There are many themes in "Death of a Naturalist" and these are often played out against imagery, situations, descriptions and a background that constantly evoke the texture of Irish rural life. Often the focus is on the act of writing itself. Heaney`s ploughmen, thatcher, diviners and diggers are all figures of the poet at work. Interestingly enough these role models are all men. Heaney`s childhood world, true to life on an Irish farm in the forties, was a place where men and women had definite gendered roles. The aforementioned were all male farm roles while the blackberry picking was children's work and it was the mother who took first turn at the crocks in "Churning Day". In the same vein it is the women who pray in "Poor Women in a City Church" while it is the man Dan Taggart who impassively drowns the kittens, "the scraggy wee shits" in The Early Purges". It is Heaney`s mother who holds his hand in "Mid Term Break" while his father is uncharacteristically, for a male, showing emotion, "He had always taken funerals in his stride".
Whatever one thinks about these gender issues certainly they accurately evoke the situation and texture of rural life in Ireland in the forties. Another theme examined by Heaney is that of death, both literal and metaphorical. He writes about the poignant death of his young brother in "Mid Term Break" but he also writes about the loss of childhood innocence. All of this happens against a background of intimate domestic rural warmth and family affection that is nevertheless always being impinged upon by another not so safe world: the adult world of Northern Ireland. As he says in, "The Early Purges". "But on well-run farms pests have to be kept down." Yet the texture of the farm is ever-present. In "Blackberry Picking" the hunt for ripe sweet blackberries happens amongst this agricultural backdrop.
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