Comparing ‘The Badger’ and ‘Death of a Naturalist’
‘Death of a Naturalist’ and ‘The Badger’ are two poems which address the theme of nature, showing both the natural world in a positive and negative light along with showing the human world in the same way. ‘Death of a Naturalist’ shows the speaker’s changing feeling about nature from a child who is excited by nature and exploring the flax-dam to an adult who returns to the flax-dam and is horrified by the frogs. In ‘The Badger’, Clare shows his feelings about nature when he describes an incident of badger baiting. ‘The Badger’ by John Clare represents the frequent battle between nature and man. Clare emphasises the unremitting battle and nature is represented in this poem by the Badger. This is similar to ‘Death of a Naturalist’ which focuses on human opinion to nature. Heaney portrays his love and later his fear for nature through the metaphor of a frog, similar to the Badger.
In the first ten lines of the poem Heaney uses vivid imagery to describe the setting and its sights, smell and sounds. The phrase ‘flax-dam festered’ in the opening line combines assonance and alliteration, and begins to create the atmosphere of decay. ‘Heavy headed’ at the end of the second line again uses assonance and alliteration in one phrase to describe the flax that had rotted. The heaviness is emphasised further in the third line, where the flax is ‘weighted down by huge sods’. The idea that hot weather has caused the decay is expressed in line four: ‘Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun’, a personification of the oppressiveness of the sun. A gentler image focusing on sound is created in ‘Bubbles gargled delicately’ in line five. The movement of flies is described with a metaphor: ‘bluebottles / wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell’, a fascinating image combining different senses. Line seven hints at the beauty of the scene with its ‘dragonflies, spotted butterflies’. In a similar way, Clare uses imagery to bring across the sounds and smells of the situation such as when the hare “buzzes” by.
Lines fifteen to twenty-one are a very childlike account of how the schoolteacher, Miss Walls, taught Heaney’s class about frogs and frogspawn. Simple, childish language features in this section, such as ‘the mammy frog laid hundreds of little eggs’; there are four clauses each joined by ‘and’ in this sentence, just as though it were written by a child. The final sentence of the first stanza continues in the same style, telling us that frogs are yellow in sunny weather but ‘brown / In rain’. The last, brief two-word line of the first stanza seems to underline the fact that this is the end of a period of innocence and that a change is forthcoming. This is similar to John Clare’s simple tone throughout his poem. This is no surprise as Clare was known as the ‘Peasant Poet’ and is shown through his less educated and romantic style. This greatly affects his work as he relies on repetition for emphasis in ‘The Badger’ such as his view on the strength of both forces.
As Heaney approached he heard a ‘coarse croaking’ that was a new sound in that setting; in line twenty-six he uses the metaphor ‘The air was thick with a bass chorus’ to describe how the sound filled the place. This is similar to “The Badger” which uses the metaphor of the badger’s death as a way of representing Clare’s own fall from favour during his life. This transition is also shown in Heaney’s poem which represents his change from child to adult.
Frogs are everywhere and they are ugly, ‘gross-bellied’, pictured with assonance in the phrase ‘cocked on sods’. Their flabby necks are described by Heaney with the simile ‘pulsed like sails’. The sound of their movements is expressed by onomatopoeia: ‘slap and plop’, which obviously disgusted Heaney who felt that these were ‘obscene threats’. In line thirty their stance is described by the simile ‘Poised like mud grenades’, an image that echoes the war-like connotation of the word ‘invaded’ in line twenty-four. Heaney again voices his distaste for the sound of the frogs in the phrase ‘their blunt heads farting’. He could not face them, and in line thirty-one he ‘sickened, turned and ran’, such was his revulsion. He personifies them as ‘great slime kings’ and in the following line states that they had assembled at the flax-dam for revenge: ‘gathered there for vengeance’ for stolen frogspawn. Heaney’s final line expresses how far his imagination as a child took hold: ‘if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it’. This is a nightmare image where the spawn becomes powerful and grabs the child, reversing the original roles.
The use of straight forward language in Clare’s poem is easy to understand while his limited vocabulary see’s the most basic elements emphasised. This is unlike ‘Death of a Naturalist’ which is full of techniques to help drive the poem forward while retaining a deeper meaning. However, both poems do use verbs to show the dislike to nature in both poems.
These poems shows a true was between man and nature while showing both the positive and negative of the situation. The poets use a wide range of techniques to show a true emotional epic between the warring sides.