Death of a Naturalist: A study of Seamus Heaney’s first book of poems. Seamus Heaney, the famed Irish poet, was the product of two completely different social and psychological orders. Living on “a small farm of some fifty acres in County Derry in Northern Ireland” (Nobel e Museum), Seamus Heaney’s childhood was spent primarily in the company of nature and the local wildlife. His father, a man by the name of Patrick Heaney, had a penchant for farming and working the land.
Seamus’ mother Margaret, in contrast, was a woman born into a family called McCann, who’s major dealings were with business dealings, trade and “the modern world” (Nobel e Museum).
Patrick Heaney was a man of few words, and preferred the quiet life of a farmer to the vocal world of trade and industry. Margaret Heaney was in fact quite the opposite and believed in speaking out, being heard and was seldom shy in expressing her feelings (Nobel e Museum).
These two extreme contrasts were enormously influential in the shaping of Seamus as a man and as a poet, and his first book Death of a Naturalist is a testament to this. Death of a Naturalist focuses on nature and wildlife as well as human emotions, and using poetry as his medium, Seamus Heaney shows his readers with specific reference to love and death, the images of nature that are associated with his father, and intertwines them with the human feelings and emotions that are closely linked with his mother. Love is a prominent theme in Seamus Heaney’s first book of poems, and it is worthwhile noting that just one year after Heaney married the love of his life, a woman named Mary Devlin, that Heaney wrote and released Death of a Naturalist (Nobel e Museum).
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It might be confusing for one to imagine a relationship between the wild and natural world and a human characteristic such as love, but Seamus Heaney manages to bring the two themes together in a deeply poetic and fitting fashion. In the poem Twice Shy, love is the governing premise. Twice Shy revolves around the idea of new lovers playing a game of hunter and the hunted, and with references to both nature as well as human emotions, Heaney displays the influences that were instilled in him as a young man by his parents. In the second stanza, the influence is unmistakable as Heaney describes a situation in which two lovers are trying to conform to the traditions of courting, but are consumed by desire in an almost untamed and feral way: “A vacuum of need / Collapsed each hunting heart / But tremulously we held / As hawk and prey apart, / Preserved classic decorum, / Deployed our talk with art.” (Heaney 33).
The “hawk and prey” belong together, and while it is not exactly what one might call a symbiotic relationship, it is the way nature works and it is accepted as a sometimes harsh but absolutely essential part of life. There is a “vacuum of need” when couples cannot join together, and by associating the natural world with the longing for love and the freedom of expression that lovers yearn for, Heaney perfectly encapsulates the two wholly diverse sides of his nature. Another example of a love theme being combined with the natural tendencies of Seamus’ father, as well as the emotional and human side of his mother can be found in the poem Saint Francis and the Birds. This poem, consisting of four stanzas, tells the story of Francis “preaching love to the birds” (Heaney 42) and the effects that his words have on the winged creatures. Using three lines for each stanza and with only one line for the final stanza, Heaney keeps this poem clear and concise; much like his father would have preferred to do. The concept of a man proclaiming words of affection to animals is interesting enough, but upon close examination of the poem once can see a greater complexity within the lines.
Emily Holt Mrs. Meehan English 10, Pd. 61 May 2005 Emily Dickinson Emily Elizabeth Dickinson, was born on December 10, 1830 in the small town of Amherst, Massachusetts. Emily was born into a wealthy and well-known family. Living with her father, mother, sister, and brother, Emily went through emotional problems as a child. Her father, Edward Dickinson, was a lawyer, treasurer of Amherst College, ...
Heaney’s descriptive mention to the reaction of the flock, leads the reader to realize even further how Patrick and Margaret Heaney had influenced Seamus as a man, and as a writer. Upon hearing Saint Francis’ love-inspired declarations, the birds “listened, fluttered, throttled up / Into the blue like a flock of words / Released for fun from his holy lips.” (Heaney 42), allowing the reader to imagine that birds, much like people, are moved by words of love. The simile used to describe the birds as being “like a flock of words” stresses Heaney’s mixture of his mother and father’s traits even further, clearly demonstrating to the reader the combination of nature and humanity that is emphasized throughout Death of a Naturalist. Growing up in rural Ireland, Seamus Heaney saw his fair share of death.
Having spent much of his younger years living amongst animals both domestic and untamed, for Heaney death was a natural part of life. As the poet asserts in his poem Early Purges, “Prevention of cruelty talk cuts ice in town / Where they consider death unnatural, / But on well-run farms pests have to be kept down.” (Heaney 13).
Although the death of farm animals and local pests was commonplace around his home, it was also something that he thought about a great deal. As the title of the book suggests, death is a central theme in Heaney’s first book of poems. In Blackberry Picking Heaney mixes nature and human emotion once more.
The poem consists of two very different stanzas: one that focuses on Heaney’s childhood pastime of picking berries in fields around the farm, and the final one which focuses on the inevitable decay of fruit left uneaten. The natural elements of the poem revolve around memories of “late August, given heavy rainfall and sun” and the “hayfields and cornfields” of Heaney’s youth. This topic seems relatively benign and peaceful, but in the second stanza Heaney’s poem takes a sharp turn into less pleasant territory. Associating the blackberry juice that covered him and his friends hands with a morbid fairy tale, Heaney describes how his “hands were peppered / With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.” (Heaney 10).
Literary Analysis of the poetry of Emily Dickinson Emily Dickinson is one of the most famous authors in American History, and a good amount of that can be attributed to her uniqueness in writing. In Emily Dickinson's poem "Because I could not stop for Death," she characterizes her overarching theme of Death differently than it is usually described through the poetic devices of irony, imagery, ...
The renowned folk tale of Bluebeard is a legend about a terrible man who murders his wives, and whose hands are caked in their sticky blood. Heaney’s correlation between his hands and Bluebeard’s is a morbid example of the link between a natural occurrence and one of death and gloom. Further on in the second stanza Heaney reminds the reader yet again that nature and human emotion can go hand in hand by describing his feelings: “The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour. / I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair / That all the lovely capfuls smelt of rot.
/ Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.” (Heaney 10).
It is inevitable that things come and go but to an adolescent Heaney, a normal function of life like the decay of matter is almost too much to bear. The image of a young man crying over the “death” of a bucket of fruit blends elements of nature with human feelings, strengthening the theory that Seamus’ mother and father’s influence played a key role in Heaney’s poetry. The final example of nature and human emotions being closely joined comes from Heaney’s poem entitled For the Commander of the Eliza.
This poem is set during the great potato famine of Ireland, and tells the account of a ship captain patrolling the seas and discovering a lone vessel rolling in the waves. The captain glances into the boats hull and sees “Six grown men with gaping mouths and eyes / Bursting the sockets like spring onions in drills.” (Heaney 23).
The men aboard the drifting ship are starving to death and demand to be fed by the captain, but when he refuses them food, “in whines and snarls their desperation / Rose and fell like a flock of starving gulls” (Heaney 23).
By describing the men’s eyes as being like “spring onions” and by comparing the men as being like birds, Heaney brings nature into a mix of human feeling once more, thus creating a poem where impending death can be a topic that is both animalist ic as well as human and emotionally expressive. Within Death of a Naturalist, Seamus Heaney explores many different aspects of life in Ireland.
The natural world is superior to all of humanity. Without reason, land controls us and influences our identities. Through mankind’s power we try to suppress the natural world but never truly succeed. “Progressive Insanities of a Pioneer” by Margaret Attwood, “The Bull Moose” by Alden Nowlan and “Not Just a Platform for my Dance” are comparable poems in a way that all three deal with a theme of the ...
With his constant references to both the natural world and the very different topic of human emotion, Seamus Heaney designed a book of poems that shows readers that a connection between the two can exist. Death of a Naturalist is a book that in a totally unique way bonds love, death, nature and emotion in a fashion that echoes both Patrick and Margaret Heaney’s dominant character traits. Works Cited Heaney, Seamus. Death of a Naturalist. Chatham, Kent: Faber and Faber Limited, 1999.” Seamus Heaney Biography” Nobel e Museum. November 15, 2001..