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Death of a Naturalist. by Seamus Heaney. Themes/ideas Nature Growing up Military imagery First person monologue. Key Terms: Onomatopoeia Personification Simile Metaphor Blank Verse. The poem. Death of a Naturalist. All year the flax-dam festered in the heart

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Death of a naturalist l.jpg

Death of a Naturalist

by Seamus Heaney

F/H


The poem l.jpg

Themes/ideas

Nature

Growing up

Military imagery

First person monologue

Key Terms:

Onomatopoeia

Personification

Simile

Metaphor

Blank Verse

The poem

F/H


Slide3 l.jpg

Death of a Naturalist

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 nimble-

Swimming 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.

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.

‘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

Two stanzas break this blank-verse poem up.

Read the poem and suggest reasons for the change of stanza

5

Positive

Adventurous

Full of wonder

10

15

20

Heaney explains a change in his attitude to the natural world, a sort of before and after

Negative

Frightened

Full of disgust

25

30

F/H


Slide4 l.jpg

Death of a Naturalist

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 nimble-

Swimming 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.

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

Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew

That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.

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

F/H


Slide5 l.jpg

Death of a Naturalist

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 nimble-

Swimming 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.

A metaphorical death of a metaphorical naturalist.

A naturalist is a natural scientist (like David Attenborough) not a little boy.

The death is the enthusiasm he had for nature and the naturalist he may have become.

It’s a joke (of sorts)

5

10

15

F/H

20


Slide6 l.jpg

The stanza is about childish glee. Why all the negatives?

The stanza is about childish glee over frogspawn. How is it positive?

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 nimble-

Swimming 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.

Does the child Heaney revel in the disgusting parts of nature?

His childish curiosity making him blind to the horrible smells and sights.

He does this every year. What does this tell us about the speaker

5

10

He is comfortable in his routine and these sights and sounds are familiar to him, not disgusting

15

F/H

20


Slide7 l.jpg

Childish word/phrase

What makes us think this is a child?

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 nimble-

Swimming 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.

We are presented with images that older people would find unpleasant but here Heaney seems to enjoy them

He goes to school

5

Does he really believe this was a useful tool for ‘telling’ the weather?

Clear change of voice from more sophisticated language to that of a child suggesting Heaney is reliving his memories

10

15

F/H

20


Slide8 l.jpg

What is the tone, mood of this stanza? How should it be read?

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 nimble-

Swimming 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.

This stanza is very descriptive, the poet wants you to see and feel (share) in his childish joy

Describing, in detail, the frogspawn becoming tadpoles suggests his wonder at the experience

5

10

Think of Digging, is Heaney using his pen to re-live parts of his, presumably happy, childhood?

Could this suggest the explosive excitement he feels each time he sees this happen

15

20

F/H


Slide9 l.jpg

We have moved forward from spring to a ‘hot’ possibly summer’s day.

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

The mood is very different to the first stanza.

Look at the language used

25

30

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


Slide10 l.jpg

In the first stanza Heaney impresses upon the reader the images of his idyllic summer

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’

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.

Military imagery is used to evoke a feeling of fear in the reader but also to suggest the young Heaney’s fear

Heaney uses onomatopoeia to give the reader a real sense of the horror he felt.

He attempts to immerse the reader in the sounds.

25

30

The fear and discomfort may also come from this unusual invasion of a regular childhood haunt; could he be indignant at the intrusion of a ‘nature’ he is not used to?

The moment that the “Death of a Naturalist” occured

F/H


Comparisons l.jpg
Comparisons images of his idyllic summer

Sonnet: Clare

What themes/ideas and structural points could lead to comparison?

The field mouse

A Difficult Birth

Death of a Naturalist

The Eagle

Patroling Barnegat

Catrin

F/H


Comparisons12 l.jpg
Comparisons images of his idyllic summer

  • 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 l.jpg
Review images of his idyllic summer

  • 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