Monday, 10 January 2011

Death of a Naturalist

1 All year the flax-dam festered in the heartOf the townland; green and heavy headedFlax 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.
7 There were dragon-flies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
10 In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring 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 nimble-
Swimming tadpoles. Miss Walls would tell us how
15 The daddy frog was called a bullfrog
16 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.
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.
Lines 1-7
There is a mixture of positive and negative language used in the first 7 lines of the poem. The lines are very descriptive using positive adjectives such as "green", "delicately" and "wove." However, there are also negative descriptive words and phrases, for example, "All year the flax-dam festered," and "the punishing sun." Heaney also uses metaphors and an oxi-moron in the poem. The metaphor refers to the sound of the atmospere around the swamp as a "thich gauze." He uses an oxi-moron to describe the bubbles "gargling delicately." This gives the impression that the sound of the 'gargling' was not a distubring or offensive sound, but a reassuring background noise that is comforting to Heaney.

Lines 8-16

"Miss Walls would tell us how the daddy frog was called a bullfrog And how he croaked and how the mammy frog" - this gives an indication of Heaney's age in this poem. He is refering to a time when he was just a small child in primary school.
Also, there is another indication when he says: "But best of all was the warm thick slobber" - the kind of thing a child would love but an adult would find completely unappealing - for example, splashing in puddles, getting muddy etc...
Onomatopoeia is used in the poem as well, "slobber" - really gives the reader the imagery of the setting of the poem.
A simile is used to describe the frog spawn; "like clotted water."  - Imagery, as well as giving the reader an idea of the texture of it as well.
It is in this section of the poem where you know that his interest in nature has been brought up at school; learning about frogs and observing them. There is something really innocent about the tone of the first half of the poem.

In the second half of the poem, the tone of the peom completely changes and becomes quite aggressive. There are a lot of negative descriptive terms used, for example, "rank," "angry," "invaded."
The second stanza also talks about the change in season, going from hot, burning summer to the Autumn time when the weather is getting wetter and colder.
The frogs that were once harmless frogspawn and cute little tadpoles have transformed into big gross slimy frogs. The reader egts the impression that the poet was suprised by this- he didn't know/understand that they would change (another indication of his age). The way he describes the frogs in such a negative way shows that he is quite frightened of the frogs and he finds them disgusting; he says they are 'invading' and the sounds as they plop in the swampy water is like an ''obscene threat''.

In this poem, Heaney is describing a time when he felt really inspired and fascinated by something, and how quickly that was changed. The title: 'Death of a Naturalist'  is not refering to an actual death of a person, but a metaphor of the ''death'' of an idea. Maybe for a short while, Seamus Heaney was so fascinated in nature - the frogs in particular, that he describes himself as a ''Naturalist.'' The ''death'' is when he sees the frogs in there fully grown form and is suddenly put off the whole idea.  

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