Heaney, Death of a Naturalist - IOC points & analysis

Heaney, Death of a Naturalist - IOC points & analysis

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Death of a Naturalist Introduction The titular poem of Heaney’s first collection Death of a Naturalist embodies the ideas of growing up and a loss of innocence that the entire collection is concerned with. Similar to poems such as Mid-Term Break or Blackberry Picking the poem draws upon a specific memory in Heaney’s childhood. The poet uses the changes in the speaker’s attitude towards the natural world in order to convey the concerns of growing up and the loss of innocence. The death referred to in this poem is metaphorical and refers to the loss of innocent enthusiasm of a child as the realities of life begin to be sensed but not quite understood. A naturalist is, of course, someone who spends time enthusiastically studying nature. This poem is similar to Blackberry Picking, not only in subject but also in structure. This poem is set out in two stanzas of blank verse and Heaney explains a change in his attitude to the natural world. Point 1 – Young Heaney as a naturalist and avid observer of nature First four lines the speaker describes the physical landscape of Ireland. -

Flax-dam is rotting “Green” has connotations with sickness perhaps creating an ominous image of disease started by the rotting straw. First four lines allow the reader to anticipate the speaker’s later disillusionment with nature (point 3), while imagery shows Heaney as an avid observer of nature.

Wonderment of nature/beauty of natural landscape -

Bubbles starkly contrast the rotting straw (delicate nature of bubbles emphasised by plosives which mirror bubbles popping) Dragonflies and spotted butterflies show beauty of nature “warm thick slobber” of frogspawn is “best of all” yet the speakers fascination with it shows the observations are from a young boy (Heaney) who had been a naturalist who appreciated all facets of nature.

Observation of tadpoles illustrates Heaney’s fascination with nature as a child -

His innocence is emphasised by alliteration and assonance

Mrs Walls – assumed to be a teacher -

Constant reminder of child’s perspective Doesn’t focus on reproduction, he moves onto the weather

Point 2 – Intensity of traumatic experience The second stanza is shorter than the first and takes on a different tone. -

Shift is signaled by “Then” – also signifies that the loss of innocence is not gradual like Early Purges.


“course croaking” contributes to tone – guttural sound mimics sound of the frogs. Creates aggressive tone and disillusionment towards this aspect of nature. “Thick air” + “bass chorus” = unbearable for a child.

“obscene threats” + war imagery -

“invaded”, “mud grenades”, “cocked”, “sail”- armada Creates dissonance as descriptions are coming from a child who previously expressed such innocence. Traumatising incident has resulted in a loss of innocence.

“turns and runs” -

Evil image conjured up by “great slime kings” Sense of revulsion Feels powerless in presence of frogs Speaker’s fear intensified with the nightmarish image on the final line “clutching him” – as though this traumatising incident will forever hold a grip on him

Point 3 – Heaney’s disillusionment towards nature which comes with Heaney’s realisation that not everything in life is all as it seems. Looking back on the first stanza -

Disgust was always there, he never realised it Linked through “frogs on sods”

Contrast when frogs are described as “angry” and “invasive” -

Contrast with first stanza where he had looked up to/admired and enjoyed watching them Shows disillusionment

They no longer evoke the same sense of wonderment and fascination -

“nimble-swimming tadpoles”  “gross-bellied frogs”

Conclusion The poem recreates and examines an important moment in Heaney’s childhood life. Second poem of the collection and explains something that is learned/realised in the process of ageing. I beli