Responses to Death of a Naturalist

Andrew reads Seamus Heaney’s The Death of a Naturalist and then gives his response to the poem.

The poem starts off by portraying the delight found by children in nature, in things that would seem almost disgusting to us as we grow older: “But best of all was the warm thick slobber of frogspawn.” It shows our naïve pleasure in things we later learn or are told are wrong. It also portrays the way in which, as children, we learn and grow through experience to discover that not all things in life are good/or safe and that the truth is often harsh and not what we want. This is clearly illustrated in the second stanza through Heaney’s use of harsh sounding syllables and words that inspire repulsion, “their loose necks pulsed like snails.”

This response is from Pippa.

I really enjoyed Seamus Heaney’s Death of a Naturalist because of the tone and mood created in the contrasting stanzas. In stanza one Heaney depicts with great enthusiasm a young boy collecting frogspawn. His odd mixture of descriptive words gives the first stanza a refreshing touch. The usually unpleasant words such as “festered” and “gargled” in this stanza add a lighter feel to the poem. Heaney vividly depicts the wildlife in and around the flax-dam but his delight is obvious when he writes about the frogspawn. I like how his infectious enthusiasm for the collection of the frogspawn comes out in the first stanza – drawing the reader in. I also like how he gets the reader to use their own memories when he writes about his teacher Miss Walls telling them “how the daddy frog croaked and the mammy frog laid hundreds of little eggs.” The use of “mammy” and “daddy” help to bring the readers into their own childhood memories.

The change in tone within the second stanza truly shows his revulsion. I like how he used the war-like imagery, using descriptive words such as “mud grenade” and “vengeance”. This made me see how he felt that he was at war with the frogs and how they had invaded his territory. His use of harsh sounds and his sense of guilt, draws on the readers own memories when as a child they feel like they have been unfairly wronged. Heaney’s description and imagery in the second stanza is much harsher than the first but it helped me understand how he felt that day and of his ‘death’ as a naturalist.

Death of a Naturalist

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In class we discussed the poem Death of a Naturalist by Seamus Heaney. The poem is one of Heaney’s most acclaimed poems and as we discussed it is similar to Blackberry Picking in its subject and structure. In Death of a Naturalist 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.

Death of a Naturalist, is about a young boy collecting frogspawn from a flax-dam. The poet remembers everything he used to see and feel at these times. The poem has a fairly simple structure. In the first stanza, Heaney describes how the frogs would spawn and how his teacher encouraged his childish interest in the process. In the second stanza, 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 overwhelming fear that, if he puts his hand into the spawn again, he will be attacked by the frogs. His interest in nature has gone – this is the death of a naturalist suggested in the poem’s title.

The poem makes extensive use of onomatopoeia, “The slap and plop were obscene threats”, alliteration, “jampotfuls of the jellied specks” and a simile that compares the behaviour of the frogs to warfare, “Some sat poised like mud grenades”. The poem is about a coming of age, which I feel that we have discussed in detail.