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Strange Fruit Spring 2009

Page history last edited by andrew.mulhall@... 12 years, 2 months ago

Seamus Heaney (1939-)


Strange Fruit (1975)


Here is the girl's head like an exhumed gourd.[1]

Oval-faced, prune-skinned, prune-stones for teeth.[2]


They unswaddled the wet fern of her hair

And made an exhibition of its coil,

Let the air at her leathery beauty.[3]

Pash of tallow, perishable treasure:[4]

Her broken nose is dark as a turf clod,[5]

Her eyeholes blank as pools in the old workings.[6]

Diodorus Siculus confessed

His gradual ease with the likes of this:[7]

Murdered, forgotten, nameless, terrible[8]

Beheaded girl, outstaring axe

And beatification[9], outstaring

What had begun to feel like reverence.[10]



  1. In the first line, Heaney likens the girl's head to "an exhumed gourd" (line 1). I think the fruit "gourd" and "the girl's head" convey similar symbolical meanings. The girl was beheaded for the religious beatification, her head was remained and discovered by the future generations. Her head retained her existence and sacrifice in history. Gourds are also eaten by the people as food, but when they are dried, shell of the gourds also have been used for utilitarian purposes for a long time, they are often made into musical instruments, kitchen appliances, etc. Thier traces make themselves more valuable and significant. -- Juhee
  2. The poem is about a young woman's head found in Denmark, which was similar to tribal sacrifices to the gods of harvest. Seamus Heaney studied the bog people and wrote a series of bog poems in response to the murders in Ireland that dealt with beheadings and hangings and then the disposal of the bodies in a bog. The first two lines give the reader a vivid image of the head that was found of the woman. Heaney puns on the word "prune" as an image of the woman's head being cut off like a tree being pruned and the way the skin of the head looks like a dried plum (prune) all wrinkled. The title "Strange fruit" seems to parallel the first two lines with a comparison of the head to fruit and that it is not about a fruit hanging from a tree but one that has already been cut down. The two lines interested me because of how the head is compared to fruits that are strange to us because they have been dried to look different or aren't fruit we use on a day-to-day basis like a gourd. ~ Seema J
  3. There is a great mix of beauty versus gruesome in this poem. "Leathery beauty" is the most prominent example of this, but Heaney also uses words such as "oval-faced," "air," "treasure," "ease," and "pools," which are words that can be used with a generally positive connotation, to counter uglier words such as "prune," "wet fern," "tallow, perishable," "turf clod," and "unswaddled."This suggests the decline of something that was once desirable, as well as something that is not understood. The sense of a loss of beauty allows the reader to lament and feel more for the situation presented.
  4. This poem has a lot of imagery, and espeically, words and images that refer to the sense of touch. Touch appears to be very important to the speaker. It was significant enough to mention the "prune" feeling twice, the "wet fern" of hair, and "leathery beauty." That is interesting because leathery is not a term used to describe someone's physical beauty. The stanza line length changes variably, but overall each stanza has an average of two lines. There is no organization of form to the syllables in each line and there is no rhyme scheme. This poem is strong on the senses and is indeed "strange." --Cara Weiner
  5. Heaney describes the appearance of the girl, "Her broken nose is dark as a turf clod" (line 7). The comparison that Heaney makes between her nose and a turf clod is interesting, because he associates the two objects through the use of a simile. Thus, the comparison of these two unlike objects draws attention to the heinousness of the girl's death. Her beheading and the subsequent disposal of her head caused her broken nose to rot to the point that it resembles dirt. In everyday circumstances, a nose cannot often be compared to turf emphasizing the cruelty of her death. Stacey Elkhatib
  6. In this poem, Heaney uses images which imply that the fruit, or girl he is speaking of is empty. First, her head as an "exhumed gourd," which at once brings up the image of the exhumation of a grave and the image of a dried gourd. Then, her "leathery beauty" suggests something that has been skinned and dried, not a living being. The "broken nose" which is "cold" is odd because normally an injury would be warm because the body is working to mend itself. Finally, Heaney refers to the emptiness in her eyes with "Her eyeholes black as pools." This image gives the impression of death, especially because he uses "eyeholes" instead of eyes, which implies that there are no eyes to speak of.
  7. The dead girl's head is gruesomely described. Heaney compares her look of death with "prune" and her cut hair with a "coil." Although these imageries may sound inhumane and violent, just as how people are horrified at the first sight of violence, as Diodorus Siculus did in this poem, these violent acts, in the end, desensitize people. This desensitization process is a "gradual ease with the likes of this," hinting the cyclical and unending nature of murder and violence in our society.-- Jung
  8. The poet uses very stark images that try to grab the readers attention and hold it. the author seems very interested im painting a picture for the reader using very descriptive words such as "plum" to describe the skin. The way the the poem is structured and written the underlying story seems implied the speaker is more concerned with depicting the body of the dead girl rather than providing an explanation of her murder. The speaker does however give some insight on the background story here in the last four lines of the poem, letting the reader know that the death that took place was indeed a murder, and putting the murder into perspective in the lines that remain. ---- Alexandra
  9. The word "beatification" means to be declared at peace in heaven by the Pope. That word is used here to bring comfort to her family. Beheading with an axe is not a beautiful way to die which parallels her unusual "leathery beauty" which is also unusual. Her beatification means that she will live on peacefully in the afterlife so her family will have the comfort of knowing that she is now at peace in heaven. -Andrew Mulhall
  10. The contrasting images and words present in the poem give it a paradoxical feel. Images such as "leathery beauty" and "perishable treasure" suggest both the death of beauty and the beauty of death. Heaney ends with the line "What had begun to feel like reverence" to note that although this tradition of the bog people is heinous, it is also strange and perhaps even worth respect. With this feeling of "reverence," Heaney suggests that we must learn to appreciate the strange traditions of a bygone culture. Patrick McFarland

Comments (1)

Kristen Williams said

at 9:05 pm on Apr 30, 2009

The Bog girl uncovered in Heaney’s poem is equated to a plant being uncovered in a preserved state. The body is well-preserved but it is, still, a body. I feel Heaney desensitizes the subject of the poem by writing about the girl as if she is a plant, a natural part of the bog element. In this way the reader can visualize a girl as a “perishable treasure” but are not so quickly struck by the morbidity of the incident. At the same time Heaney is trying to express that people in general are becoming more and more desensitized to violence and killing and general morbidity. His reference of Diodorus Siculus is a Greek historian from the 1st century AD “who recorded his reactions to murder and violence commenting that with each atrocity he became more desensitized” (internet research). By the continual portrayal of violence in society, people feel less for more augmented violence. This is furthered by Heaney’s repetition of “outstaring” (Outstaring - To overcome by or as if by staring; stare down) where increased staring and focus on this bog girl and her beheaded body does not result in fear or a sense of incredibly wrong against humanity. Instead, the intense focus takes on an almost religious fervor that upon realizing, feels more like reverence than shock. (Reverence - 1. A feeling of profound awe and respect and often love; veneration. 2. An act showing respect, especially a bow or curtsy. 3. The state of being revered.) (Beatification - 1. To make blessedly happy. 2. Roman Catholic Church To proclaim (a deceased person) to be one of the blessed and thus worthy of public religious veneration in a particular region or religious congregation. 3. To exalt above all others.) ~Kristen Williams

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