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Seamus Heaney's Innocence Loss

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Seamus Heaney, a major poet of the 20th century, grew up and lived in Northern Ireland; where his father owned and worked fifty acres of farmland. He spent most of his time outdoors as he was surrounded by nature and wildlife. Therefore, his poetry was greatly impacted by the environment he grew up in. Heaney writes about the troubles that plagued the country during his young adulthood and about how he lost his childhood through certain life changing events In Death Of A Naturalist, Mid-Term Break, and The Early Purge he uses literary devices to show how he first lost his innocence.

In Death of a Naturalist, Heaney vividly describes a childhood experience that triggers a change in the boy, from the receptive and protected innocence of childhood to the fear and uncertainty of youth. It is an experience of collecting and watching frogspawn as a child, and his reaction when the spawn turned into frogs. In line eight Heaney makes the first mention of frogspawn with the metaphor “warm thick slobber,” which as a child was “best of all” to him among the gifts of nature. He would always collect “jampotfuls of the jellied specks” which he enjoyed looking at every spring. He would wait and watch for the change; when the dots turned into tadpoles. The last sentence of the first stanza continues telling us that frogs are yellow in sunny weather but “brown / In rain.” This quote underlines the fact that innocence is being lost and that a change is coming.

In Mid-Term Break Seamus Heaney writes about a tragic loss of his younger brother. He writes as an older man looking back at his past, remembering a strong memory. In the first stanza Heaney starts the poem with a normal boy sitting in class, which is followed by a sad and dark atmosphere: “I sat all morning in the college sick bay/ Counting bells knelling classes to a close.” Knells are bells which are used at funerals; so by associating school bells with death is not normal. From this we can get that something is unusual is going on. The poet is driven home by his neighbors and not by his parents; this shows the reader that something horrible has happened. Throughout the poem, Heaney tells us the exact time; in line 14 he tells us that “at ten o’clock the ambulance arrived.” By using time, Heaney tries us to show how vivid the memory still is. In lines 16-19; the poet is looking at his dead brother “for the first time in six weeks” and describes how he looked, pale. His brother was, “Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple. No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear. (Line 18, 21, 22)” This applies to the bruise being a crimson red and it also shows the tragic death of a young, innocent person. There were no lurid scars visible on the child’s body. The last line of the poem; “A four foot box, a foot for every year” finalizes the death of his four year old brother and that there was nothing else left to say.

From the title of the poem The Early Purges, you can guess the poem is about getting rid of the subject of the poem. Heaney writes about the death of animals on the farm and is subjected to two people’s opinions over killing the animals. By using imagery in the poem he describes how badly and cruelly the animals were treated on the farm and how they would drown the innocent kittens and pups. When Seamus Heaney first saw kittens drown he was only six. He was very young and innocent too see such a horrible image of death. While Heaney had watched the kittens drown, he said that he had watched them “turn mealy and crisp as old summer dung (line 12).” He watched the animals slowly decompose and felt sad and “frightened” (line 10). This would occur numerous times until he was immune to it. After the killing of so many animals, he felt no more empathy, the shock had left: “And now, when shrill pups are prodded to drown/ I just shrug, ‘Bloody pups’. It makes sense. (Line 17-18)” Heaney had lost all his innocence and became like Dan. Now, he realized that you have to get rid of “pests” on the farm.


All in all, Seamus Heaney uses Death of a Naturalist, Mid-Term Break, and The Early Purges to write about the loss of innocence and the cruel awakening into adulthood. At first, in Death of a Naturalist he writes an experience of collecting and watching frogspawn as a child, and his cold reaction when the spawn turned into frogs. Then, in Mid-Term Break he talks about losing his brother to a fatal accident, which leaves him numb and miserable. Finally, in The Early Purges Heaney finalizes the loss of innocence when he writes about the death of the animals. At first he was shocked and frightened, but later on, as he grew up he realized that they were just pests, and they had to be taken care of.



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