I liked ‘Death of a Naturalist’, although it wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t nice. Sometimes it wasn’t even like a poem, more like a story that I can relate to, for I used to gather frogspawn and watch the small tadpoles develop into frogs. I like the fact that it is a modern poem, that Heaney lived in N. Ireland and that this is probably a personal memory. It makes it interesting for me; I often wonder where that flax-dam is, or if it is still around, or if it looks as I imagine.
I like the way there are no specific rules followed by this poet, that Heaney doesn’t allow them to rule his poem, and that we get that precious bit of child information. That is what makes the poem different, unique and special. Then the change in atmosphere alters the poem, makes it frightening, and I can laugh at the child here because that never happened to me. Comparison of Keats’ and Heaney’s different attitudes and techniques Keats lived in 19th century England and Heaney lived in 20th century N. Ireland, so their outlooks on life are bound to be different, reflecting on their poetry.
Keats lived at a time when ‘poets were born, not made’, and those who were poets tended to be upper class gentlemen who did not need to earn an income. So the odds were stacked against him from the start. He was born in 1795 and came from a lower class family and when he was ten the first of many tragedies struck him, changing his personality forever. His father was thrown from his horse, killing him, then Keats’ mother remarried, and almost immediately after Keats’ grandfather died.
While Keats and his siblings moved in with their grandmother his mother disappeared, and then reappeared a few years later, ill with tuberculosis. Keats nursed her until she died and after that his attitude to the world changed. He then trained to be an apothecary and passed the exam in 1816 It was at this time that Keats started to write poetry. Although Keats was considered a Romantic poet Romanticism at that time was a rebellion, the lead figures being Coleridge and Wordsworth, who were under heavy criticism.
In 1818 the tuberculosis that would kill Keats showed itself, probably contracted from his brother Tom who Keats had nursed. While under the strain of his illness he met Fanny Brawne, with whom he fell in love with, and in September 1819 Keats wrote many odes including ‘Ode to Autumn’, despite his sickness. He died in 1821 when he was just 26. Keats had a short, intense life, and his poetry reflected that. He was passionate, and never did anything by halves; he put all his effort into it. In ‘Ode to Autumn’ Keats writes fervently about his autumn as he sees it.
However Heaney was born almost 145 years after Keats in 1939. He lived at the family farm in Mossbawn. In 1961 he took a first in English at Queen’s College, and two yr. later took up a position as an English lecturer there. His poetry began under the guidance of Philip Hobsbaum, an English poet whose work involved his interest in natural imagery, with occasional violence filtered through. Heaney used these ideas in his work, and was also influenced by Ted Hughes, a personal friend and fellow poet.
Heaney’s poem is about nature turning nasty, and at time Heaney had already lived through World War II, so the world seemed like a dark place at that time. This poem may be Heaney echoing this thought. Keats and Heaney both see things passionately, and paint a vivid intense picture of it, they microscope what they see, like that they are similar, but the similarities end there as what they do see is very different. Keats sees the beautiful cover of nature and Heaney to the bare basic of nature.
The most obvious differences in these two poems are the techniques, as Keats and Heaney are far apart in years their language and various techniques differ. Keats uses old language, which was probably common in those days, while some of Heaney’s words are very close to speech. Keats language accompanies his classic English style of poem, uses the traditional metre in conjunction with that customary style of English poem. Heaney’s poem uses the metre along with alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, punctuation and scatological words to get his message across; Heaney’s often strong words mean that your throat even moves like a frog.
In ‘Ode to Autumn’ Keats writes as if he is removed from the autumn scene, watching from afar. An air of calm detachment surrounds it, and it is more of an expression of ‘This is how it is’ than ‘I feel’. Keats’ autumn is a picture frozen in time, beautiful and undying; ageless for him. He sees it as it is then, and not the decay, which will eventually take over. Keats refuses to see that, and is an idealist, thinking that things stay as you see them, but in a way they do for Keats because we see it in the poem and he sees it in his head the same forever, and the poem is a way of forever preserving it.
Heaney’s nature has a darker meaning, beneath the surface there is many layers to nature, this is just one, one of the many. However the same is not true for Keats as his nature is more simple and idealistic. Heaney chooses to show us that nature is splendid, but underneath the cover it is also frightening. He is looking for answers because we only ever see part of the story (like in the poem, we only ever see the story from the child’s point of view), because we don’t know everything. We have to grow and learn from our experiences, and this is Heaney’s experience, and there is a change in the child from being a child emotionally and being protected from things like that, and being an adult, as he grows and learns.
Heaney allows us to feel and see the full force of nature, the horror, and see that we cannot control it, but that the decay can. The decay equals the change in nature, and is a metaphor for the change in the child. We are part of nature and while we are not controlled by the change caused by decay what we see and feel and thus learn from changes us. Keats’ nature is a divine force, nothing, not even decay can change it for Keats. The power of this poem is supposed to bring alive for us autumn as Keats sees it. That’s what Romanticism is about, turning something that an ordinary person would see as perhaps disgusting, into something beautiful and wonderful. For Keats art cures everything, it didn’t matter that he was dying of tuberculosis but it did matter that he wrote this poem.
I think Heaney is trying to show that maybe we are taught to see things by society, and nature is the untamed truth e.g. the child is taught at school about the frogspawn but not how it is made, not mentioning the sexual reproduction involved. Nature is a better teacher than man, it teaches about that, it teaches about recycling in the decay. It is not enough for Heaney to just watch nature like Keats does. He must be involved in nature. He gets his wellington boots out and gets stuck in. This most likely comes from having lived on a farm, and having all the experiences he did. Keats’ poem came from his ultimately dreamy heart, forever impractical on looking at things as they are.