With Reference to Two or Three Poems from Death of a Naturalist, Explore Heaney’s Treatment of Nature.

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Heaney is a poet who’s work focus’ on nature quite a lot. This is influenced by his heritage and nationality. Heaney was born in 1939 in County Derry, Northern Ireland. His first collection of poetry, Death Of A Naturalist, was published in 1966. He has since won numerous awards, including The Whitbread Prize for The Haw Lantern, and in 1995 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He has worked as a lecturer at many universities including Harvard and Oxford. (Heaney, S. New Selected Poems 1966 – 1987, 1990, back cover.)

Upon reading Digging, the first connection between Heaney and Nature is displayed in the poem’s title. Where this title gives the visual image of digging soil with a shovel, the actual meaning behind the title could be interpreted differently. A different interpretation could be of Heaney’s digging of his own memories of his father and grandfather. The first lines are “Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rest; snug as a gun”, this could be interpreted as Heaney metaphorically digging into his past by writing down his memories of his father and grandfather working on their land. Heaney’s connection between the two interpretations is majestically shown through his remembrance of his father digging into the ground.

The title of Death Of A Naturalist is more straightforward. The title of this poem seems to be referring to the changes in interest towards his own personal naturalism. The poem is written in two very different stanzas, one in which he is in awe and wonder at the beauty of the nature around him in his native Northern Ireland. Whereas the second is the complete opposite in that instead of seeing the beauty of his surroundings, Heaney can only see the vile and horrible features of his surroundings. The title could be referring to Heaney’s own personal loss of innocence, as the first part is set during his childhood when he doesn’t know much about the reproductive cycle. The second part of the poem is set some unspecific time after, this could account for his loss of innocence and possibly the onset of puberty.

Heaney’s poem Blackberry-Picking ties into the theme of nature very easily. He describes one blackberry as “a glossy purple clot”, this could be in reference to a blood clot, which would give the appearance of being glossy and purple, and would also tie into the ongoing theme of death in Heaney’s poetry. The theme of death, and in turn decay, is prevalent towards the end of the poem, especially with the lines “the fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour. I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair”. This could be due to the fact that Heaney has waited a whole year for these blackberries to ripen and now they have come and gone, he shall have to wait another year to taste the sweet and succulent flesh of the home grown fruit. His torment for the unusable fruit could be related to something else. In some of his other poems, Heaney reveals his tested relationship with his mother and the fact that he never had a proper chance to say goodbye and make good on their relationship, he could be heralding his grief for his mother on the over ripe berries.

In Death Of A Naturalist, Heaney uses the imagery of nature and likens it to war, something which is prevalent in many of Heaney’s other poetry. One line that shows this is “some sat poised like mud grenades,”. Here, Heaney is talking about frogs which he assumes are going to attack him. He likens the frogs to “mud grenades”, due to their possible habitat, but it is peculiar that he would liken a creature to a grenade. One of the possible reasons for this could be the conflict that was raging through Ireland at the time of writing. Heaney’s poetry is greatly influenced by wars in Ireland such as the IRA conflicts and the English invasion of Ireland. Both of which were greatly due to religion.

One such poem of Heaney’s that explores the English and Irish contention is Act Of Union (Heaney, S. North, 1975, pages 74-5). Heaney...
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