Seamus Heaney's Blackberry Picking And Death Of A Naturalist

2078 words - 8 pages

Seamus Heaney's Blackberry-Picking and Death of a Naturalist

Blackberry Picking gives a lucid description of basically, picking
blackberries. However it is really about hope and disappointment and
how things never quite live up to expectations. ‘Blackberry picking’
becomes a metaphor for other experiences such as the lack of optimism
already being realised at an early age and the sense of naivety looked
upon from an adult analysing his childhood; “Each year I hoped they’d
keep, knew they would not”, consequently a sense of regret. Death of
A Naturalist is similar to Blackberry Picking in its subject and
structure. Here, too Heaney explains a change in his attitude to the
natural world, in a poem that falls also into two parts, a somewhat
idyllic past and present torn by various conflicts. The experience is
almost like a nightmare, as Heaney witnesses a plague of frogs
comparable to something from the Old Testament.

In the first section of Blackberry Picking, Heaney presents the
tasting of the blackberries as a sensual pleasure – referring to sweet
“flesh”, to “summer’s blood” and to “lust”. He uses many adjectives
of colour and suggests the enthusiasm of the collectors, using every
available container to hold the fruit they have picked. There is also
a hint that this picking is somehow violent – after the “blood” comes
the claim that the collectors’ hands were “sticky as Bluebeard’s”,
this simile is a representation of a man whose hands were covered with
the blood of his wives. This is an unmistakable connotation of
aggressive excitement in the picking of the berries; an almost hidden
undertone of the death of nature, thus an ending to his pleasure.
This first half of the poem Heaney describes the picking – from the
appearance of the fruit to the frenzy of activity as more fruit
ripens. The tripling used suggests the lexis is one of confusion and
passion; “Sent us out with milk-cans, pea-tins, jam-pots”. Likewise
to Blackberry Picking, Death of A Naturalist also has a fairly simple
structure. In the first section, Heaney describes how the frogs would
spawn in the lint hole, with a digression into him collecting the
spawn, and how his teacher encouraged his childish interest in the
process. The poem’s title is amusingly ironic – by a ‘naturalist’, we
would normally mean someone with expert scientific knowledge of living
things and ecology. The young Heaney certainly was beginning to know
nature from direct observation – but this incident cut short the
possible scientific career before it had ever begun. Also by ‘death
of a naturalist’ he does not wish to be a part of this life. The poet
notes the festering in the flax-dam, but can cope with this familiar
lexis of things rotting and spawn hatching. Perhaps, as an
inquisitive child he felt some pride in not being...

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