The poems Trout and Death of a Naturalist are both written by the Irish poet, Seamus Heaney. In this piece of coursework I aim to analyse the two poems and compare them. The subject of the poem trout is a fairly basic one the trout itself and the way it moves. Trout is a descriptive poem that follows the actions of the fish as it darts and slips down the throat of the river. The subject of Death of a Naturalist is more complex.
The obvious subject is nature: spotted butterflies, frogspawn and frogs. Childhood memory is also a key feature in the poem, illustrated by words such as daddy and mammy. Childhood could come under the heading of a subject or a theme as it is relevant to both and raises childhood issues. Both the subjects are connected with nature and both describe a particular creature, the trout in trout and frogs in death of Naturalist.
However, the subjects differ apart from this point. Death of a Naturalist has the subject of childhood, specifically childhood memory. The poet is reminiscing about his past and it is much more emotionally written than trout, which has no emotion and uses visual images. The title Death of a Naturalist explains another part of the poem because it is literally about the little boy loving the warm thick slobber of frogspawn. Then he grows older and loses some of the innocence that was present in the first stanzas. He is sickened by the gross bellied frogs and the naturalist in him is dead.
Trout has two main themes: the first being the power of nature. This theme is present in the images of guns, such as the comparison of the trout to a fat gun barrel. Then the second theme, movement, becomes linked with power and guns. The movement theme is present in image like slips like butter down the throat of the river. The two themes are shown together in phrases such as fired from the shallows and darts like a tracer bullet. These themes bring out the speed and power of the trout, and help to convey a sense of brutality.
The theme of Death of a Naturalist is also the power of nature. This is illustrated by the frogs having power over the author as a child. This powerful theme is conveyed in the second stanza, with phrases like angry, threats and vengeance. The frogs are described as being poised like mud grenades which brings out images of guns and strength.
Another central theme is childhood and growing up. The poet is describing his happy attitude towards nature, saying the frogspawn was best of all. The teacher, Miss Walls, uses childish language, such as daddy and mammy. The poet uses this language to convey his innocence at that age.
In the second stanza, it is obvious by the change of tone and language, such as gross. slime and angry, that the child is perhaps moving into adolescence and has become less oblivious and innocent to the world around him. The themes of Trout and Death of a Naturalist are similar in that they both use the creatures in them to convey the power of nature to the reader. However, Trout uses the theme of movement to show the powerful image, while Death of a Naturalist shows how the frogs had power to the author when he was younger. The poem Trout focuses heavily on visual imagery. There is no emotion in the poem, it simply describes the trout and its behaviour. Heaney uses the metaphor a fat gun barrel to describe the trouts shape and its power.
Then, the poet goes on to use the simile slips like butter to show the ease with which the trout moves. Heaney uses the simile smooth skinned as plums to convey an image of the trout to the reader. The poet uses phrases such as bulls eye, torpedoed, fired, and tracer bullet to shoe the trouts speed and might. The trout is said to pick off grass seed and moths.
This illustrates his dominance over other creatures and helps us create a mental image of him. In the last stanza, Heaney describes the trout as never burnt out and a a volley of cold blood. He does this to illustrate the trouts determination and ruthless nature. The last line ramrodding the current is apart from the rest. This adds to the effect and reflects the whole poems theme of power and unemotional images. Death of a Naturalist, in contrast to Trout, has emotional images, because it is the poets memory and he is reminiscing.
Heaney uses a number of poetic devices to create images. Firstly, he uses the metaphor in the heart of the town land to add interest to the poem. He uses language such as sweltered and punishing sun to create an image of the hot summer that he remembered. The poet brings nature into the poem with the metaphor bluebottles wove a strong gauze of sound. This creates a visual image of the day he went to collect frogspawn in the readers mind and engages their interest. He uses alliteration in the line on shelves at school, and wait and watch, to make the tone calm and happy with soft sounds.
There is childish language like mammy used to convey an image of innocence in the first stanza. In the second stanza, the mood changes dramatically from one of nostalgia and innocence to vulgarity and almost horror, although there are hints to this tone in the preceding stanza. The poet uses words like rotted, slobber, and festered as a hint that all is not well. In this stanza, the mood is dark, and vile, conveyed by language like rank, gross and vengeance.
Heaney creates a tense image with the bass chorus of the frogs. He describes the frogs necks as pulsing like sails and their blunt heads farting to convey his terror that his once loved frogs would wreak vengeance on him. The frogs are described as slime kings, once again bringing out the dominance of nature. Heaney uses onomatopoeia in the words slap and pop to create an image in the readers mind.
The poem concludes with the poet saying that the spawn would clutch his hand. This communicates his terror and reflects the poems central theme of the power of nature. Both poems utilise powerful imagery and also gun imagery to convey their main theme: the power of nature. Both rely upon the use of metaphors and similes to create images in the mind of the reader. However, Trout shows no emotion and uses only visual imagery, which Death of a Naturalist is emotional and uses human reactions to nature to create images. Trout and Death of a Naturalist are both written in free verse, as a rhyme pattern would probably detract from the powerful imagery used.
Both the poems contain enjambment, which is more apparent in Trout because of the short sentences. An example this enjambment in Trout is a a volley of cold blood ramrodding the current. The enjambment helps the poem to flow easily when read. In Death of a Naturalist sentences are longer, but still use enjambment, such as Green and heavy headed flax had rotted there.
Trout is displayed in a long thin form, like the shape of the trout itself. This makes the sentences appear even shorter than they are and thus the poem is read more quickly to reflect the trouts movement. Death of a Naturalist has no specific layout. The sentences are longer because it tells a story and is meant to be read more slowly than Trout. Overall, I think that the two poems are very similar in that they both depict the sovereignty of nature. However, the style in which they are written is what really sets them apart, such as the form, sentence structure and imagery.