In ‘Death of a Naturalist’ there is plenty of language and imagery to suggest a sense of security about childhood in rural south Derry; it is not until the second paragraph that the boy’s childhood innocence is put in any danger. Seamus Heaney is using the method of structure to make the division clear by separating his poem into two paragraphs. In the first section of Seamus Heaney’s poem, life in the country seems homely and rustic, the perfect setting for a young boy to grow up. A great deal of Heaney’s poetry can be referred back to his childhood in Derry; therefore, we assume that the young boy in the poem embodies Heaney as a child.
Heaney gives the reader a colourful description using imagery of the world around him, demonstrating a childhood interest in nature. An example of his enthusiasm would be he says that the “bubbles gargled delicately”. Heaney uses imagery in his language when describing the countryside around him and uses the method of personification for the flax which “sweltered”, also the “punishing sun” and the image of the bubbles “gargling delicately”. In his writing methods Heaney appeals to our senses when saying that the “bluebottles wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell”.
This makes it easier for the reader to imagine the place he is describing, because if they can imagine the sights, the sounds and the smells they will be able to create a picture of this place in their mind’s eye. Heaney also puts into words boyish enthusiasm through the tone of the phrase: “best of all”. There is something homely about his spawn collecting routine as he does this “every spring”. All through ‘Death of a Naturalist’ the boy is enthusiastic, but unprofessional, as he does not use technical terminology, some examples being “the daddy frog”, “mammy frog” and “the fattening dots”.
These phrases signify clearly how innocent the young boy is at this stage in the poem, particularly about nature. Another technique Heaney uses to get across his childhood anticipation is alliteration. He describes how he would “wait and watch” the frogspawn as it developed. His innocence is stressed further, as the school scenery confirms the poem is about childhood. In the second paragraph of ‘Death of a Naturalist’ the childhood innocence that was so prominent in this young boy’s life is now greatly affected by a swarm of fully grown frogs charging towards him.
There is a huge contrast with his earlier view of the frogs and the threatening way he sees them in now. Now he says onomatopoeically that “the slap and plop were obscene threats”. This new view of the frogs is demonstrated further as he describes them as; “their necks pulsed like sails” and “gross-bellied frogs were cocked on sods”. This imagery is a clear indication in the contrast to the way he used to view the frogs when he was more innocent. He also uses militaristic language, a key example is the simile “poised like mud grenades”. This gets across to the reader that the frogs appeared to be waiting to attack him.
This imagery also hints at how he felt as though the frogs were waging war on him which is an adult obscenity, showing how this incident has effected his childish innocence. The language he uses also shows how much the frogs have changed: they now are ready to attack him whereas they used to be friendly and innocent. The child is now so afraid of the new appearance of the frogs that he “turned, and ran” from the scene compare this to the first paragraph when he saw the frogspawn as harmless fun and we get an indication of how much his childhood innocence has been affected.
The main point covered in Heaney’s “Death of a Naturalist” is how the child’s view on nature is changed as he finds out more, possibly too much, about nature and how this destroys his childhood innocence. The discoveries he makes shock him but also give him more mature views and his whole experience makes him a more grown up person and in the end, he has moved on from his childhood innocence. Unlike in the other two poems, R. S Thomas’s ‘The Evacuee’ makes the journey through childhood innocence in reverse, where the child has lost her innocence because of factors she cannot influence, but she then gradually regains it.
R. S Thomas sets the poem in the Welsh countryside as he has with a number of his other poems. Thomas lived and wrote during the Second World War and knew of the horrible things that the city children were exposed to. He knew that they where exposed to many adult evils which they could do nothing about, such is the obscenity of war. Many children, including the main character in “The Evacuee”, would have been evacuated to the countryside as it was seen to be the safest place in Britain.
In the first stanza of the poem, we are introduced to the girl waking up, and expecting to hear a siren. This shocks us that she was “waiting for the siren” and lays emphasis on the horridness that she had experienced before and grown accustomed to. Her childhood so far shows how compromised her innocence has been as she was “slow to trust”, which is seen to be a natural child reaction. This cynicism shows how little innocence she has left and how the threat of war still hangs over her. As the poem progresses she is still untrusting and Thomas using the adverb “uneasily” to imply this.
Thomas uses the method of metaphors to introduce the farm family: “the sounds and voices were a rough sheet waiting to catch her, as though she leaped from a scorched storey of the charred past”. In this metaphor the family are presented as saviours, as if they are saving her from a burning building, whereas in reality they are saving her from her “charred past” and giving her back a sense of security and childhood innocence. This metaphor also has a pun on the homophone story/storey. Also in this metaphor Thomas emphasizes the changeover from the loss of innocence, to the family trying to help the child to regain it.
In this poem the rural life is salvaging the child’s childhood innocence, whereas in Heaney’s poem it is damaging of the child’s childhood innocence. Thomas uses more metaphorical imagery when describing the shift the girl makes from having a spoiled innocence to regaining a wholesome innocence: “she grew, a small bird in the nest of welcome that was built around her”. Her new family and the people in the country have given her the security that she had been deprived of in the city and they help her immensely on her way to regaining her childhood innocence.
This is contrasting to ‘In Mrs Tilscher’s Class’, where the safety of childhood is rejected by the speaker. Thomas uses a simile to show that the child is growing up in a natural way, while her innocence is still untainted: “The soft flesh ripening warm as corn. ” The countryside gives the child the chance to be innocent and untroubled again and a perfect example of this is when Thomas that her “grey eyes, rinsed with dew of their long dread”. We also get a clear understanding of how the poem has developed when he uses a paradox saying that she is “home now” when she has left her family and home to get away from a horrendous environment.
As the poem ends there is a significant feeling of safety which is highlighted when it says, “The men watched her, and, nodding, smiled with earth’s charity, patient and strong. ” “The Evacuee” differs from the other two poems in that it reverses the process of childhood innocence, and it challenges the view that has been raised by the other two poems, that once you have lost your childhood innocence, you cannot regain it. To conclude, each of these poems when analysed focus on a defining point in a child’s life, in Duffy’s and Heaney’s poems they review the loss of childhood innocence, in “The Evacuee”, the renewal of childhood innocence.
These three poems raise the point that every child’s innocence is affected in different ways because no child has the same childhood. The definitive message that all of these poems enforce is that childhood innocence is priceless thing that every child should have. However, the loss of this precious innocence is unavoidable but it is significant in each child growing up. All in all, these three poems, without doubt, do capture important moments in all our lives, they capture our childhood innocence.