Death Of A Naturalist

This sample of an academic paper on Death Of A Naturalist reveals arguments and important aspects of this topic. Read this essay’s introduction, body paragraphs and the conclusion below.

‘Death of a Naturalist’ is Heaney’s recollection with a certain branch of nature, as a child. As the title implies it the death of a naturalist, the death of his interest in nature and the death of his childhood innocence, and thus a movement into adulthood. Heaney introduces us, firstly, to his world – a pond surrounded by rotting vegetation – ‘in the heart / Of the townland’.

The air is rank with the smell of decay and the ‘festering’ flax-dam. It is where he is comfortable, among nature at its worse, or arguably most glorious: with the rotting vegetation, the insects murmuring overhead and ‘best of all’ the frogspawn.

Inside this world the child is a naturalist in two senses – he is in tune with nature and he is not yet tied down or bent by society, ‘as it should be’.

His delight while playing with the frogspawn is obvious, and he doesn’t mince his words when describing all his wonders at the flax-dam – ‘huge sods’, ‘warm thick slobber’, ‘flax had rotted’ – because it was what the child valued about that place, he is happy to meet nature in all its unpleasantness. It later becomes apparent how the child’s interest was generated, from his school teacher Miss Walls, and he repeats self-importantly what Miss Walls has told them,


‘ . . . Miss Walls would tell us how The daddy frog was called a bullfrog And how he croaked and how the mammy frog Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was Frogspawn. You could tell the weather by frogs too For they were yellow in the sun and brown In rain.’ Some of it is useful, but most it useless, but nonetheless classic child information, which accentuates just how much of a protected world he lives in.

In stanza two it is possible to tell right away that something is about to happen by the first line, ‘Then one hot day’, which changes the atmosphere of the poem to one of expectation. The first words to signify an attack are ‘the angry frogs / Invaded the flax-dam’. He thinks that the frogs are angry because he has stolen their eggs and so interprets the frog’s actions of that of a hostile attack. So the imagery described by the child supports the feeling that an attack is imminent – ‘coarse croaking that I had not heard / Before’, ‘gross-bellied frogs were cocked’, ‘their loose necks pulsed like sails’ and ‘Poised like mud grenades’. However the reader should know that it is an innocent situation, that frogs return to the same water every year.

The child feels sickened by the images and so comes the shortest sentence ‘I sickened, turned, and ran.’ The child experiences new feelings, in contrast to the first stanza where the flax-dam was a comfort it now fills the child with terror at this side of nature. Then the child flees from the nightmarish visions he has conjured up: ‘ . . . The great slime kings Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.’ The child has to deal with these new emotions, the most immediate one being fear, and finds the urge to run. It is a new world for him, unknown, and he is no longer protected from it.

In this poem Heaney has four different angles at which the poem is put together: adult Heaney as a realist, nature’s lessons, his childhood perspective and stripping everything to down to basics. He uses these to give the poem different insights to look from and write from, establishing Heaney’s unique style. Throughout the poem Heaney plays with the poetic techniques, changing metre, rhythm, alliteration, assonance and onomatopoeia. He does not, however use very many poetic words, preferring to use words that are close to speech. When Heaney does use poetic words sometimes there is a double meaning e.g. ‘obscene threats’ – filthy and also there is a thrill. As well Heaney uses scatological words like ‘slap’ and ‘plop’ and basic language to shock the reader, and further the repulsive image of this nature.

Like his technique Heaney chooses to show us what is usually overlooked in nature – the decay and rotting; the crueller side of nature, not the reproduction, (even the child’s repeated words from Miss Walls there is no reproduction mentioned) ‘The daddy frog was called a bullfrog . . . the mammy frog Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was Frogspawn.’ Heaney’s nature in the first stanza is vile, and in the second stanza is frightening. The child realises over the stanza break there comes a change of nature, and so a change in the child’s nature. This idea of reversal is evident all through the poem, e.g. the irony that the child’s realisation comes from what we know and Heaney knows as a harmless situation, and not from the repulsive condition of the flax-dam and the rotting foliage. Also in the first stanza adult Heaney only realises the decay and foulness

‘All year the flax-dam festered . . .Flax had rotted there’  While the child only realises the wonders ‘But best of all was the warm thick slobber Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water In the shade of the banks. Then in the next stanza it is the other way around: adult Heaney recognises that the frogs are just returning to water i.e. nature is all right, while the child is petrified thinking that the frogs have come for revenge i.e. nature is horrible. Another example is that the first line is written in iambic pentameters and the next written in trochaic, reversal again, and also slowing the poem down.

More evidence of Heaney slowing the poem is the extra syllable added on to lines 3-5, as it is adult Heaney describing the state of the flax-dam. Then that extra syllable is dropped, and at line 7 the words become more singsong, monosyllabic and simple as the child takes over. Then from lines 14-21 the rhythm gets faster as the child becomes more excited, and at the end of line 14 the hyphen there between nimble and swimming makes the eyes dart down, like how the tadpoles would move about.

In ‘Death of a Naturalist’ Heaney uses many different ways of trying to develop sounds and images. In the first stanza Heaney uses subtle ‘fff’ alliteration to create the sound of the bubbles mentioned in line 5, when things decay. The symbol of the bluebottle, which eats by vomiting over it’s food, and which lay eggs which hatch into maggots as another image of the nauseating side of nature. The word ‘gauze’ is a bandage, and so Heaney is saying that the flax-dam is the sore/wound of the town.

Then in the second stanza the ‘sss’ alliteration creates a growing whispering ‘their loose necks pulsed like sails’, which fades out as the boy runs away. I think that Heaney is trying to show that nature is a force beyond reckoning, and can surprise and shock. That it can be cruel and sordid, and that it can turn on you. He looks beyond the beauty, finds and digs up what we least want to see. He refuses to be moulded into an everyday poet, by manipulating poetic techniques, rules and words and by shocking the reader. He sees things at their most basic, what lies beneath; like that Heaney is a realist.

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Death Of A Naturalist. (2019, Dec 06). Retrieved from

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