Commentary on "Death of a Naturalist"

Essay by SebiliyonHigh School, 11th gradeA, April 2004

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In the poem "Death of a Naturalist", Seamus Heaney seems to suggest that humanisation and simplification of essentially foreign and incomprehensible phenomena often occurs through education and authority. Through the dramatic contrast in tone and diction between the first and second stanzas, Heaney emphasizes how observations of the harsh reality and threat of natural hierarchies can shatter childlike naïveté and admiration for the apparent simplicity and ordered structure of nature. This notion is already implied in the title, "Death of a Naturalist," suggesting that a realisation of the grim realities and aggression in natural structures can abruptly end these simplifications; that it can shatter the child-like awe and elementary understanding mankind tends to have towards an alien entity such as nature.

In the first few lines of the poem, Heaney immediately creates a sense of apparent order and humanity in the natural situation he is describing.

Through the use of alliteration in "flax" and "festered" in the first line "heavy headed" in the second and by personifying the flax as "heavy headed" and the sun as "punishing," he establishes connotations in the reader's mind of a structure and reality that is understandable in human terms (a type of hierarchy which is easily accepted by a child). This feeling is further intensified in the following lines of the poem, with the alliteration of "bubbles" and "bluebottles," and further alliteration in the personification of the bluebottles as having "wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell." The image of the "warm thick slobber of frogspawn," which is described as "best of all" and stressed by the simile "that grew like clotted water," aids Heaney to introduce a notion of superficial understanding and admiration of nature on a shallow level. The fact that the narrator is evidently speaking...