Study Guide

Death of a Naturalist

Death of a Naturalist Introduction

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.

What is Death of a Naturalist About and 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?

Death of a Naturalist Resources

Websites

Not Everyone was a Fan
A 1967 New York Times gives Death of a Naturalist (the book, not just the poem) a lukewarm review. (Scroll midway through the article for the part on Heaney.)

Jackpot for the Skeptical
This website is a collection of criticism and discussion on the flawed nature of Heaney's success. Is he overrated?

The Weight of Responsibility
This Harvard Magazine article explores the poet's responsibility to his art and to the people affected by it.

Video

From the Horse's Mouth
Heaney himself reads "Death of a Naturalist."

40 Minutes of Heaney (For Those of You Who are Really Into It)
Heaney reads and discusses some of his old poetry, and rattles off some more recent poems as well.

"Making Sense of a Life"
Heaney talks about the significance of poetry in the present day.

Audio

Audio Smorgasbord
Listen to Heaney read several of his famous poems.

Nobel Lecture
Listen to the wise words of this Nobel Laureate.

Images

Photo Album
This site has pictures of Heaney to the nth degree. Go nuts, and be sure to check the hair.

Articles and Interviews

American Poet Henri Cole Interviews Heaney for the Paris Review
Cole and Heaney discuss teaching, family life, and politics. They pretty much cover it all.

Reviews, Over Time
The New York Times archives for the reviews of a whole bunch of Heaney's past books.

Books

First Edition (If You're a Baller)
You can get your hands on a first edition copy of Heaney's Death of a Naturalist for the bargain price of (wait for it) $7,500.

Heaney Writes Prose (On Poetry, of course)
Here's a collection of some of Heaney's earliest essays on famous poets and poetry.

Movies & TV

Tribute from the Motherland
Check out Irish television station RTÉ's mini Heaney biography.

"Our Wee Famous Seamus"
This is a mostly adorable production of Irish grade schoolers in conversation with Heaney.