Study Guide

Death of a Naturalist Man and the Natural World

By Seamus Heaney

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Man and the Natural World

The title of "Death of a Naturalist" gives it away: nature is going to be a big part of this poem. And the poem delivers. Heaney loads this one up with natural description (albeit, sometimes unsavory natural description), and centers the whole shebang around the reproduction of frogs. The speaker has a conflicted relationship with nature. At first he's excited by the change of the season when spring comes along, bringing with it the familiar frogspawn that's so much fun to scoop up in jam jars (blech) and watch transform. The event at the end of the poem, however, changes his opinion. He encounters the reality of the frogs' reproduction, and is not only thoroughly grossed out by it, but frightened, too.

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. As a reader, what is the effect of the more disgusting descriptions of nature in this poem? 
  2. Do you think Heaney wants the reader to be turned off by nature, or do you think he just wants to paint a realistic picture of it (good and bad)? 
  3. What was the most vivid description involving nature in the poem for you? How many (of the five) senses were engaged in the description? 
  4. Do you think the speaker's bad experience with the frogs at the end of the poem has turned him away from nature entirely? Why or why not?

Chew on This

Even though the poem describes some of the less beautiful aspects (a.k.a. the gross and icky bits) of nature, overall it still celebrates it.

The speaker, though still connected to nature by the end of the poem, has become more wary of it, and knows that it's not all good, or all bad; it's not that simple at all. Who knew there was such a lesson to be learned from frogspawn?

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