Essay on Death of a Naturalist

Essay on Death of a Naturalist

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Death of a Naturalist

This poem is similar to Blackberry-Picking in its subject and
structure - here, too, Heaney explains a change in his attitude to the
natural world, in a poem that falls into two parts, a sort of before
and after. But here the experience is almost like a nightmare, as
Heaney witnesses a plague of frogs like something from the Old
Testament. You do not need to know what a flax-dam is to appreciate
the poem, as Heaney describes the features that are relevant to what
happened there - but you will find a note below. Click here to see
this explanation.

The poem's title is amusingly ironic - by a naturalist, we would
normally mean someone with expert scientific knowledge of living
things and ecology (what we once called natural history), someone like
David Attenborough, Diane Fossey (of Gorillas in the Mist fame) or
Steve Irwin (who handles dangerous snakes). The young Seamus Heaney
certainly was beginning to know nature from direct observation - but
this incident cut short the possible scientific career before it had
ever got started. We cannot imagine real naturalists being so
disgusted by a horde of croaking frogs.

The poem has a fairly simple structure. In the first section, Heaney
describes how the frogs would spawn in the lint hole, with a
digression into his collecting the spawn, and how his teacher
encouraged his childish interest in the process. In the second
section, Heaney records how one day he heard a strange noise and went
to investigate - and found that the frogs, in huge numbers, had taken
over the flax-dam, gathering for revenge on him (to punish his theft
of the spawn). He has an overwhelmi...


... middle of paper ...


...hers of the young to explain how animals
live by describing them in human terms, like "mammy" (mum or
mummy) and "daddy"?

* How well does this poem fit in with your ideas of what poetry
should normally be like?

* How truthful is the title? Did Heaney really lose his interest in,
and love of, nature. Or does the poem record only a dramatic
change of attitude, or something else? (Note, for example, that
the poem called Perch was published in 2001.)

* Does this poem have anything in common with other poems by Heaney?
How far does it fit into a pattern of poems that show him not to
be a real country person (like his father and grandfather) -
because he can't dig, he can't plough, he gets upset when the
blackberries start rotting and he is frightened by a lot of frogs?

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