Death of a Naturalist


Death of a Naturalist– Seamus Heaney

All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax 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 dragon-flies, 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 rain.
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.

Birth of a Naturalist –Shani Cadwallender

‘Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; I’ll dig with it’

– Seamus Heaney

That window and the dark getting in
And hiding the dust in corners
And my face there on the glass like a
Fainting spell or when
The room spins with spirits.
And outside the lamplight reflection
Of inside, like tracing paper
Held up to sky, the shape of leaves behind,
The picture changes in the frame, no clean
Lines, no flat, neat world but the rustling of
Thickets and the slime
Of gross-bellied frogs and the mud
Alive with earthworms

I think I’ll run into October
Meet the chill air with clogged lungs
Pull up grass in green-stained fistfuls
Not look back at this lit window
Scratch at soil with blunted fingers
Leave the clocks and hairdryers,
The dustbins and the telephones,
And harrowing the wordless ground
Will silence all their hollow sound.

A pen is lighter than a spade
But my words dig me graves.

About the author

Seamus Heaney & Shani Cadwallender

1 Comment

  • “I think I’ll run into October
    Meet the chill air with clogged lungs”
    This reminds me of going back to uni after a long summer in ‘the smog’

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