Grauballe Man

He lies exposed to view in this glass case
Exactly as he lay three hundred years
Before our Christ was born, between his ears
Torn open with a savage force: his face,
All blackened by the peat who in disgrace
Perhaps or battle died, betrays his fears.
Behind those  narrow eyelid slits he peers
Uncomprehendingly to outer space.

That hollow void bore his intelligence,
Inside those sockets now no evidence
Of who he was or how it was, the way
He died that day; and we can only pray,
Express dismay and say how glad are we
To be and not to be as dead as he.



A Winter in Uzbekistan

A winter in Uzbekistan so cold
And raw and brittle, on the steppes some years
Ago, the day we saw three dogs whose ears
Had crudely been cut off, so we were told,
To render them more docile, more controlled.
It kept their livestock safe, quelled farmers’ fears;
An outrage to their natures it appears,
To maim those dogs to bar their being bold.

And then we noticed one of them had lost
A leg. His kennel-mate would lean daylong
Against him, keep him upright in the frost:
In such a manner both would get along.
Compassion surely taught one to assist
As surely trust helped both to coexist.



Some Fifty Years Have Passed

Some fifty years have passed now since the day
We found a white goat tethered to a stake
And left to starve atop the moor on Eriskay,
A lonely end, a cruel one, to make
This sacrifice with biblical assent
A scapegoat in the wilderness. So strange,
The perfect ring of naked earth that bent
Around the stake, the limit of its range.

Beyond its tether nothing but reproof,
The caprine lecher or the silly goose,
A parody of Pan with cloven hoof.
No need this Pan for Aristotle’s nous:
Advised to chew the rope, with weary voice
The goat would claim it made the better choice.



Peter Hartley is a retired painting restorer. He was born in Liverpool and lives in Manchester, UK.

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46 Responses

  1. C.B. Anderson

    Powerful images wrapped up in tidy bundles these are, Peter, with satisfying closure all round.

    • Peter Hartley

      CBA – Thank you for commenting on these three little verses that describe incidents from so many year go. Eriskay is a tiny island that was the setting for Compton MacKenzie’s “Whisky Galore” although the sombre scene I was presented with all those years ago was more like something from the “The Wicker Man”, again set in the Outer Hebrides but starring Donald Sutherland. As a schoolboy at the time I still remember being moved by the apparently gratuitous cruelty of this biblical practice.

  2. Jeff Eardley

    Peter, three excellent travellers tales. I had to go off to read up on Grauballe Man before re-visiting your verse which sums up the sadness at his end of life. I was horrified at the dog tale. No Uzbek RSPCA I am guessing? The Eriskay goat tale reminded me of the Scapegoat painting in the Lever gallery to which we have returned many times. (Have you ever worked there by the way?) A most enjoyable set for a gloomy afternoon. Thank you so much.

    • Peter Hartley

      Jeff – Thank you for your comment on the suitability of these three poems of mine for a gloomy afternoon. There is great solace I find in the world, though full of misfortune and sadness, not being anywhere near as tragic in real life as the nether world I construct. Holman Hunt travelled to the Holy Land to paint “The Scapegoat” and give his “sitter” an authentic background. At least one goat died on the job I believe, and beside the scapegoat there is the skull of a Sinaitic ibex and the whole rotting corpse of a camel in the picture for us to feast our eyes upon.

  3. Joe Tessitore

    I liked all three of them as well.
    Each was a very good read.
    I especially liked “To be and not to be as dead as he.” – an excellent line.

    • Bethany Mootsey

      Yes, that was my favorite line too! I am impressed by the diverse subject matter and the fluidity of all three sonnets.

      • Peter Hartley

        Bethany – Thank you for your kind remark. The diversity, however was down to Evan as my original contribution was of four poems: three bog-men and a ditch-dog .I think you may well detect a leitmotiv here, “Ditch-dog” being a rarely usedShakespearean coinage for a dog in a ditch.

    • Peter Hartley

      Joe – I’m very glad you liked them. In a necrophiliac spree I wrote poems about three bog-men, the other two being Lindow Man and Tollund Man. Two of these corpses are Danish but the other (Lindow Man) was found thirty years ago not very far from where I live in the Cheshire peat and is the best preserved bog-man in Britain. But I don’t live in the Cheshire peat.

  4. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Peter, what a treat to see a trio of your sonnets after emerging from the Texas freeze. They are all beautifully crafted and thought-provoking, as ever. All three seem to touch upon the fragility and cruelty of life. Your admirable ability to paint a picture with words offers this reader an almost tangible insight into the plights of these poor souls.

    My heart bleeds for those “three dogs whose ears/Had crudely been cut off”. ” His kennel-mate would lean daylong/Against him, keep him upright in the frost” adds to the poignancy of the closing couplet, which, I will confess brought tears to my eyes.

    For me, “Some Fifty Years Have Passed” is quite haunting. The eerie images and clever allusions are highly effective. They have me lamenting the goat’s decision not to chew through the rope… even those Uzbekistan dogs had the companionship and warmth of one another, in spite of their dire circumstances. I adore goats… poor soul. You find rum old stuff on those Scottish moors.

    “Grauballe Man”, in its vivid portrayal and raw contemplation (I love the Hamlet pondering of the genius closing line) has made me very glad to be alive.

    Thank you very much, Peter. Your poems are always a pleasure to read.

    • Peter Hartley

      Susan – Thank you, enormously as ever, for your detailed appraisal of my poetry, and CONGRATULATIONS on winning the Poet of the Year Competition; no surprise to anybody, I’m sure, on grounds of both the very high quality of your poetry and your very great prolificacy.

      Ten year ago I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw that dog acting as a crutch for the other in Uzbekistan. The intelligence really was almost beyond belief, especially as I was given to understand the supporting dog was entirely self-taught in this altruistic behaviour.

      These bog-men are even more fascinating though, and they demonstrate a huge irony that we also witness in ancient Egypt, where efforts to preserve bodies by hooking their brains out through their nostrils and stuffing their slippery bits in canopic jars and slathering them with natron and all kinds of spices and preservatives has actually been counter-productive when we find the bodies of any old dingbats just buried in the sand are better preserved than the pharaohs on whom so much post-mortem attention was lavished. The same in the UK where an accident of (poor impecunious or criminal) alkaline bodies fusing with acidic peat make a saponification product that has a tendency to resist further decay. And look at Evan’s picture of Grauballe Man today. The most supremely attractive man any woman could ever hope to meet, and bearing such a beguiling smile even today despite having had his throat cut from ear to ear.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Peter, thank you very much for your kind congratulations. It’s poets like you who inspire and propel me forward. The delicious “saponification” has enthralled me and I may well employ its sibilant sorcery in the future. As for ‘Grauballe Man’ ~ your comments have added a hint of ginger gorgeousness to his horrific plight and I’m looking at him from an entirely new angle. He brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “ear to ear smile” and I’m embracing it with gusto.

      • Peter Hartley

        Susan – And thank YOU for a constant flow of highly inspirational poetry that just gets better and better

  5. Jeff Eardley

    Peter, looking at the image of Grauballe Man, apparently he is over 2300 years old. He looks remarkably well preserved. With all his hair intact, I reckon he’s not a day older than 1900 years.
    I hope you don’t mind me passing these onto all my friends. These are very special and thought provoking poems. Thank you again.

    • Peter Hartley

      Jeff – there seem to be an unseemly preponderance of red-heads among British and Danish bog-men that you would expect more among natural redheads like the Scots, but I believe it is the reddish tannin in the peat that does it over the centuries. It was a great surprise to me to learn that Grauballe Man is not as old as he looks until I realised he dyed his hair.

    • Peter Hartley

      Jeff – If you could see him in the Moesgard Museum in Aarhus you would wonder how on earth he could keep smiling wearing that ridiculous wig

      • Jeff Eardley

        Peter, I wonder if you’ve ever heard “The Frozen Man” by songwriter James Taylor? The lyrics to this are good, but not a patch on yours.
        I love how Grauballe Man has sparked so much interest. Just shows what a great poem it is.

      • Peter Hartley

        Jeff – no I haven’t, but I have been to the Lady Lever Art Gallery once or twice specifically to see the Scapegoat. Thank you for the compliment about Grauballe Man.

    • Peter Hartley

      Cynthia – my attitude towards Grauballe `Man was quite restrained until I saw him in the flesh in the Moesgard Museum in Arhus, but I can see where you’re coming from, and he does have a certain charm that comes with age. It was that almost secretive smile, I think, that did it for me. Many thanks for the kind remark.

  6. Christopher Flint

    The Graubelle Man is very powerful, but I suspect many would have trouble tracking the first six lines. The punctuation, the distance of “who” from its antecedent, and the abruptness of “peat” coming in to play could cause such difficulty.

    If you’re ever inclined to go back and retool it, I would suggest examining something more like the following:

    He lies exposed in glass transparent case
    Exactly as in peat three hundred years
    Before our Christ was born.
    Between his ears,
    Torn open with a savage force, his face,
    Long blackened in the bed of his disgrace
    by rite or battle fate, betrays his fears.
    Behind those narrow eyelid slits he peers
    Uncomprehendingly to outer space.

    This makes the redundant “to view” implicit, makes the punctuation more conventional, introduces “peat” earlier, and eliminates “who”.

    Just thought for whatever it might be worth. I enjoy your work.

    • Petr Hartley

      Christopher – Thank you for taking the trouble over these suggested improvements which I shall certainly peruse with care. Sometimes I think I may be too concerned with the flow of a poem and not quite enough with the syntax. Thank you for your final sentence.

  7. Margaret Coats

    Peter, this is certainly a cairn of wintry sonnets, even without the full complement of bog-men from your necrophiliac spree. Like Joe Tessitore and Bethany Mootsey, I find the final couplet of “Grauballe Man” extraordinary. It crowns the unusual feature of a sestet of rhyming couplets, which is quite a formal surprise following the regular Petrarchan octave. An interesting variety of three rhyme schemes, in which you flaunt your Englishness by always insisting on the Shakespearean rhyming couplet at the end of each.

  8. Peter Hartley

    Thank you, Margaret, for the wisdom of your remarks which I always have the greatest respect for, though I may then do otherwise. I decided right at the beginning of my sonneteering career on attempting to draw the finest points from the Italian sonnet and the Shakespearean to form a hybrid of the two. The Petrarchan octet I prefer to the Shakespearean because it presents more of a challenge in English (though not in Italian of course) since we dropped the neutral vowel sounds and unaccented syllables off the ends of the words we use in Chaucer’s verse. And yes, in “flaunting my Englishness” I am flouting convention. G M Hopkins always used the Italian octet and, as far as I know, I don’t think he ever finished with a rhyming couplet. But I like this feature of Shakespeare’s on æsthetic grounds, for the opportunity it gives to advance or develop the theme, and for the rigour it imposes on construction. I suppose that I don’t want to try to ape too closely the poetry of those I admire. Few of us in SCP today try to get away with the kind of end rhymes we find in Keats and I think that is a good thing, though I still admire Keats.

  9. James A. Tweedie


    Here I am, late as always with a comment.

    I’ve always felt that strict form is a starting point for creative expression. In music, the sonata form was, for a time, adhered to with some precision. Haydn, Clementi, and Scarlatti, for example, generally repeated the opening section verbatim, saving their creativity for the development and and recapitulation where key changes were involved. Mozart and Beethoven, however, felt free to reinvent the Sonata form, breaking rules that had once been seemingly set in stone. Even so, what they called sonatas were (and are) still recognizable as being a sonatas.

    The parallel with the sonnet form should be obvious. Spencer adapted the form to his own liking as did Shakespeare and those who took the Italian form and adapted it to English. Milton, Pope and those that came after added their own twists but all of these variations are still recognizable as being sonnets.

    Sonnets written tetrameter or consisting of seven consecutive couplets would still be sonnets.

    I like what you have done in choosing your own “hybrid” sonnet form and sticking to it as directed by your own muse. In my own sonnets I mix and match various forms constantly, sometimes to good effect and sometimes with less success!

    Like you, I prefer a couplet as an exclamatory denouement.

    There is a point at which a sonnet form could be stretched to the point where it is no longer recognizable as a sonnet. I have written 20-line sonnets that some might not consider as being sonnets at all, but forms were created to effect and focus creative expression in certain ways–each form serving certain subjects more successfully than others.

    So, Peter, keep it up! Whatever you are doing seems to be working for you as well as for those of us who read and appreciate both what you have to say and how you say it!

    • C.B. Anderson

      I completely agree, James, with your thoughts on hybridization. I’ve done the same on many an occasion. I’ve even invented what I sometimes immodestly refer to as an Andersonian sonnet, with a rhyme scheme that goes: ABA CBDCEDFE GFG. “United They Fall” in this post is an example:


      The overarching principles are: improvise, re-invent, hybridize and appropriate at will.

      • Peter Hartley

        CBA – while I agree with everything you say above I’m afraid your “overarching principles” are totally at variance with what you think does or doesn’t constitute a clerihew (qv) and yet surely their comic nature should grant us even more, not less, latitude in their construction

      • C.B. Anderson

        Already, Peter, there are three kinds of sonnets named for their primal practitioners (Petrarch, Shakespeare & Spencer), and so, if they are somehow blended, we call them hybrids. But there is only one inventor of the clerihew — hybrids, therefore, are not possible. A poem is either a clerihew or it is not one. If it is not one, then it should be called something else. My “overarching principles” were intended to apply to sonnets alone, for there is a rich history of experimentation with this form already in place. Just imagine calling something terza rima that did not have that third rhyme. I can scarcely believe that you are still dwelling on some comments made in that long-ago post. But, yet, I can believe that. I sometimes worry bones that were buried many years ago.

  10. Joseph S. Salemi

    Concerning line six of “Grauballe Man”: the general opinion of archaeologists is that bog-men are disgraced persons who committed some heinous act, and who were executed by strangulation or by blows before being submerged into the swamp. Warriors killed in battle were held in high honor, and would never have wound up in the bog.

    • Peter Hartley

      I have read something similar to what you have written myself. But I also know that there must be countlesspossible scenarios where a warrior has disgraced himself in battle. I wrote in my poem that he might have died in battle. He might have died in battle in a very unheroic manner. He may have been executed for cowardice, he may have been executed for changing sides, for perhaps accidentally splitting his chief officer’s occipito-parietal sutures apart with a 25lb battle-axe. In the U.K. and in Denmark the period in question was prehistoric, so by definition there is nothing we can read about it. Most of what we learn from grave-sites like these is from the objects buried with the deceased, and in the case of all three that I have read about and two of which I have seen, there was virtually nothing in these graves to give any idea of the circumstances surrounding their deaths. Yes, if their throats have been slashed from ear to ear we can have a good guess at HOW these people have died but that doesn’t tell us WHY they died. How do you know that a warrior would NEVER have wound up in a bog???

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        I don’t know for sure — I just know what the archaeologists say. In any case, you have poetic license to create whatever hypothetical scenario you choose for your poem. That’s what fictive mimesis is all about.

    • Peter Hartley

      James, thank you for that ringing endorsement for my adaptation of the sonnet form. Even G M Hopkins, who wrote some of the most perfect Petrarchan sonnets fiddled around a bit with the so-called curtal sonnet and I suppose we all like to do something different from everybody else now and again as long as it does follow some rules and isn’t just lawless. Handel was well known for cannibalising his own works so that extensive excerpts from his own operas and oratorios might appear several months after one performance in a totally different production, but he wouldn’t have been too happy if someone else had done it for him. With the Shakespearean sonnet I am rather fond of the thought change or slight development in the couplet at the end but there seems no earthly reason why we should not do the same with an Italian sonnet, or indeed why we shouldn’t put a thought change between the sestet and the octet of any sonnet.

    • Peter Hartley

      Joe S – Might I refer you to your own comment regarding fictive mimesis above.

    • Peter Hartley

      CBA – Allow me to be the second inventor of the clerihew, and if it will give it more credence we’ll call it the Hartley clerihew to go alongside the Andersonian sonnet. One in twenty-fiveof my clerihews have been known to have as many as five lines:
      Thought it quite a droll wheeze
      To leap into Etna’s crater.
      Still missing three thousand years later,
      Beginning to invoke a sense of unease.
      I do not and have never “dwelled” on your comments. That implies a continuous action, but I must say that if you do by any chance glance over what you wrote then you will note a remarkable volt-face. As far as I know, by the way, Spencer [sic] hasn’t written any sonnets, Spenserian or otherwise.

      • Peter Hartley

        And before I am pulled up over the “volt-face” (sp) I’m afraid I was suffering from hyphen problems

      • C.B. Anderson

        I do so allow you that license, just so long as you make it explicit. And I apologize for confusing the spelling of the poet’s surname with the surname of a fictional detective popularized in a series of novels by Robert B. Parker. Or perhaps the author himself was confused about this matter.

      • Peter Hartley

        CBA – Though I doubt if my thirty-one line couplet is ever going to take off, with or without the traditional mouth organ accompaniment

  11. Christopher Flint

    Peter —

    The following clearly supports your two possible death causes. It is from the http://www.ancient-origins site in an article about the Graubelle Man.

    “The first theory argues that the man was a criminal who paid for his crimes with his life. According to the contemporary Roman historian Tacitus, the tribes of the north were very strict and routinely put to death violators of the law. The smooth hands could support this theory as in ‘he never worked an honest day in his life’. The northern tribes also engaged in frequent warfare amongst themselves, leading to another theory that the Grauballe man was a prisoner of war (such men were also routinely killed).”

    As you have said, there appears to be no direct evidence to solve the WHY killed question. The theories emanate from accounts of local customs. The WHY buried in the bog question has no answers either, but it sounds like a convenient, expeditious way to get rid of an unwanted POW corpse.

    • Peter Hartley

      Christopher – Thank you very much for this information about exactly how Grauballe Man may have ended up in his unfortunate position. I would prefer to think that he deserved it.

  12. David Watt

    Peter, I think you have a knack for exploring the various life and death circumstances of man and beast. I remember reading “A Winter in Uzbekistan” in 2019 along with two similarly descriptive pieces. The impact was equally as great with this reading.
    The imagery in “Grauballe Man” is particularly vivid and effective.

    • Peter Hartley

      David – Thank you for your comment about Grauballe Man, and I’m sorry that Uzbekistan has appeared already on this page, especially when I have so many miserable poems here to choose from. And it is kind of you to tell me the poem has still not lost its impact. I went to see Grauballe Man a few times in Denmark and it used to occur to me to wonder what he was thinking of all his visitors peering at him, and the couplet at the end of Lindow Man reads: “If only he could keep a quiet grave / Our reverential awe he’d gladly waive.”

      • David Watt

        Hello Peter, it was actually a pleasant surprise to re-read Uzbekistan because it such an affecting poem. No apologies are required.

        Grauballe Man would never in his wildest dreams have expected to gain fame as an exhibit in a glass case.

        I look forward to more of your poems.

      • Peter Hartley

        David – And I shall be only too happy to oblige. Thank you for salving my conscience over Uzbekistan. In a way those three dogs made a bigger, more memorable impression on me than all the Moorish art I saw between Urgench and Samarkand. It did slightly allay my fears of maltreatment to see that they were, if anything, overweight, and they were happy to greet us with five legs between them.

  13. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Peter, thank you for drawing my attention to Grauballe Man. I have always loved Seamus Heaney’s “Digging” and I’ve now found this:

    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.

    It’s brought an extra dimension to your wonderful words and I’m grateful for the literary legacy of Grauballe Man.

    • Peter Hartley

      Susan – Many thanks for the info and thank you for transcribing such a ginormous chunk. And of course he puts my own descriptive powers at nought (but is the “cold as a swan’s foot” a bit improbable for a simile?)

  14. Peter Hartley

    Mike – Thank you for that. I should have pointed out, btw, in an adjacent post, that far from weeping, as Heaney describes our bog-man, to me it looked as though Grauballe Man was laughing his socks off.


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