A good friend travelled to Denmark. Changed his destination suddenly. Almost always, as a matter of course, on the road to France, it suddenly became some Scandinavian out-of-the-way-place.
The power of poetry. He had just read Seamus Heaney’s verses on the Tollund Man and, like the poet, my friend had to go there.
Some day I will go to Aarhus
To see his peat-brown head,
The mild pods of his eye-lids,
His pointed skin cap.
… a saint’s kept body,
Trove of the turfcutters’
Heaney comes from an Irish peasant family, always busy ploughing and cutting sods. Heaney in Digging:
My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
He must have felt akin to those peat cutters from Denmark, maybe he even thought of that other sceptic Dane, the Great Wishy Washy Man.
When I received my friend’s letter, along with some picture postcards, I felt jealous.
The Tollund man
Early in life, I think in the study of my father, I saw this strange figure for the first time. Since then, all I wanted was to meet this strange corpse in the flesh. It never came to that, it’ll never come now – not even in my new condition, when I feel more than ever related to him.
He radiates a deceptive calm and contentment. In me he generates an aesthetic frisson. Nothing I know about him, except that he had been asleep for such a long time before his excavation from the Danish peat-soil which preserved him.
Around the neck is a rope much like a noose, it’s probably not for decoration. Is this a hanged man who was afterwards buried? Did he remain alive, in his own manner, to shame the ones who wronged him? Or was it a kind of peace offering – was he slain according to custom?
Without language, history is not History, a wordless past remains anecdotal and nothing more than a collection of remains and artefacts in which we want to read something, perhaps even must read something. What is without meaning remains inhuman.
The great Borges in his poem Cambridge:
We are our memory,
we are this chimerical museum of shifting forms,
this heap of broken mirrors.
Think of the Etruscans – jot nor tittle is left of what were once their records and poetry. An ordinary person is lost between things, admiring their beauty or awed – like face to face with this man asleep.
Memento mori in extremis.
What passed in that little head, what wandered around under that skull? A parade of cows and chickens? The obligatory clock of the seasons? Perhaps, in a fit of existentialism, a little true philosophy… The deep wrinkles in that grey forehead are unmistakable. Perhaps the result of enlightened fretting or merely an expression of everyday life’s concerns?
Requiescat in pace.
Sierksma, 11.8 / 2015 La Roche
In the series Death no. 7