Seamus Justin Heaney

  1. In Language and Lit. with Pato, we read about Seamus Heaney, and read and analyze some poems. We did an activity in groups. Then Pato gave us an activity to do individually.


Seamus Justin Heaney was born on April 13, 1939, on a farm in the Castledàwson, County Londonderry region of Northern Ireland, the first of nine children in a Catholic family. He received a scholarship to attend the boarding school St. Columb’s College in Derry and went on to Queens University in Belfast, studying English and graduating in 1961.

In 1953, Heaney’s second youngest brother Christopher was killed in a road accident, aged four. This tragic event is commemorated in one of his most famous poems, ‘Mid-Term Break’. After Christopher’s death, the family moved to a new farm, The Wood, outside the village of Bellaghy. Heaney was deeply influenced by the life of country, which later, found expression in his poetry. But then, as he grew up he also watched the industrial mushroom around him, and soon he saw the rural side of Ireland deplete.


Blackberry-Picking (Rochi v)

In the poem “Blackberry-Picking” we can spot the Rite of Passage that the voice goes through. The poem compares adulthood with childhood. First, the author analyze the exciting life of a blackberry picker. But when the ripe berry decays, the memories of childhood are over. The berries decay means the childhood decay, too. It loses its innocence, and confront the harsh things in life. “I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair/ That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.”, as in “Journey”, the child starts crying when he sees how harsh life is. He picked so many blackberries that they started to get rot, we can relate this excessive blackberry picking as an aspect of an ambitious person, but the child did not learnt, the next summer he did the same. The poem is a flashback, now, Seamus Heaney can understand the meaning of the rotten blackberries, ambition won’t get you anywhere.


Picking—> metaphor for the sweet, innocent childhood.


Late August, given heavy rain and sun

For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.

At first, just one, a glossy purple clot

Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.

You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet

Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it

Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for

Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger

Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots

Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.

Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills

We trekked and picked until the cans were full,

Until the tinkling bottom had been covered

With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned

Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered

With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.


We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.

But when the bath was filled we found a fur,

A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.

The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush

The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.

I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair

That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.

Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.


Personal Helicon (Juana)


The poem talks about a man who remembers his childhood. The voice explains how much he enjoyed wells when he was a kid and talks about an anecdote in one of them. At the end of the poem we can see that the voice went back to the well as a grown up.


Since the voice loved wells as a kid, we can spot how innocent he is, since the kid had such an imagination he saw things a grown up can not. He saw a “trapped sky” on the buckets, he paid attention to the smells of the fungus, he was just a kid having fun with something that, in my opinion, is not that fun. By saying this I mean that wells are not fun for adults in order to express the kid’s innocence. This proves the fact he was just a kid. When the voice went back, the poet expresses the fact that all those marvelous things the kid appreciated where not found. This portrays a rite of passage, since all those “echoes that gave back your own call, with a clean new music in it” were now dark. The voice passed through a Rite of Passage, he passed from being an innocent boy to be a grownup.


This well is his “personal helicon”, its his personal instrument or muse. When he was a kid it gives him back his innocence and his naiveness, the well give him joy music. As a grown up, it gives him darkness. The well portrays what he feels. As a kid it portrays his joy, as a grown up it reveals his guilt, he is guilty of ending his family legacy when he started being a poet. Not only the well reflects that, but it also reflects the fact that he grew up, he lost his innocence, that is the rite of passage.


Literary devices:

  • Alliteration: “Dark drop” to emphasize how much the voice loved something simple and dark
  • Olfactory Image: “the smells of waterweed, fungus and dank moss”, the poet portrays the kid’s innocent life and emphasizes it by describing the smells at the wells to make the anecdote more vivid and full of emotions.
  • Metaphor: “trapped sky”, this metaphor represents that the sky is ‘trapped’ in a bucket, it reflects the kid’s innocence since he really believes that it is trapped, when it is actually the reflection of the sky in a bucket of water
  • Simile: “fructified like any aquarium”,
  • Personification: “Echoes gave back your own call”, the echoes are personified in order to express his innocence bu believing the well sang to him
  • Personification: “Darkness echoing”, the echo is personified again to express the fact ir become dark.


Digging (Margui)

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.


Under my window, a clean rasping sound

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:

My father, digging. I look down


Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds

Bends low, comes up twenty years away

Stooping in rhythm through potato drills

Where he was digging.


The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft

Against the inside knee was levered firmly.

He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep

To scatter new potatoes that we picked,

Loving their cool hardness in our hands.


By God, the old man could handle a spade.

Just like his old man.


My grandfather cut more turf in a day

Than any other man on Toner’s bog.

Once I carried him milk in a bottle

Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up

To drink it, then fell to right away

Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods

Over his shoulder, going down and down

For the good turf. Digging.


The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap

Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge

Through living roots awaken in my head.

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.




portrays the relationship between the poet and his father.

* the poet remembers his father and the lineage he comes from.

* the poet reflects on his father  

*  tone: serious and full of reflection.

* The speaker is looking back through the family history, noting how hard his father and his grandfather have worked the land. He is in awe of their achievements yet resigned to the fact that he, as creator of the poem, is destined not to follow them and their digging.

* The speaker’s approach is serious and studied and quietly assured which creates a tone of thoughtful admiration and pride. He has respect for those who were expert diggers.


Metaphor: the pen –> tool to dig inside himself and to take out his feelings, he carries deep inside. Instead of using a spade as a tool to dig, he uses a pen.


In the poem, there is a rite of passage since the speaker digs for his identity:


In this case, the pen is the object of desire

In this poem, the voice avoids following his father steps = trespassing  the father figure and its authority.

A dare —> cut off its family tradition.

Understand the mischief —> Heaney is aware by the end of the poem with the fact that his skill of digging with a pen is as powerful as his forefathers’ act of digging for the survival.


In this poem, the voice is able to accept his internal change, his loss of innocence.


Circular structure = circle of life (internal journey)


Death of a Naturalist

All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragonflies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
Specks to range on window sills at home,
On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst, into nimble
Swimming tadpoles. Miss Walls would tell us how
The daddy frog was called a bullfrog
And how he croaked and how the mammy frog
Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was
Frogspawn. You could tell the weather by frogs too
For they were yellow in the sun and brown
In rain.

   Then one hot day when fields were rank
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
Right down the dam gross bellied frogs were cocked
On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat
Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew
That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.


This poem is about a young boy that had his first biology class. He loved seeing all that insects and small animals, and listen to his teacher. Here it shows the innocent part of childhood and the unconditional trust to the adults. But at the end of the poem, the boy saw something that would change his perspective of life and he would loss his innocence. That’s why this poem has a rite of passage.


Their steps are:

Object of desire—> The knowledge of biology that the boy wants to have.


Trespassing the authority—>

He trespass the teacher’s lesson


A dare—>

there isn’t a dare


Understand the mischief—>

understanding how babies are born



Accepts his loss of innocence


The title is very important as it is connected to the poem. At first, the word Naturalist is a reference to the boy and his interest of biology, a potential Naturalist. The word death is a metaphor (as anybody died). The death of that feeling of naturalist that the boy had.


All the poems of Seamus Justin Heaney that we read, deal with the childhood of a kid. This poems refer to different aspects of the childhood, of the relationship with his family specially with his father or his experience in school. Also, these poems compare childhood with adulthood and it always ends with a rite of passage and “maturity”.


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