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Death of a Naturalist

4.28  ·  Rating Details ·  1,529 Ratings  ·  88 Reviews
Poems deal with fathers, the past, mortality, nature, violence, school, rural life, love, fear, and childhood.
Paperback, 57 pages
Published December 31st 1969 by Faber & Faber (first published 1966)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Samir Rawas Sarayji
This review has been moved to Samir's Critical Corner here.
David Lentz
Aug 31, 2013 David Lentz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I began reading this first book of poetry by the Nobel Laureate from Ireland a few weeks ago. My wife and daughter were traveling on the Dingle Peninsula and stayed a few nights visiting Trinity College and drank pints of Guinness and Bushmills at the Temple Bar and witnessed the statues of James Joyce and Oscar Wilde in the greens of the great Gaelic capital. Ireland is an island which adores its poets, literary novelists and playwrights with a national ardor that I devoutly wish for my own cou ...more
João Fernandes
Aug 14, 2015 João Fernandes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, nobel
“Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.”
- From "Digging"

I was already living in Ireland for a couple of years when Seamus Heaney died, and I was surprised to see how hard his death hit the country. I had never read an Irish author even though I lived there, and was surprised that reactions to his death came from even my classmates - I had not seen such heartbreak for a national author when our own Portuguese Nobel passed away. It came as a surprise that the man an
Dublin James
Living in Dublin, i have actually seen Seamus Heaney in person. About 5 years ago i was on a train that was about to pull out of Connolly Station. Just before it did i noticed Heaney and his wife standing on the platform facing me. in my drunken state i jumped up excitedly. "My God!" i thought, "its Seamus Heaney the noble prize winning poet! Someone who had been spoon fed to me for years in school!"........

I frantically tried to open the window so as to call out to him but alas the train pulle
Jul 22, 2016 Katie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Prior to picking this up if read maybe 5 or 6 poems by Heaney, the well known ones like Midterm Break and Digging which are unofficially required learning for all Irish children. However, this collection allowed me to explore more of Heaney's works which are mostly heavily autobiographical and deal with life in rural Ireland. It's not hard to see why Heaney was a Nobel Laurette for literature, even in his very first published poetry collection his mastery was clear.
Billy O'Callaghan
Death of a Naturalist, by Seamus Heaney

A stunning first collection, which set the tone for the stellar career that followed.
I was nine years old when I first became aware of Seamus Heaney, and maybe even the potential of what poetry could be. There was a teacher called Mr. Deegan, and I remember with incredible clarity the day he sat on the edge of a table at the front of the classroom, folded open a ragged-looking paperback and began to read, slowly and aloud, the poem, 'Mid-Term Break.' Eve
Brian Robbins
Sep 08, 2013 Brian Robbins rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, seamus-heaney
Coming back to this volume of poems after many years, it was an absolute joy & I found myself upping my rating of it to 5 stars. The delightful quality of the poems in themselves, which breathe & encapsulate the world that Heaney inhabits & present it to the reader in the most vivid of images deserve regular re-readings in order to soak in them.

Their attraction was probably heightened by reading them during a 5 hour coach journey (I loath the enclosure, discomfort & stuffiness of
Sep 14, 2013 Christopher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Released in 1966, Death of a Naturalist was the first collection by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney. While his later work would be more far-ranging, this debut is deeply concerned with the Irish countryside.

Many the poems deal with traditional labour. “Digging”, perhaps his most famous poem, begins with a descriptive of the poet’s father digging up potatoes with a spade and ends with Heaney’s proclamation that the pen will be his tool of choice. In “Follower” he describes how he would walk behind h
Sep 02, 2013 Ashley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In memory and honor of Seamus Heaney, this evening Oleg and I alternated reading aloud from "Death of a Naturalist." Some favorite poems include "Digging," "Death of a Naturalist," "Blackberry-Picking," "Mid-Term Break," "The Diviner," "Scaffolding," and "Personal Helicon." Seamus Heaney read many of these poems at a reading that I attended at St. Oswald's Church in Grasmere, England in the summer of 2010.
Jul 01, 2007 V. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
Seamus Heaney is one of my favorite poets, although it's been too long since I last read him. The first lines in "Digging," the first poem in this collection, still ring loud and clear for me: "Between my finger and my thumb/The squat pen rests;/as snug as a gun."

What I like best about Heaney's poetry is the sensual earthiness of it. You can hear the slop of mud and feel the earth yield beneath your spade. This has always seemed magical to me.
Feb 09, 2015 Heather rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
A really wonderful collection of poems. Heaney takes ordinary sights and activities growing up in rural Ireland and makes them into something beautiful.

Personal favourites include Mid-term Break, Waterfall, Twice Shy, Poem for Marie and The Play Way but the whole book is rich and deserves to be read from cover to cover
Michael Arnold
Jul 29, 2016 Michael Arnold rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, poetry
I'm going to be reading Heaney's work over again, and very carefully. And I now own this hardcover, special edition of Death of a Naturalist to mark the 50th year anniversary of it's publication. So, it seemed right to revisit it now. It was only 13, and this is now easily one of my favourite books of poetry, so it seemed like a good investment. I'm going to give thoughts on each poem:

This first poem in the collection is not a very complicated poem, but it is better for it to open Hea
John Pistelli
Oct 23, 2016 John Pistelli rated it it was amazing
Thinking, for what should be obvious reasons, about previous Anglophone poets who won the Nobel Prize, I decided to read this, Seamus Heaney's first collection, published in 1966. All the virtues we've heard about and know from the anthology pieces—the dense sonic texture of the poems, their thickness like that of the matter they describe, a verbal impasto thickened with slant-rhyme, alliteration, and assonance—are there in full in the poet's debut. I analyze what I think it all means:

Two famous
Oct 26, 2013 Larissa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I came upon Death of a Naturalist in a roundabout fashion, even for me. I wanted to find an example of slant rhyme, since my little sister had written a poem using this, I thought, and I wanted to make sure I paid an accurate compliment. So I googled "slant rhyme" and came across a poetry site that used the poem "Digging," which opens this collection, as an example. There was an audio track of Heaney reading the poem and I was so taken with it that I went the next day to the university library a ...more
Jun 08, 2015 Sylvester rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is my first look at Heaney's poetry (I liked him already for his translation of Beowulf). I might be reading too literally, but most of the poems in this collection seemed clearly about real events and objects. A trout, a waterfall, poor women in a church, a docker, blackberry picking - things and people and events. Sometimes almost purely descriptive, without any attempt at deeper meaning, other than the things being themselves. I am likely all wrong, but this is the way I read it. And Hea ...more
Kerri Stebbins
May 07, 2012 Kerri Stebbins rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, poetic
Heaney: "I rhyme
to see myself, to set the darkness echoing."

Me: "I read
to find the river, to hear my father beckoning."

Heaney: "Did sea define the land or land the sea?
Each drew new meaning from the waves' collision.
Sea broke on land to full identity."

Me: "Was I born on a mountaintop or at the bottom of the sea?
Anew I find myself with vistas for water and salt for air.
Maybe my mother had nothing to do with me."

Heaney: "The burn drowns steadily in its own downpour,
A helter-skelter of muslin
Krishna Avendaño
Heaney sobre la temprana vocación poética:

De niño, no me podían alejar de los pozos
ni de las viejas bombas, con sus baldes y poleas.
Me encantaba el oscuro vacío, el cielo atrapado,
el olor a algas, a hongos y a húmedo musgo.

Había uno en un ladrillar, con una tapa de madera podrida.
Yo saboreaba el sorprendente estrépito cuando un cubo
caía a plomo en el extremo de la cuerda.
Tan profundo que no se veían reflejos.

Otro, poco profundo, bajo una zanja de piedra seca
fructificaba como cualquier acuario.
Oct 25, 2016 Andrada rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, favorites
The moment I read Seamus Heaney’s rendition of Beowulf, I suspected I would like his poems. There was something so endearing about his writing, eloquent yet simple and engaging. And I was right. Death of a Naturalist is an amazing collection of poems focusing on rural Ireland, fragments of Heaney’s memories and thoughts.

I always thought there was an ethnological divide between Eastern and Western Europe because of their rural and urban cultural points of view, but Heaney’s poems captured so wel
Aug 26, 2016 Cindy marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Gary Lightbody (whom I love almost as much as I love the Doctor) wrote a song called Reading Heaney To Me.

"Just use your voice
and Heaney's words
Dig your way through to my heart
plant your flag and set up camp"

"Just you and me and naturalists
held with tender hands and mouth"

It made me curious enough to look this book up. Gary Lightbody is a GOD to me, so I think this warrants a reading!
Oct 04, 2011 Jsavett1 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is Heaney's first collection, long before he earned his monumental reputation. These poems are fantastic. Self-assured and sensitive, they display Heaney's facility with language and exquisite taste in word choice (except for the record number of times he says "bog" or "sod"!!!) these poems, though rising from the...bogs...of his Irish childhood, cover a variety of relatable topics, like the death of his brother, his father's haunting influence as he ages. A pro at his beginning.
May 03, 2012 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
Like eating mudpies and bathing in dirt, stones for molars and fog for breath. Also: sod and bog, bog and sod.

[4 stars for peat and whiskey.]
Barrai Heffernan
My favourite book of poetry. I get transported every time I read poems from this collection. Just incredible
Apr 25, 2016 Trisha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I picked up this slim volume of poems I didn’t realize it was the first of many collections of poetry Seamus Heaney wrote over the years. This one was first published in 1966 (almost 30 years before Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature) and I’m reminded that at the time the only poetry I ever read was what I was forced to struggle with in school. I can’t help wondering how many other people were scared away from poetry for the same reason. Fortunately, somewhere along the line I ...more
Apr 08, 2011 Katie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, 2011, 1960s
Death of a Naturalist is a wonderful collection of poems which chiefly deal with Heaney’s rural Irish childhood and heritage. Individually, they are earthy and emotional and they combine together to form an impressive and coherent whole picture. What sets Heaney’s poetry apart is the sensuous quality of the language, how the words sound when said aloud and how they feel in the mouth. He seems to take great delight in rhyme, in onomatopoeia, in sibilant and plosive sounds and the physicality of w ...more
Steven Quayle
May 26, 2014 Steven Quayle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
Churning Day
For Jennifer

A thick crust, coarse-grained as limestone rough-cast,
hardened gradually on top of the four crocks
that stood, large pottery bombs, in the small pantry.
After the hot brewery of gland, cud and udder
cool porous earthenware fermented the buttermilk
for churning day, when the hooped churn was scoured
with plumping kettles and the busy scrubber
echoed daintily on the seasoned wood.
It stood then, purified, on the flagged kitched floor.

Out came the four crocks, spilled their heavy l
Danny Daley
Mar 25, 2016 Danny Daley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Through a large portion of Heaney's forty year career, he was likely the most famous and revered poet in the world. When he passed away, there were collective moments of silence around Ireland, and at one point they even interrupted a soccer match. Sometime in 2011 I set myself to soak in some of Heaney's work, and after reading through three full collections, carefully, I was miffed. Clearly I was missing something beautiful and profound, but I had hardly resonated with a single word in those t ...more
Oleg Kagan
Nov 09, 2013 Oleg Kagan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book for Ashley a while ago, but when Seamus Heaney died, reading it took on a different type of urgency. So, we sat together and read through the entire book alternating poems as an unofficial eulogy for the eminent poet.

I had read Heaney in the past, a poem here and there, but I'd never sat down for a whole book. Of any of them, Death of a Naturalist is a good one to sit down with, as it is his first book. As a first book, it is auspicious in that it begins an exploration of them
Ian Mathers
Aug 30, 2013 Ian Mathers rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013, poetry
I bought this years ago (due to having read and loved Heaney's translation of Beowulf) and honestly I'm pretty sure I'd read the whole thing, albeit in bits and pieces over time. Hearing today that Heaney had died I took it down from the shelf and read the whole thing start to finish; it's a very slim volume, so it didn't take long. I can't say I liked it more than I had before, but it did renew my appreciation for Heaney's work. I'm not particularly well versed (sorry) in either poetry in gener ...more
May 19, 2016 Dan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favs
Meat and potatoes, short modern poetry. The majority of the poems are about growing up in rural Ireland.

The poems depict the epiphanies of a growing narrator, and the epiphanies are usually demonstrated through the narrator's observations of nature. With the narrator growing up on a farm, he has a strong connection to the land, and thus his habitat is cleverly used by the poet to cultivate metaphors for the young Irishman's growth.

The poems are dense with sensory language, and my favorite part a
Nov 30, 2010 Matt rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, irish
Having read Heaney's "Wintering Out" and hating it, I thought that I would give him a second chance with another collection. This was probably a bad call, as I hated this any more. Where is the value in this? It gets to the point where it is entirely grotesque and offensive. There is literally a poem in this collection about killing puppies and kittens. I'm not easily offended, but I actually managed to find this collection of poems offensive. First, it was offensive in the way that I thought th ...more
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Seamus Justin Heaney was an Irish poet, writer and lecturer from County Derry, Ireland. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995, "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past."

Heaney on Wikipedia.
More about Seamus Heaney...

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“I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.”
“Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.” 9 likes
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