Death of a Naturalist Introduction
In A Nutshell
While Death of a Naturalist is the title poem of Seamus Heaney's second collection of poems, had he known how baller it was going to be he could easily have titled the whole thing Birth of a Star (or maybe even Yeezus?). After its publication in 1966, it won more than a modest amount of awards in Europe (the Cholmondeley Award, the Gregory Award, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and the Maugham Award). Basically, if this book were a pop album it would have gone triple platinum. It's the book that really put Heaney on the map in Ireland and helped him gain international celeb status.
Much of what Heaney's poetry has become recognizable for—natural imagery, in particular (did the title tip you off?)—is what you'll find in this collection, and this poem is no exception. Through a young boy's enthusiastic and curious eyes (this kid could have easily been a young Steve Irwin, Jack Hanna, or even Bill Nye the Science Guy—does anyone even remember him?), Heaney takes us through a rural setting where the adventures of discovering frogs and frogspawn take, and then change, shape. So hop to, and settle in for some classic Heaney.
Why Should I Care?
Our world and our lives are constantly undergoing change. Some changes are big (birth and death, for example) while others aren't so big (growing up you liked hot dogs, but now the smell of them makes you queasy). Our knowledge is always growing, and our opinions and preferences are subject to change. If you've ever looked back at a family photo and wondered what you were thinking with that haircut, you know what we mean.
That's what this Seamus Heaney poem is about. At first our speaker is thrilled by the slimy frogspawn and starts his own private collection (practically a shrine) of it, but as the bigger picture becomes clearer (mainly, where frogspawn comes from), he becomes repulsed. How on earth slimy green-gray frog goop wasn't immediately disgusting to the speaker is beyond us, but that's not the point. The point is, because of what he experiences and learns, his opinions and feelings completely change. Growing up will do that to you. We know the ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese's doesn't serve up quite the thrill that it used to. Purell, anyone?