
In the first section of the poem, Heaney focuses on the casualty himself, who is a habitual drinker. The intimacy of Heaney's description incorporates the man's typical gestures and the way he would raise a "weathered thumb" to call for another drink; this is a man who was known in his local community and a man that the poet wishes us to know, too. The speaker "loved his whole manner." The art of poetry was "incomprehensible" to this doughty and drinking man, yet he "mentioned" it, suggesting an interest in the speaker despite the differences in their existences. The poet lets us know that this man was a good man, before revealing that he was "blown to bits" in the attack on Bogside.
In the second section of the poem, Heaney focuses on the day of the funeral for the thirteen victims. It was a cold day, while "coffin after coffin" flowed out of the cathedral—a tragedy. The poet explains that the casualty of the first section "would not be held / At home," disregarding any threats. Due to the fact that the man "drank like a fish," he had simply moved through the town regardless of any warnings. The poet asks if the man was "culpable" in his own death because he did not stick with his "tribe"? He does not answer this question.
The third section of the poem describes a funeral, but in the poet's mind's eye, he "missed" the actual funeral for this man. This section is the consolation of the poem. In a traditional elegy, there are three sections: lament, praise, and consolation. The middle section of this poem is not really praise, but the final section certainly offers consolation. It imagines the "casualty" as a "dawn-sniffing revenant," and the poet wishes that the man was still around to "question" him again.