Nature and Childhood: Comparative Analysis of Heaney's Poems

Categories: Poems


In this exploration, we delve into a comparative analysis of two poetic works, namely "Death of a Naturalist" and "The Barn." The primary objective is to scrutinize the rich descriptions employed in these poems, offering a detailed examination of their portrayal of childhood experiences with the formidable forces of nature.

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Description of Nature in Poems

Both poems captivate the reader with their vivid depictions of nature, employing rich descriptions that evoke clear images of sights, sounds, and smells. From the very initiation, the poems immerse the audience in an atmosphere that unmistakably communicates a connection to the natural world.

"Death of a Naturalist" uses descriptive language to convey the author's perceived control over nature, culminating in a shocking realization of its uncontrollable forces. Conversely, "The Barn" utilizes description to transport the reader into the eerie ambiance of the barn, creating an impression of stillness and coldness that transforms into vivid aliveness in the final verse.

Childhood Experiences

Both poetic works engage in a nostalgic reflection on childhood encounters with the raw forces of nature. The language employed serves as a crucial indicator of this temporal setting. In "Death of a Naturalist," the use of childlike terms such as "daddy" and "mammy" and the actions of collecting 'jampotfuls' of spawn convey a distinct child's perspective. Similarly, "The Barn" employs descriptive elements and actions, like the child lying face down on the floor, painting a vivid picture of a childhood experience. While both poems delve into childhood reminiscences, "Death of a Naturalist" offers more evident cues through language and actions.

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Theme of Control

Both poetic narratives unfold with a theme of control, where the protagonists feel a sense of dominance over nature. In "Death of a Naturalist," the young boy initially revels in his perceived control over the spawn, only to confront the shocking reality in the final verse when faced with the overwhelming force of frogs. On the other hand, "The Barn" portrays a sense of control ascribed to the farm implements, revealing the illusion shattered by the child's mind, which perceives movement where there is none. "Death of a Naturalist" emerges as the more realistic portrayal, rooted in the actions of the young boy and the tangible descriptions of the frogs in the concluding verses.

Tone of the Poems

The tone of a poem plays a crucial role in shaping the reader's experience. "The Barn" establishes a vague threatening tone from its inception, maintaining this theme throughout, even in the unsettling movement of sacks in the final verse. In contrast, "Death of a Naturalist" lacks a consistent tone. Initially, it explores revolting elements through descriptive language, but as the poem progresses, the tone shifts, presenting disgusting aspects in an unembellished manner in the last verse.

Literary Devices

"Death of a Naturalist" employs literary devices such as alliteration and onomatopoeia, enhancing the descriptive elements within the poem. These devices serve to articulate the characteristics of items and the sounds they produce. In contrast, "The Barn" abstains from utilizing such devices, relying solely on vivid descriptions and similes to convey its essence. The absence of alliteration and onomatopoeia in "The Barn" suggests that these embellishments are unnecessary, with straightforward descriptions and similes providing ample richness to the poem.

Child's Experience with Nature

The final verses of both poems offer a glimpse into the child's personal encounter with the overwhelming forces of nature, emphasizing their smallness in comparison. In "Death of a Naturalist," the young boy grapples with the intimidating presence of war-like frogs, underscoring his diminutiveness. Similarly, in "The Barn," the child feels small in the vastness of the barn, surrounded by objects and animals. These moments encapsulate the vulnerability and awe experienced by the child in the face of nature's enormity.

Structural Analysis

The structural nuances of each poem contribute significantly to their overall impact. "The Barn" follows a discernible pattern with five verses of similar lengths, creating a cohesive and rhythmic flow. This structured format aligns more closely with traditional poetic conventions. Conversely, "Death of a Naturalist" deviates from a uniform structure, featuring two verses of differing lengths. This divergence imparts a storytelling quality to the poem, emphasizing the sequence of events over a strictly rhythmic pattern.


Both "Death of a Naturalist" and "The Barn" share common ground in their exploration of childhood experiences intertwined with nature's forces. However, nuanced differences emerge, from the portrayal of control and the tonal consistency to the use of literary devices and structural patterns. Through their similarities and subtle distinctions, these poems collectively offer a profound reflection on the enduring impact of childhood encounters with the formidable forces of nature.

Updated: Jan 02, 2024
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Nature and Childhood: Comparative Analysis of Heaney's Poems. (2016, Jun 23). Retrieved from

Nature and Childhood: Comparative Analysis of Heaney's Poems essay
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