Death of a Naturalist & The Skunk

For this month’s animal poems post, it is with great pleasure I direct your attention to two by the late, great Seamus Heaney.

Death of a Naturalist” is one of those poems you pretty much just have to call perfect. It’s evocative, its language is wonderful and trips off the tongue, its images are vibrant, the line breaks thrill with their little tensions, the combination of sentimental nostalgia and gross realism delights — you know, perfect.  The love of words underlying it all, and the personality that comes through, the humor and respect for the place and time under discussion. I love especially the words, love saying out loud lines like “I would fill jampots full of the jellied / Specks to range on the window-sills at home” and “All the year the flax-dam festered in the heart / Of the townland; green and heavy headed” and oh I could go on.

For “The Skunk,” which also has brilliant rhythm and personality and everything else, because it too is pretty much perfect, it’s the images (and the word choices within them) I love best. The tail parading the skunk. The refrigerator whinnying. A mouthful (not a sip or a drink of, but a mouthful) of wine like scent off a pillow. The word “snuffing.” And the final image. Such a sexy poem. Here too, as in “Death of a Naturalist,” the voice rooted in the present moves in and out of the past with ease, which is partly why both poems feel so alive, I think, such a sense of a real person behind them.

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