Theme of Childhood Naivety in Seamus Heaney's Poems Death of a Naturalist and Blackberry Picking

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Table of contents

  1. Death of a Naturalist
  2. Blackberry Picking
  3. Conclusion

A pattern which both poems adhere to, in varying degrees, is one of optimism and childhood naivety followed by sobered pessimism, from an older, wiser Heaney.

Death of a Naturalist

In Death of a Naturalist, a poem about Heaney’s memory of frogs compared to his is view of them now, he presents the memories of childhood through the lexical field that changes from the past, young Heaney to the present, older Heaney. In the first stanza Heaney says he “would fill jampotfuls of the jellied / Specks”, the word “jampotfuls” implies this is a childhood memory as it is a made-up word and mirrors the way in which a child would speak very quickly, with words jumbled together. Also, the phrase, “they would turn yellow in the sun and brown in the rain”, is a child-like description of something as it is very simple and vivid. The memory of these frogs, in the first stanza is quite a happy recollection, however in the second stanza, the reader can see this change, to a different view point.

In the second stanza Heaney presents a different view on the frogs. He explains the, “dam gross bellied frogs were cocked” and describes the frogs as “angry”. He uses the word “cocked” to indicate that the frogs were like loaded pistols, ready to fire, implying that they were ready to take vengeance on him, due to the way he used to treat them, when he was young. He also says the frogs were “poised like mud grenades” and that he “sickened, turned, and ran”. The word “grenades”, within the simile, depicts the frogs turning into This re-enforces the idea that Heaney believed that the frogs would retaliate against him. However, the reader can see that the way he describes the frogs and the phrase, “I sickened, turned, and ran”, highlights that Heaney, even as a nearly thirty-year-old man, was scared of these frogs, whereas before he was enamoured by them. The reader can therefore observe that Heaney has lost his innocence and that through his childhood memory, he has changed. The reader can see the frogs are used as a symbol for this as his look on the world may have become wiser however has become more pessimistic.* (Note: The child-like vocabulary in the first stanza to the lexis of war in the second stanza. Juxtaposition. Tone.) ignorance of youth has been curved by the wiser ways of growing old and understanding more about the world. Flash back. Unrhymed iambic pentameter.

The structure displays the sudden change Heaney has come to in his life, where he understands disappointment. In the Death of Naturalist, Heaney has used unrhymed iambic pentameter, to show the reader that time has changed, as he has got older and learnt more about the world, as he looks back on his innocent memories, which have become negatively tinged by his older and wiser perspective. Therefore, as there is no rhyme scheme, which makes poems sound jollier mean there is now no excitement or fun to the picking of blackberries. The ageing and wiser understanding also is also back-up by the use of just two stanzas which juxtapose each other.

Heaney uses imagery and specific phrases to explore his childhood memory through his senses and vivid image (picture). In the first stanza Heaney uses oxymoron’s like, “bubbles gargled delicately” and “clotted water”, along with audial and visual imagery, to show that although the pond, where the frogs lived, was “rank” he found it fascinating and funny and that even though water cannot be “clotted” this is the vivid image he sees of the frogspawn, describing it in a child-like way, as the texture is shown in words, with, “clotted” being slightly onomatopoeic, depicting the bumpy, bobbly frogspawn. Also, he says “Specks”, “sills”, “On shelves at school”, using sibilance to imitate how a child would speak, as the s sound mirrors children’s excitement and the way they talk quickly. However, we can see this use of imagery and techniques change as the poem comes back to the present day with older Heaney. In the second stanza Heaney uses the onomatopoeia, “coarse crocking” with audial imagery, alongside, “The air was thick with a bass chorus”. Here Heaney now views the frogs in a sinister way, finding the “croaking” now scary and rough. This reinforces that Heaney’s view on the frogs has changed, and there is an indication of time changing. Also, Heaney uses the simile, “Poised like mud grenades”, with the word “grenades” showing an exploding nature, along with a war lexis of the stanza.

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The line, “the damned gross belied frogs were cocked”, with the word “cocked” meaning loaded and ready to fire, indicates this war lexis as well, showing that Heaney believed that the frogs were ready to battle him.- Teacher said this was repeated evidence but don’t know what to do with it.

The title “The Death of a Naturalist” indicates from the start, to the reader, that Heaney used to have a fond view of nature, enamoured by it, but as time has passed Heaney has realised that this “thick slobber/Of frogspawn” was actually quite repulsive and his feelings are completely change about these once interesting frogs.

Blackberry Picking

Blackberry Picking is another childhood memory Heaney has, about the memory of blackberry picking and how he views it as child contrastingly to how he views it. In the poem Heaney explores his childhood memory through the language/tone he uses, from a child-like description to an adult view. In the first stanza Heaney says, “The red ones inked up”, the word “inked up” is an infantile description [FC1] with a vivid image seen through the promise of blackberries to come. Heaney then goes on to say, “and that hunger sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots”, with the use of listing and enjambment, this mirrors how a child would speak, continuously and rapidly. But also, the it shows the abundance and desperation to gather as fast and as many blackberries as possible. Heaney shows the greed one has as a child, without learning that if he took too many blackberries, he was yet to know what eventually happened to them.

However, the reader can tell Heaney wrote this poem as a memory, as although he uses child-like descriptions, there are still wiser views showed in the first stanza. For example, Heaney says, “At first, just one, a glossy purple clot”, describing the first blooming of Blackberries. The description, “purple clot”, is a child-like description/image, however Heaney has used the word “glossy” here, which connotes to shiny and perfect from the outside, but covering something covered up on the inside. Heaney has done this, so the reader can see that his adult feelings change his childhood memories and that not everything is as it seems. In the first stanza there is a naïve view of these blackberries, however this changes to a more sinister view in the second stanza, as the reader can see Heaney gain knowledge of these blackberries.

In the second stanza Heaney says, “we found a fur,/A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache”. The word “rat-grey”, creates a gross, vivid description of the mould that would grow, as well as “rat-grey” having connotations of vermin, which feed on others hard work. The view of the blackberries, from Heaney’s perspective, has become sinister as he views the fungus purposely ruining his blackberries. Also, the phrase, “glutting on our cache”, used as religious imagery, where “glutting” is a sin, Heaney now sees that he gorged himself on the blackberries and took more than he needed, feeling guilty for his actions. Also, the reader can see this as an adult perspective as glutting is not a word a child would use, and the view is wiser, with a known understand of what he is exactly doing. The reader can see a straight comparison of how Heaney used to view the blackberries and how he views them now. In the first stanza Heaney says, “it’s flesh was sweet” however in the second stanza he says, “the sweet flesh would turn sour”. Heaney shows that not everything lasts and that when you are a child you do not know everything, as all the hidden secrets are covered up. However, as you grow older, you start to understand that the facts you knew or were told, were lies. Heaney, here could be emphasising the term, ‘ignorance is bliss’.

The structure is again similar in Blackberry Picking, compared to Death of a Naturalists with two contrasting stanzas’, with the first stanza (the memory) larger. Also it is in Iambic pentameter, which is how we can talk and can make the reader enjoy reading it more. However, Blackberry picking has rhyming couplets, AABBCCDDEEFF, for example, “clot” and “knot” or “cache” and “bush”. Although these are rhyming couplets the dissatisfaction is shown by most of the couplets not quite rhyming. By using pararhymes Heaney shows there is something unnerving about his memory, that was “gloss[ed]” over, as he had not learned the real knowledge of the never lasting blackberries. However, there are two couplets which rhyme in the poem, “clot” and “knot”, which is at the start of the first stanza and “rot” and “not”, which is at the very end of the last stanza. Heaney has used this to display the fact that although there is a sense of disappointment throughout life, he is able to understand that now that he is older and can except this. In Blackberry Picking Heaney explores the human nature of not appreciating or wanting something, until it is gone. The reader can see this poem is about the hope and dreams we have that generally end in disappointment (anti-climax. Unpromised hope. Let down) do not live up to our high expectations


Both poems are part of Heaney’s ‘Death of a Naturalist’ first volume of poems. They share a similar juxtaposition, to a degree, with both split in a similar way as a large stanza takes up the memory he had and a smaller stanza displaying his feelings now. The both once joyous memories he had were taken by time, as he realised that things are not as they seem when older compared to when one is a child.

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