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How to Compare Poetry

Seamus Heaney's 'Death of a Naturalist' and 'Blackberry Picking'

"But best of all was the warm thick slobber 

 Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water

 In the shade of banks." 

From: Seamus Heaney ‘Death of a Naturalist’        

             

"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."

From: Seamus Heaney ‘Blackberry Picking’

The purpose of any English Literature essay written for an exam is to tell the examiner what a poem means or what effect it is meant to have on the reader and when comparing poetic extracts it is necessary to first identify something they may have in common or something that is different. This might be a comparison of Structure, Mood, Image, Language or an Explanation of an idea or effect. We can use the mnemonic SMILE to remember this. In this essay, we are going to look at a comparison of structure such as end-stops, enjambment and caesuras and I will show how our interpretation of the structure should link into the mood, images and language used by the poet to convey meaning and effect.

Many poems use pauses (indicated by punctuation marks) at the end of each line. We can see an example of this in Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 18’ when he says: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” The question mark at the end of the sentence also marks the end of the line, it is, as we say, completely end-stopped, whereas Heaney’s ‘Death of a Naturalist’ that says: “But best of all was the warm thick slobber/of frogspawn that grew like clotted water/in the shade of banks.” is an example of fluid enjambment. In other words, lines run from one to the next without the use of punctuation resulting in the continuation of a sentence or clause over a line break. A comparison of structure might involve looking at a poet’s use of enjambment and in both extracts above we can see enjambment in practice.

Throughout Seamus Heaney's poem, 'Death of a Naturalist', we explore the transformation of a young boy's personality and his perception of nature. Heaney is reminiscing about his childhood; he depicts a child – like most others – fearless, innocent and evoking a seemingly undying love for the gruesome intricacies of nature: “...best of all was the warm thick slobber/of frogspawn”. The word “slobber”makes us think of a dog licking our hands.The line appeals to our sense of touch and helps us to imagine how warm and slimy, like a dog’s tongue, the frogspawn felt when the poet dipped his hand into it. As a young boy he loved exploring and enjoying nature; he was full of innocence and wonder.The phrase “best of all” highlights the boy’s childish excitement and love of collecting frogspawn and this excitement is highlighted by the poet’s use of enjambment showing the boys innocent delight at natures horrible attributes. When children are excited they tend to speak quickly, without taking a breath and sentences run one into another just as they do in enjambment. Therefore, Heaney appears to be trying to convey a mood of excitement not only through the words but also through the structure of his poem.......

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"And on top big dark blobs burned "And on top big dark blobs burned

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