'Death of a Naturalist' is concerned with growing up and loss of innocence. The poet vividly describes a childhood experience that precipitates a change in the boy from the receptive and protected innocence of childhood to the fear and uncertainty of adolescence.
Haney organizes his poem in two sections, corresponding to the change in the boy. By showing that this change is linked with education and learning, Haney is concerned with the inevitability of the progression from innocence to experience, concerned with the transformation from the unquestioning child to the reflective adult.
The poem is set out in two sections of blank verse (rhymed iambic pentameter lines).
The poem opens with an evocation of a summer landscape which has the immediacy of an actual childhood experience. There is also a sense of exploration in ?in the heart/Of the town land,? which is consistent with the idea of learning and exploration inevitably leading to discovery and the troubled awareness of experience. To achieve this Haney not only recreates the atmosphere of the flax-dam with accuracy and authenticity, but the diction is carefully chosen to create the effect of childlike innocence and naivety. The child?s natural speaking voice comes across in line 8, ?But best of all?. The vividness of his description is achieved through Haney use of images loaded with words that lengthen the vowels and have a certain weightiness in their consonants,
?green and heavy-headed Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.?
The sound of the insects which, ?Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell? is conveyed by the ?s? and ?z? sounds but also, importantly, acts like a bandage preventing the spread of decay. The images of decay, ?festered?, ?rotted?, ?sweltered? and ?the punishing sun? do not seem to trouble the boy in this first section (although they do prepare us for the second section and the loss of innocence), he takes a delight in the sensuousness of the natural world. The onomatopoeic ?slobber? effectively conveys the boy?s relish for the tangible world around him. We can further see how he views this world by the words ?clotted? and ?jellied?, to the boy the frog spawn is like cream and jam, something to be touched and enjoyed.
In section two everything changes. This change is marked by differences in tone, diction, imagery, movement and sound. The world is now a threatening place, full of ugliness and menace. However, it is not the world that has changed so much as the boy?s perception of it. There is still a strong emphasis on decay and putrefaction, but now it is not...