“Death of a Naturalist” was written by the Nobel-Prize winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney. It was published in 1966 as the title poem of Death of a Naturalist, Heaney's first book of poetry. The book—and the poem—did much to establish Heaney’s reputation as the leading Irish poet of his generation. The poem meditates on the relationship between human beings and nature, and uses that relationship to explore the transition from childhood to adolescence. As the speaker grows up, his relationship to nature changes. Instead of enjoying the natural world with innocent curiosity, he finds it threatening and disgusting.
All year the ...
... around the smell.
There were dragonflies, ...
... of the banks.
Here, every spring ...
... Swimming tadpoles.
Miss Walls would ...
... In rain.
Then one ...
The air was ...
... blunt heads farting.
The great slime ...
... would clutch it.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
Seamus Heaney's Biography — A detailed biography of Heaney from the Poetry Foundation.
"Death of a Naturalist" Read Aloud — Seamus Heaney recites his poem, "Death of a Naturalist."
Heaney and Nature — This brief article discusses Seamus Heaney's relationship to nature in his poetry—touching on a range of poems from across his career.
Heaney's 10 Best Poems — An introduction to Heaney's poetry from the Telegraph newspaper.
"Death of a Naturalist" First Edition — A detailed essay on the publication of the first edition of Death of a Naturalist, including a number of photos from the book.
1All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
2Of the townland; green and heavy headed
3Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
4Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
5Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
6Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
7There were dragonflies, spotted butterflies,
8But best of all was the warm thick slobber
9Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
10In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
11I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
12Specks to range on window sills at home,
13On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
14The fattening dots burst, into nimble
15Swimming tadpoles. Miss Walls would tell us how
16The daddy frog was called a bullfrog
17And how he croaked and how the mammy frog
18Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was
19Frogspawn. You could tell the weather by frogs too
20For they were yellow in the sun and brown
22 Then one hot day when fields were rank
23With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
24Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
25To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
26Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
27Right down the dam gross bellied frogs were cocked
28On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
29The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat
30Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
31I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
32Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew
33That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.