Death of a Naturalist

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Death of a Naturalist
by Seamus Heaney
F/H
The poem
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Themes/ideas
Nature
Growing up
Military imagery
First person
monologue
F/H
Key Terms:
Onomatopoeia
Personification
Simile
Metaphor
Blank Verse
Death of a Naturalist
Two stanzas
break this blankverse poem up.
Read the poem
and suggest
reasons for the
change of
stanza
5
10
15
20
Heaney explains
a change in his
attitude to the
natural world, a
sort of before
and after
25
30
All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragon-flies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
Specks to range on window-sills at home,
On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst into nimbleSwimming tadpoles. 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.
Positive
Adventurous
Full of
wonder
Then one hot day when fields were rank
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked
On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat
Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
Were gathered there for vengeance and IF/H
knew
That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.
Negative
Frightened
Full of
disgust
‘flax-dam’. A flax
dam is a pool
where bundles of
flax are placed for
about three
weeks to soften
the stems
Flax is an annual
plant (it grows
from seed) some
one to two feet
high, with blue
flowers
All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragon-flies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
Specks to range on window-sills at home,
On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst into nimbleSwimming tadpoles. 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.
The second stanza is full of negative
natural imagery as he describes his
horror at a near Biblical plague plague of
frogs who, he thinks, want revenge for
the stolen frogspawn
Death of a
Naturalist
Heaney describes the simple joy of
finding frogspawn as a child in a poem
full of natural imagery both positive and
negative.
He talks of his teacher’s
encouragement and of the volume of
frogspawn he’d collect.
Then one hot day when fields were rank
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked
On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat
Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
F/HWere gathered there for vengeance and I knew
That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.
Death of a Naturalist
A metaphorical
death of a
metaphorical
naturalist.
5
A naturalist is a
natural scientist
(like David
Attenborough)
not a little boy.
10
The death is the
enthusiasm he
had for nature
and the naturalist
15
he may have
become.
It’s a joke (of
sorts)
20
What is a naturalist? In what
sense is one dead?
All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragon-flies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
Specks to range on window-sills at home,
On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst into nimbleSwimming tadpoles. 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
F/Hsun and brown
In rain.
The stanza is about
childish glee over
frogspawn. How is
it positive?
Does the child
Heaney revel in the 5
disgusting parts of
nature?
His childish curiosity
making him blind to10
the horrible smells
and sights.
15
20
All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragon-flies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
Specks to range on window-sills at home,
On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst into nimbleSwimming tadpoles. 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.
F/H
The stanza is about
childish glee. Why
all the negatives?
He does this every
year. What does this
tell us about the
speaker
He is comfortable in
his routine and these
sights and sounds
are familiar to him,
not disgusting
Childish
word/phrase
What makes us
think this is a child?
He goes to
school
5
Does he really
believe this
was a useful
tool for ‘telling’
the weather?
10
15
20
All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragon-flies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
Specks to range on window-sills at home,
On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst into nimbleSwimming tadpoles. 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.
F/H
We are presented
with images that
older people would
find unpleasant but
here Heaney
seems to enjoy
them
Clear change of
voice from more
sophisticated
language to that of
a child suggesting
Heaney is reliving
his memories
What is the tone, mood of this stanza? How should it be read?
Describing, in
detail, the
frogspawn
becoming tadpoles
5
suggests his
wonder at the
experience
10
Think of Digging, is
Heaney using his
pen to re-live parts 15
of his, presumably
happy, childhood?
20
All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragon-flies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
Specks to range on window-sills at home,
On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst into nimbleSwimming tadpoles. 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.
F/H
This stanza is very
descriptive, the
poet wants you to
see and feel
(share) in his
childish joy
Could this suggest
the explosive
excitement he feels
each time he sees
this happen
We have moved forward from
spring to a ‘hot’ possibly summer’s
day.
The mood is very
different to the
first stanza.
25
Look at the
language used
30
Is this the same summer or is he
older?
Is this the end of part of his
childhood?
Then one hot day when fields were rank
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked
On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat
Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew
That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.
The familiar,
friendly,
comfortable
childhood
routine has
become a
nightmare
Heaney imagines the frogs have gathered to claim revenge
on him for stealing the frogspawn (their young) and if he tries
to take more it would grip his hand
F/H
In the first
stanza Heaney
impresses
upon the
reader the
images of his
idyllic summer
Heaney uses
onomatopoeia
to give the
reader a real
sense of the
horror he felt.
He attempts to
immerse the
reader in the
sounds.
The frogs were personified as ‘mammy’ and ‘daddy’ by the
teacher and the young Heaney continues this theme.
They’re ‘angry’ ‘kings’ who are gathered for ‘vengeance’
25
30
Then one hot day when fields were rank
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked
On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat
Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew
That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.
The fear and discomfort may also come from this unusual
invasion of a regular childhood haunt; could he be indignant
F/H used to?
at the intrusion of a ‘nature’ he is not
Military
imagery is
used to
evoke a
feeling of fear
in the reader
but also to
suggest the
young
Heaney’s
fear
The moment that the
“Death of a
Naturalist” occured
Comparisons
Sonnet: Clare
What themes/ideas and
structural points could lead
to comparison?
The field mouse
A Difficult Birth
The Eagle
Death of a Naturalist
Patroling Barnegat
Catrin
F/H
Comparisons
• Sonnet (Clare) – This poem shares the childish delight
that is seen in nature in the first part of ‘D of a N’, but in
Clare’s poem, this in not misplaced.
• Patrolling Barnegat – The power of nature comes
across very clearly in this poem by Whitman and it would
also link to another Heaney poem – ‘Storm on the
Island’.
• The Field Mouse – Clarke’s poem involves the children
coming to understand the violent side to the natural
world and there is an even clearer link to the world
beyond.
F/H
Review
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How would you react (as a young adult or as a child) to the sight of a horde
of frogs invading a familiar place?
How far does this poem tell the truth about frogs and how far does it tell the
reader about the power of imagination?
Is this poem comic, serious or both? How should it be read? Amused,
horrified, embarrassed? Find quotations for each interpretation.
Heaney describes the frogs' heads as “farting”. As a boy he might have said
this word to friends, but would not repeat it at home or write it in school work.
How does it work in the poem?
Is it a good idea for teachers of the young to explain how animals live by
describing them in human terms, like “mammy” (mum or mummy) and
“daddy”?
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? 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. What
else suggests this?
F/H
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