DEATH OF A NATURALIST

SEAMUS HEANEY

SEAMUS HEANEY

I have just heard that Seamus Heaney has died. I cannot confess to being a great reader of poetry…besides Yeats. I remember trying to read Heaney once and losing interest which says more about me than about Heaney. I have always meant to revisit his work.

Still, he was a cultural figure someone who grew in stature as my own life meandered along and whose name became familiar to me and is always sad to lose someone like that as if somehow we have lost another way marker or guiding buoy and as the years move on there are fewer and fewer~ maybe we no longer need to gather new ones as we grow in experience~ until there comes a time, if we are lucky to be so long-lived, when we are navigating on a dark misty sea alone and maybe this is not as scary as it sounds. Maybe it is peaceful.

Anyway in honour of this feeling I went looking for a poem to mark his passing and found this and to my delight I love it, or more to the point, I understand it. And so here it is and me coming late as usual to the party.

Rest in Peace Sir I look forward to exploring your legacy some more.

DEATH OF A NATURALIST

DEATH OF A NATURALIST

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.

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