“Death of a Naturalist” by Seamus Heaney (Favorite Poem Project)


In our culture today, most of us are pretty connected
to our cell phones or our laptops or whatever. It’s nice to disconnect, and if you disconnect
from all the noise and all the clutter, it just frees you, it simplifies your life
to connect to things that matter the most. My name is Lisa Mickey,
I live in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. I’m a freelance writer and Florida Master Naturalist,
I work a the Marine Discovery Center. I love to get in the kayak,
and just go paddle. I tell my friends that sometimes I go to places
so quiet, you can hear the oysters snap shut. Nature’s just always been
important, you know. It shaped my childhood, it
shaped what I wanted to do with my life. So I think nature just opens
up this amazing book and teaches you; it just teaches you everyday, every way you turn. “Death of a Naturalist” by Seamus Heaney All year the flax-dam festered in the heart /
Of the townland; green and heavy headed /
lax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods. / Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun. /
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles /
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell. / There were dragonflies, spotted butterflies, /
But best of all was the warm thick slobber /
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water / In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring /
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied /
Specks to range on window sills at home, / On shelves at school, and wait and watch until /
The fattening dots burst, into nimble /
Swimming tadpoles. Miss Walls would tell us how / The daddy frog was called a bullfrog /
And how he croaked and how the mammy frog /
Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was / Frogspawn. You could tell the weather by frogs too /
For they were yellow in the sun and brown /
In the rain. / I’ve always liked that poem even
before I was a certified naturalist. And I think the reason I like it was the poem was
sort of spoken through a child’s voice. It is fluid, it’s kind of that whole water theme,
and the creatures that live in the water, very much like what I do now. But it’s the same feeling, it’s the same reverence for
nature and how things live there, and how they’re a part of our world. “Death of a Naturalist” could also be
the birth of the poet in the second part of the poem. He sees these frogs in a
more menacing way. The boy wonders if these giant frogs
will take revenge for the tadpoles he’s collected. And from the naturalist
emerged the poet. You know, when I’m in the kayak by myself
sometimes, I just look up at the sky and I’m like, “Wow, this is almost too good to be real.” It’s very soothing, it’s even spiritual, it’s free— it doesn’t
cost anything, and it’s totally satisfying for me. I worked as a journalist that covered things
like education and police beating, and a lot of things that were indoors and pretty intense,
and long story short, I ended up being a golf writer, and so I’ve covered golf
for about 25 years or so. And being a golf writer allowed me to be outdoors and
to continue that little connection with nature. Working as a Florida Master Naturalist at Marine
Discovery Center, I’m one of the eco-tour narrators so I do a lot of narration and kayak trips and
then also on a 40-passenger boat eco-tour. People really get an understanding
of what we’re talking about here. The trees, the birds, the various
species that live in the saltwater habitat. From the smallest children, we’re teaching them
there’s red and white and black mangroves, and there’s plankton in the water, and the oysters eat the plankton,
and by the time they’re older kids, they know an incredible amount. Many of them will go on
into marine science. And the cool thing is, with
nature, you never know it all, as much as you study, as
much as you think you know. If you can teach children
these things, their eyes are open. And as adults, they’re going to be more attuned to
taking care of it for the next generation. Then one hot day when fields were rank /
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs /
Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges / To a coarse croaking that I had not heard /
Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus. /
Right down the dam gross bellied frogs were cocked / On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped: /
The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat /
Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting. / I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings /
Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew /
That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.

1 thought on ““Death of a Naturalist” by Seamus Heaney (Favorite Poem Project)

  1. Can someone please tell me what other poems from the 2017 anthology can i compare this to???

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