“Death of a Naturalist” is a heavily enjambed poem. Most of its lines are enjambed, in fact, and in the rare moments that end-stops do occur—especially in the second stanza—they don't necessarily feel like moments of rest and relief. Instead, it feels like the speaker is just pausing, in horror, to contemplate the "bass chorus" of the frogs (as in line 26: "Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.").
All this enjambment has a powerful effect on the reader’s experience of the poem. The poem feels off-kilter, out-of-whack—like it’s almost out of control. In different parts of the poem, the enjambments have different specific effects. In the first stanza, for example, they convey the breathless excitement of a curious child. The reader gets a sense of this in the first three lines of the poem:
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.
The first two lines are enjambed. That might be surprising: after all, they’re just descriptions; the speaker is setting the scene, explaining to the reader what the “flax-dam” is. But these lines don’t have the measured, careful quality of description. Instead, they feel breathless and excited because of the way they keep sliding across the line breaks. The enjambments convey the energy and excitement the speaker feels just thinking about the “flax-dam.”
And the enjambments also open up possibilities for interpretation. The first line of the poem, for instance, is grammatically complete in itself. The reader could take it as a complete statement—“All year the flax-dam festered in the heart”—in which case, the flax-dam would be a metaphor for what’s going on in the speaker’s heart. The enjambment into the next line makes it clear that the reader shouldn’t read the first line as a complete statement. But, in the brief moment that the reader considers the possibility, the poem prepares the reader to see the “flax-dam” not just as a natural space, but as a metaphor for the speaker’s relationship with sexuality.
In the second stanza of the poem, the speaker’s attitude toward the natural world changes: anxiety and dismay replace curiosity and joy. The reader feels the speaker’s anxiety and confusion in the way the lines careen down the page, breathlessly, breaking in the middle of sentences. In lines 24-26, for example, the enjambments convey the urgency the speaker feels running toward the flax-dam:
... I ducked through hedges
To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
One almost feels the speaker’s stomach dropping in these lines: their restlessness and energy conveys the speaker’s mounting anxiety.
Enjambment thus represents the speaker’s relationship with nature throughout the poem. In the first stanza, it embodies the speaker’s innocence and curiosity; in the second, the speaker’s anxiety and dismay.