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Death Of A Naturalist

Seamus Heaney

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2004-09-25
Added by: TC
Big thank you to Andrew and Ben for the analysis of this poem, I am studying it for an GCSE english oral presentation at school and your comments have enlightened me and given me plenty of fantastic ideas! It's really helpful to me as I could understand the growing-up theme but had missed lots of important points.
I don't agree with what Michael said, but i can understand why he said it - he's just speaking the mind of probably hundreds, thousands of other teenage boys at school, puzzling over poems they have to study for their GCSE's. A lot of my friends think like that, so i understand, but it was pretty stupid to write it cus it angers a lot of other people who think very highly of Seamus Heaney and his works! I doubt he meant to be so rude, though.
Cheers again for the analysis guys! x
Thx Andrew :)
2004-12-03
Added by: Kate
Hey everyone. Before i start i just want to say thanks to Andrew who has made me appreciate and enjoy this poem so much more as i had done previously. I'm doing it at GCSE and our teacher has never told us it's about his childhood but simply about his love for nature and how it went as he moved to the city then writing the poem brought it all back to him. I don't know if that's right maybe that's his interpretation of it. Well basically thanks Andrew because i found it pretty difficult to comprehend with some of the gross imagery. However, now i can see the poem for what it is and what Heaney is trying to portray.
2004-12-09
Added by: Kanda Ahmed
Poetry is another way of conveying meaning to life and it contents. Poetry isnt about using using fancy words or being able to rhyme. Its about finiding away of conveying your views and thoughts in different forms. Heaney does that excellenty he uses whats familiar to him, he has obviousl planned every word from scratch. If any one can challenge him and beat his aspects of poetry then i suggest you prove your point and then critise tha man. I my self am a spiritual person who has deep thooughts and believ that life is ever chanigng. Heaney is finding ways of doing so in his own world but stil he is progressing with the meaning of life.
thank you for the analysis
2005-01-15
Added by: kaka.
As many of the others have done, I would like to express my thanx to Andrew, since the analysis work that he posted, are really helpful!

I am an Univeristy student majroing in English. Although I am not a native English speaker, I still put up with the challenge of taking English as my major. Since, I love Poetry. It is a great form of art where people can convey their ideas and feelings. This piece of art is incomparable to any other art. Since you cannot really find anything that could help you to express your feelings and ideas more perfectly, than poetry. SO I really hope Michael, will someday realise this passion. Or maybe Seamus Heaney just wasn't the poet who can inspired him. But there are lots and lots of other great poet out there, which I am sure there will finally be some poet who will lightened Michael's thought.
comparing death of a naturalist(seamus heaney)to i
2005-04-10
Added by: shali
One of the poems I have chosen is called ‘Death of a Naturalist’. Seamus Heaney wrote this poem. Heaney was born in County Derry in 1939. He spent life growing up on his father’s fifty-acre farm. Early memories of farm life gave Heaney much to write about when he was an adult. Heaney has lived in Dublin since 1976. In 1995 he received the Nobel Prize in Literature. The other poem I have chosen to write about is called ‘In Miss Tilscher’s Class’. Carol Ann Duffy wrote this poem. She had her first work published when she was just sixteen. She went on to write a number of widely praised poetry collections for adults. Her mother and grandparents were originally from Ireland but she was brought up in Scotland. She uses places, names and memories from her childhood in Scotland to illustrate her poems.

From the title ‘Death of a Naturalist’ we would immediately assume it would be about someone with scientific knowledge of nature or has something to do with death. However the poem is about the young Seamus Heaney’s attitude to nature and how it changed as he grew up. From the title ‘In Miss Tilscher’s Class’, Miss Tilscher is a real person, who taught Carol Ann Duffy in her last year at junior school.

The structure of ‘Death of a Naturalist’ is set out in two sections of unrhymed iambic pentameter lines. The poem has a fairly simple structure. In the first section, Heaney describes how the frogs would lay eggs and the way he collected 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 and to punish him for stealing the spawn. ‘In Miss Tilscher’s Class’ has a usual structure: two stanzas of eight lines and two of seven lines, usually in unrhymed pentameters. Similar to Heaney’s poem, there is a very effective contrast between the first half of the poem and the last two stanzas, as one moves from a secure childhood to dangerous growing up. Both these poems have a noticeable contrast between two sections; I think it works well because they are trying to establish that time is passing.

There is no rhyme in the poem ‘Death of a Naturalist’, however the lines are set with an iambic pentameter rhythm. However in the poem ‘In Miss Tilscher’s Class’ there is no definite rhythm but there seems to be an occasional rhyme.
In the first section of ‘Death of a Naturalist’, the poet notes the nature and wildlife found in the flax-dam, but can handle this familiar scene of things rotting and spawn hatching. Perhaps, as an interested child he felt some satisfaction in not being particular - he thinks of the bubbles from the process as gargling “delicately”. He is confident in taking the frogspawn - he does it every year, and watches the “jellied specks” become “fattening dots” then turn into tadpoles. He has an interest in frogs and knows the proper names - “bullfrog” and “frogspawn” - rather than the teacher's talk of the “daddy” and “mammy” frogs. He also likes the idea of forecasting the weather with the spawn. The second section appears like a punishment from nature for the boy's actions - when he sees what nature is really like he is terrified. This part of the poem is ambiguous. We see horror when he sees the huge number of frogs; he uses words like “obscene” and “gathered...for vengeance”. The young Heaney was used to seeing nature close up, from life on the farm he uses his memories to depict the scene but from a young boy’s point of view. The arrival of the frogs is portrayed as military invasion - they are “angry” and invade the dam; the boy ducks “through hedges” to hide from the enemy. The frogs are illustrated as weapons, they are “cocked”, or they are “poised like mud grenades”. Heaney uses disgusting descriptions to illustrate the riot: “gross-bellied”, “slap and plop”, “obscene threats”, “farting” and “slime kings”. This is how a young boy would interpret the setting. Heaney uses onomatopoeia is used very lavishly in this poem - and many of the sounds are very indelicate: “gargled”, “slap and plop” and “farting”. The vividness of his descriptions is achieved through Heaney’s use of images load with words that lengthen the vowels and have a weightiness in their consonants; “green and heavy-headed Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.”
The sound of the insects which, “Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell” is conveyed by the ‘s’ and ‘z’ sounds.
The first stanza of In Miss Tilscher’s Class has no real hint of the turmoil that is to come: Duffy shows us a typical day in Miss Tilscher's class. While the children trace the route with their fingers on a map, the teacher tells them the names of places on the Blue Nile. After an hour comes playtime and a bottle of milk. Other images from school are the window-pole and the bell. "The laugh of a bell swung by a running child", personifiacation is used in this line when Duffy describes the bell as laughing. "Better than home" may mean that there was more to do than there would be at home and the bright colours would be more exciting than home decoration. Although Brady and Hindley ("Moors Murderers" in the 1960s) have become infamous for their child murders, in school any fears the children might have would disappear they would feel secure and safe. Duffy compares this fading of fear to the fading of a faint smudge where a child corrects a mistake written in pencil. The children think that their teacher loves them, and see a "good gold star" on their work as proof of this. In the first half of the poem there is no sense of time passing. This comes in the second half. The growth of the tadpoles is explained in terms of punctuation marks (similar to the way in which Seamus Heaney describes them). The action of the “dunce”, in letting the frogs out, hints at trouble to come, the children are amused, not concerned for the animals. But the real change is noticed from the comment made by "a rough boy" about “how you were born”. The young Carol Ann Duffy suspects truth in what the boy says and this is confirmed by Miss Tilscher's avoidance when she is asked about birth. "Feverish July” actually hints to us that it is the child, not the month, which is feverish in July however "feverish" can also be read as a metaphor for the heat and humidity of the month. The electrical storm, about to break, is felt as "a tangible alarm”. It makes the child feel uncomfortable and “fractious”. When the reports were handed out it was as if childhood had ended, as did their school year. The breaking thunderstorm is a metaphor for adolescence - a deluge of feelings, hormones and changed attitudes.
In conclusion I think that the descriptions from both Seamus Heaney and Carol Ann Duffy help depict what their poems are about. In Heaney’s we see how his attitude towards nature is change and in Duffy’s we see the change in her life from childhood to adolescence. Both poets use similar adjectives and images to portray aspects of their lives and I think they use memories from their childhood to express thoughts and feeling simply but very effectively.
2005-05-03
Added by: Saffron Farago
Excuse me, IPPUS, but who are you to go slagging off other people's opinions I.E. Michael Washington. Everybody's entitled to their own views, I say, so keep your big fat nose out of other peoples business you big control freak.
2005-05-14
Added by: Oliver
The title is actually a complex metaphor which also relates to Heaney's poem 'The Early Purges'. 'Death of a Naturalist' as a metaphor relates to 3 main points: abandoned ambition 'death' to become a natural scientist, Natural selection 'Darwinism' evolution/extinction (death) and Extenction-extermination (concentration camps) totalitarianism (nazism/stalinism) and The final 'solution'. Heaneys experiences in the poem make him give up his dream of being a naturalist, nature is 'red in tooth and claw'.
Ben's message
2005-05-16
Added by: Mary Nugent
Ben your comment on this poem was just copied from antoher website, advising GCSE students about the poem. I know because I printed that out, and when I read your, realiesed it was identical. What's the point of that?
The above notes
2005-05-22
Added by: Josh
What excellent notes! I never realised what an exciting poem this really is. It was a worthwhile supplement to my English teacher's rather monotonous and uninsightful dreary talks. Very useful!
2005-05-22
Added by: jane
i am studying many seamus heaney poems for GCSE and have found the comments made on the website very helpful. thank you! to the people critisising the poem, it is okay to make up your own mind about them but please consider the facts and really take the time to read the poems beofre you do so. you obviously care enough about the poems to read them on the website and then write about them.

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