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In a typical feature of Heaney’s narrative, he goes into character and adopts the voice of his boyhood self: a pure, untainted vessel, unaware of the monstrosities that are soon to corrupt his mind and alter his perception of nature.Beginning with the tinkling phrase ‘dragon-flies, spotted butterflies’, he captures the sense of wonder using childish expressions such as ‘best of all’.
He is fascinated by the frogspawn and tadpoles of the flax-dam’, but becomes repulsed by a horde of croaking frogs in their maturity.
It is similar to another of Heaney’s works, ‘Blackberry-Picking’ in subject and style, as both centre on the change in Heaney’s attitude to the natural world, scaling the heights of pleasure before a crucial mood-swing to plumb the depths of revulsion.
This is also indicated by his choice of words for the action and sound of their heads, which are described as ‘farting’, another rude, indecent comparison.
There are also religious undertones, as the infestation of frogs appears almost to be a Biblical plague from the time of Moses.
Throughout the remainder of the poem, a martial theme is apparent, demonstrated by ideas such as ‘poised like mud grenades’, ‘great slime kings’ and ‘gathered there for vengeance’: to Heaney, these animals appear like belligerent warlords, determined to retaliate over the earlier theft of their frogspawn.
They have already conquered the air, which is ‘thick with a bass chorus’, a masculine threat contrasting both with Miss Walls’s gently portrayal of the frogs, and the gauze before.‘Death of a Naturalist’ takes the form of two contrasting parts, set out in blank verse: the first section conveys his enchantment with nature; the second demonstrates his disillusionment, as he begins to see the frogs not as his playful allies, but as a menace.The previous security the poet feels changes into threat, mirroring the transition of the tadpoles into frogs, and his own self-development.This is reflected in several of his poems, including the poignant ‘Mid-Term Break’.He also faced the issue of being a Catholic in Protestant-dominated Northern Ireland.Using assonantal para-rhyme in the alliterative phrase ‘green and heavy headed flax had rotted there’, he harnesses their slow, substantial sounds to convey the decaying atmosphere.This is further enhanced by description of flax as being ‘weighted down by huge sods’, while the flax-dam is personified as it ‘sweltered in the punishing sun’.He achieves the effect of creating pleasant connotations of light, gentle fabric from a revolting source.The noise of the bluebottles is hazy anyway, but so intense is their presence at the flax dam that their dense sound has become embodied in a material.Heaney as a child imagines the frogspawn as ‘warm thick slobber’, the onomatopoeia subtly encapsulating the gelatinous texture of its subject.In two long, uninterrupted sentences, comprising unsophisticated clauses linked by ‘and’, he skilfully imitates his innocent enthusiasm, using enjambement to emphasize this.