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Seamus heaney death of a naturalist



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  • 2. DiggingBetween my finger and my t h u m bThe squat pen rests; snug as a gun.Under my w i n d o w , a clean rasping soundW h e n the spade sinks into gravelly ground:M y father, digging. I l o o k d o w nT i l l his straining r u m p among the flowerbedsBends l o w , comes up twenty years awayStooping i n r h y t h m through potato drills"Where he was digging.The coarse boot nestled on the l u g , the shaftAgainst the inside knee was levered firmly.He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deepT o scatter new potatoes that we picked,L o v i n g their cool hardness i n our hands.By God, the old man could handle a" spade.Just like his old man.M y grandfather cut more turf i n a dayThan any other man on Toners bog.Once I carried h i m m i l k i n a bottleCorked sloppily w i t h paper. H e straightened upT o drink i t , then fell to r i g h t away [x]
  • 3. N i c k i n g and slicing neatly, heaving sodsOver his shoulder, going d o w n and down Death of a NaturalistFor the good turf. Digging.The cold smell of potato m o u l d , the squelch and slap A l l year the flax-dam festered i n the heartOf soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge O f the t o w n l a n d ; green and heavy headedThrough living roots awaken i n m y head.. Flax had rotted there, weighted d o w n by huge sods.But Ive no spade to f o l l o w men like them. Daily i t sweltered i n the punishing sun. Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottlesBetween m y finger and m y t h u m b Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.The squat pen rests. There were dragon-flies, spotted butterflies,I l l dig w i t h i t . But best of all was the w a r m thick slobber O f frogspawn that grew like clotted water I n the shade of the banks. Here, every spring, I w o u l d fill jampotfuls of the jellied Specks to range on window-sills at home, O n shelves at school, and w a i t and "watch until The fattening dots burst into nimble- Swimming tadpoles. Miss Walls w o u l d tell us h o w The daddy frog was called a bullfrog. A n d h o w he croaked, and h o w the mammy f r o g Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was Frogspawn. Y o u could tell the weather by frogs too For they were yellow i n the sun and b r o w n I n rain. Then one h o t day when fields were rank W i t h cowdung i n the grass, the angry frogs Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges T o a coarse croaking that I had not heard Before. The air was thick w i t h a bass chorus. Right d o w n the dam, gross-bellied frogs were cocked [3]
  • 4. O n sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some . hopped: The slap and plop were obscene threats; Some safPoised like m u d grenades, their blunt heads farting. 1 sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings "Were gathered "thereiof vengeance, "and I k n e w That i f I dipped m y hand the-spawn w o u l d clutch i t [4]
  • 5. Follower Ancestral Photograph M y father w o r k e d w i t h a horse-plough, Jaws puff round and solid as a t u r n i p , His shoulders globed l i k e a f u l l sail strung Dead eyes are statues and the upper lip Between the shafts and the f u r r o w . Bullies the heavy m o u t h d o w n to a .droop The horses strained at his clicking tongue. A bowler suggests the stage Irishjnan Whose l o o k has t w o parts scorn, t w o parts dead pan. A n expert. H e w o u l d set the w i n g H i s silver watch chain girds h i m like a hoop. A n d fit the bright steel-pointed sock. The sod rolled over w i t h o u t breaking. V M y fathers uncle, f r o m w h o m he learnt the trade, A t the headrig, w i t h a single pluck L o n g fixed i n sepia tints, begins to fade A n d must come d o w n . N o w on the bedroom w a l l Of reins, the sweating team turnedround There is a £a3ed patch where he has been — A n d back into the land. His eye As i f a bandage had been rippe.d f r o m skin — N a r r o w e d and angled at the ground, E m p t y plaque to a houses rise and fall. M a p p i n g the f u r r o w exactly. T w e n t y years ago I herded cattle I stumbled i n his hob-nailed wake, . Into^gens or held them against a w a l l Fell sometimes on the polished sod; J n t i l my father w o n at arguing Sometimesii£jxxd^-45B©-©H4y5-4ad<,^ ^ H i s o w n price on a c r o w d of cattlemen D i p p i n g and rising to his p l o d , fytyfiH W h o handled rumps, groped teats, stood, paused and then I wanted to grow up and plough, Bought a r o u n d of drinks to clinch the bargain. T o close one eye, stiffen m y arm. A l l I ever did was follow Uncle and nephew, fifty years ago, I n his broad shadow round the f a r m . Heckled and herded through the fair days too. This barrel of a m a n penned i n the frame: ; I was a nuisance, tripping, falling, I see h i m w i t h the jaunty hat pushed back . •. Yapping always. B u t today D r a w thumbs out of his waistcoat, curtly smack..C I t is my father w h o keeps stumbling Hands and sell, ^ a ^ ^ , Ive watched y o u do the same Behind me, and w i l l not go away. [xz] . [x ] 3
  • 6. where the halved seed shot and clotted, At a Potato Digging these knobbed and slit-eyed tubers seem the petrified hearts of drills. Split by the spade, they show white as cream. i Good smells exude f r o m crumbled earth. A mechanical digger wrecks the d r i l l , The rough bark of humus erupts Spins up a dark shower of roots and m o u l d . knots of potatoes (a clean birth) Labo urers swarm i n behind, stoop to fill whose solid feel, whose wet insides Wicker creels. Fingers go dead i n the cold. promise taste of ground and root. To be piled i n pits; live skulls, blind-eyed. Like crows attacking crow-black fields, they stretch A higgledy line f r o m hedge to headland; Some pairs keep breaking ragged ranks to fetch ill ,- A f u l l creel to the p i t and straighten, stand. Live skulls, blind-eyed, balanced on w i l d higgledy skeletons,Tall for a moment but soon stumble backTo fish a- new load f r o m the crumbled surf. scoured the land i n forty-five,Heads bow, trunks bend, hands fumble towards the wolfed the blighted r o o t and died. blackM o t h e r . Processional stooping through the t u r f The new potato, sound as stone, putrefied when i t h a d lainRecurs mindlessly as autumn. Centuries three days i n the l o n g clay p i t .O f fear and hljma^e to the famine god Millions rotted along w i t h i t .Toughen the muscles behind their humbled knees,Make a seasonal altar of the sod. Mouths tightened i n , eyes died hard, faces chilled to a plucked b i r d . In a million wicker huts, II beaks of famine snipped at guts.Flint-white, purple. They lie scatteredlike inflated pebbles.. Native A people hungering f r o m b i r t h ,to the black hutch of clay grubbing, like plants, i n the earth, [18] [19]
  • 7. were grafted w i t h a great sorrow.Hope rotted like a marrow. For the Commander of the Eliza . . . the others, with emaciated faces and prominent, staringStinking potatoes fouled the land, eyeballs, were evidently in an advanced state of starvation. Thepits turned pus into filthy mounds: officer reported to Sir James Dombrain . . . and Sir James, veryand where potato diggers are, inconveniently, wrote Routh, interfered,you still smell the running sore. CECIL WOODHAM-SMITH: THE GREAT HUNGER Routine patrol off West M a y o ; sighting iv • A rowboat heading unusually farUnder a gay flotilla of gulls Beyond the creek, I tacked and hailed the crewThe r h y t h m deadens, the workers stop. I n Gaelic. Their stroke had clearly weakenedB r o w n bread and tea i n bright canfuls As they pulled to, f r o m guilt or bashfulnessAre served for lunch. Dead-beat, they flop I was conjecturing when, O my sweet Christ, W e saw piled i n the b o t t o m of their craftD o w n in the ditch and take their fill, Six g r o w n men w i t h gaping mouths -and eyesThankfully breaking timeless fasts; Bursting the sockets like spring onions-in drills.Then, stretched on the faithless ground, spill Six wrecks of bone and pallid, tautened skin.Libations of cold tea, scatter crusts. Bia, bia, Bia. I n whines and snarls their desperation Rose and fell like a flock of starving gulls. W e d k n o w n about the shortage, hut on board They always kept us right w i t h flour and beef So understand my feelings, and the mens, W h o had no mandate to relieve distress Since relief was then available i n Westport — T h o u g h clearly these.poor brutes w o u l d never make i t . I had to refuse food: they cursed and h o w l e d Like dogs that had been kicked hard i n the privates. W h e n they drove at me w i t h their starboard oar (Risking capsize themselves) I saw they were Violent and w i t h o u t hope. I hoisted A n d cleared off. Less incidents the better. [zo]
  • 8. Trout WaterfallHangs, a fat gun-barrel, The burn drowns steadily i n its o w n d o w n p o u r ,deep under arched bridges A helter-skelter of muslin and glassor slips like butter d o w n , That skids to a halt, crashing up suds.the tdjjSg^t of the river. Simultaneous acceleration •From depths smooth-skinned as plums, A n d sudden braking; water goes overhis muzzle gets -bnil!s_eve^_ Like villains dropped screaming to justice.picks off grass-seed and mothsthat vanish, torpedoed. ,^jt_ar£p_ears an athletic glacier Hasrearea 7nto reverse: is iljalkyv^ed up rWhere water unravels A n d regurgitated through this l o n g i & r o a t .over gravel-beds heis fired from the shallows, JMveye.rides over and downwards, falls w i t hwhite belly reporting H u r t l i n g tons that slabber and spill, Falls, yet records t h e ^ ^ ^ t t thus standing still.flat; darts like a tracer- .bullet back between stonesand is never burnt out.A volley of cold ^ f o ^ramrodding the current. [z6] [2.7]