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Death of a Naturalist [Hardcover]

Seamus Heaney
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 1966

For the fortieth anniversary of its publication, in May 2006, Faber are reissuing Seamus Heaney's classic first collection, Death of a Naturalist, which on its appearance in 1966 won the Cholmondeley Award, the E.C. Gregory Award, the Somerset Maugham Award and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize.

'His words give us the soil-reek of Ireland, the colourful violence of his childhood on a farm in Derry. The full-blooded energy of these poems makes Death of a Naturalist the best first book of poems I've read for some time.' - C.B. Cox in the Spectator

'The power and precision of his best poems are a delight, and as a first collection Death of a Naturalist is outstanding [...] His subject is those things which are inherent or inherited. What he praises is to be praised in his own work.' - Christopher Ricks, New Statesman

'Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,

To stare big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring

Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme

To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.'

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 57 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; FIRST EDITION edition (May 1966)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571066658
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571066650
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,432,302 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Seamus Heaney was born in County Derry in Northern Ireland in 1939. Death of a Naturalist, his first collection of poems, appeared in 1966 and since then he has published poetry, criticism and translations - including Beowulf (1999) - which established him as one of the leading poets of his generation. In 1995 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. District and Circle (2006), his eleventh collection, was awarded the T. S. Eliot Prize. Stepping Stones, a book of interviews conducted by Dennis O'Driscoll, appeared in 2008. In 2009 he received the David Cohen Prize for Literature. His twelfth collection of poetry, Human Chain, was published in 2010.

Seamus Heaney died in Dublin on August 30th, 2013

Product Description

Amazon Review

First published in 1966, this debut collection by Seamus Heaney signals the talent that was to win him the Nobel Prize in 1995. Largely addressing his rural childhood in County Derry, the volume begins with "Digging", a poem which encapsulates Heaney's early concerns about roots, belonging and the supple joy of language. As he watches his father digging the flowerbed, he recalls him working the potato drills and lines of turf 20 years before. "By God, the old man could handle a spade. / Just like his old man." Heaney is renowned for getting inside language and revelling in its sensual glut. He talks of "the squelch and slap / Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge / Through living roots." He too severs roots, being the first generation not to depend on the land. "But I've no spade to follow men like them. / Between my finger and my thumb / The squat pen rests. / I'll dig with it." Heaney has the bewildering genius of being loose and tight at the same time, conversational and colloquial as well as formally rigorous. He's equally at home and as wildly inventive in blank and rhyming verse. In Death of a Naturalist, he takes the reader to the festering flax-dam where "bluebottles / Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell" and he gathered "the warm thick slobber / Of frogspawn." He delights in excess, in textures--"a glossy purple clot" of ripe blackberry, its flesh like "thickened wine". "For the Commander of the Eliza" is savage in its depiction of the famine: "Six grown men with gaping mouths and eyes / Bursting the sockets like spring onions in drills." The captain of the ship refuses to give out food on Whitehall's orders. In "At a Potato Digging", Heaney compares contemporary potato-gatherers at their "seasonal altar of the sod" and the piles of spuds, "live skulls, blind-eyed" to those who "wolfed the blighted root and died". He renders the famine unavoidably stark and present. Almost every poem demonstrates his resourceful, elastic use of language and Heaney ably achieves what he aims to do: "I rhyme / To see myself, to set the darkness echoing." --Cherry Smyth --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Seamus Heaney was born in 1939 in County Derry in Northern Ireland. Death of a Naturalist, his first book, appeared in 1966. Since then he has published poetry, criticism and translations for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. He received the Whitbread Book of the Year for The Spirit Level (1996) and Beowulf (1999). His twelfth and most recent collection, District and Circle, was published in April 2006. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strong 28 Mar 2008
By William Burn VINE VOICE
Returning to this book some ten years after I first encountered Seamus Heaney (under the inescapably unfortunate constellation of GCSE English coursework) I was a little unsure what I would encounter. Those first readings of "Mid-term Break" left me slightly puzzled: these were clearly moving, often quite funny stories, but I didn't "get" the poetry. I couldn't tell what it was that Heaney was doing with language. In short, it all seemed a little, well, pointless.

But now, rather older, and maybe a little wiser (though that's hardly a great improvement: I was a particularly useless example of a 15 year old boy), I find in Heaney a stunning ability to weave language into something that is far more than the sum of its parts. There is a denseness to his poetry, not in the sense of obscurantism or difficulty, but in the sound it makes when you read it, in the weight of the syllables in your mouth, that sets him apart from any other poet I know. And this is not to claim some sort of affective fallacy, whereby the weight of his verse evokes the weight of the Irish soil, but to mark his writing out as something more firm, more resilient, than texts that could be so easily dismissed by a rather glib, arrogant young man.

And now I turn again and again to Heaney, seeing in his writing great thought, close observation and honesty, and I am grateful for the time that has passed.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Digging for Fire 24 April 2009
I first encountered Seamus Heaney as a 22 year old completing an ACCESS to university course. I was immediately impacted by the simplicity and hidden depths within; Heaney's genius lies in his familiarity with the everyday and his ability to confront our preconceptions with poetry that appears rough and ready but which is in fact beauty wrapped up in dirt and the mundanity of everyday life.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow ! 31 Jan 2014
By kim
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Amazing ! Wondered what all the fuss was about ? Read this ! The man is an artist with words and it will get you interested in poetry.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
In Heaney's early work Heaney struggles to follow men like his ancestors, and rhymes anout a alust fro childhood innocence. The older Heaney uses the voice of the peat bog where the ground speaks with a voice, Heaney's conscious voice. The poems are meant for introspection as they open inwards to a dark place where Heaney can see and discuss the 'cured wound' of a Northern Irish Roman Catholic in the midst of Northern Ireland's conflict.
Seamus Heaney's first collection of poems is an accessible and understated experiment in lyrical description. It was written in 1966 and what first strikes us now is an adherence to metrical and rhyming (usually off-rhyming) patterns which are today considered undesirably strict. Much of the time Heaney smacks of Larkin - without (for this reader) the touch of Larkin's charismatic individuality. But one quickly appreciates the earnest craftsmanship of these poems. Indeed Heaney's characteristic equation of poetry with 'working', 'labouring', etc. is evident throughout these early pieces. 'Between my finger and my thumb / The squat pen rests. / I'll dig with it.': there are many instances here of words being forged or moulded or indeed excavated to create a construct of sincere meaning.
This is what poetry is all about. Heaney has a strong, unambiguously masculine voice that can, at times, sound like sixteenth-century verse ('Scaffolding' reads like a latterday metaphysical poem). Elsewhere - despite a perhaps enervating lack of humour and whimsicality (although, on consideration, it is by no means a total lack) - these poems sound confident, clear-sighted and sensitive in the way that we see all men of the land as (stubbornly, gruffly) sensitive.
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5.0 out of 5 stars perfect 19 Jun 2014
I read this again recently after many years. It's a beautiful book of poetry and still stands head and shoulders above so much poetry written today. No rhyming couplets here - note to so-called poets selling their wares on here - just raw emotion. Blackberry picking remains my favourite poem and takes me back to days of study. Ah...
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4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful poet 7 April 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Typical Heaney feel as though you are with him when he describes the life events in such great clarity. Love it
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great realy poems by Heaney 30 Jan 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is an excellent set of poems - though some in the middle of the collection are less impressive. Overall well wprth reading and going back to.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring!
Inspired me to remember and write this:

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The kale used to reach nearly to my midriff
A sea of purple leafed scars clotted with chilled... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Nigel Marshall
5.0 out of 5 stars Heaney
Anyone who didn't like Seamus Heaney would be a Philistine. It was for a present I already have a copy.
Published 7 months ago by Reader
4.0 out of 5 stars seamus heaney.
not for everyone i suspect but my advice to a reader who is unsure of Heaneys poetry is to persevere.Read in a quiet room without distractions;relax and take it as it comes.
Published 8 months ago by Desmond Mckinney
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful anthology, alas too short
I found it was just a brilliant collection of his poems,which made me want to buy more of his books.
Published 8 months ago by PatB
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspired
I read this work when much younger and was moved by Mid-Term Break, granted a visionary perspective through the Turkey and provided life wisdom with the last line of St Francis and... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Pippin
5.0 out of 5 stars I'LL DIG WITH THIS
With these words Heaney closes his first poem,in his first published collection in 1966 which helped make his reputation as a major poet in the English language. Read more
Published 20 months ago by B. G. Strand
5.0 out of 5 stars Death of a Naturalist by Seamus Heaney
For those who like Heaney, this excellent early work gives an insight into the themes and ideas that he has continued to explore and develop since. A super read.
Published on 4 April 2009 by Mr. P. E. Davies
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