Death of a Naturalist by Seamus Heaney

By Seamus Heaney

Among my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests; comfortable as a gun. -- from 'Digging' With its lyrical and descriptive powers, dying of a Naturalist marked the auspicious debut of 1 of the century's most interesting poets.

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The full title of this last work, A discourse, containing the ethicke part of morall philosophie: fit to instruct a gentleman in the course of a vertuous life, could serve as a subtitle of Spenser’s poem, especially since Bryskett tells Lord Grey that his end is ‘to discourse upon the morall vertues, yet not omitting the intellectuall, to the end to frame a gentleman fit for civill conversation, and to set him in the direct way that leadeth him to his civill felicitie’ (6). See ‘courtesy books’ in the SEnc.

Readers today, who rightly query any labelling of Spenser’s characters, may query just how the knight’s pride, if he is proud, is personified by Orgoglio. Does he fall through pride? Most certainly he falls: one who was on horseback lies upon the ground, first to rest in the shade and then to lie with Duessa; and although he staggers to his feet, he soon falls senseless upon the ground, and finally is placed deep underground in the giant’s dungeon. The giant himself is not ‘identified’ until after the knight’s fall, and then he is named Orgoglio, not Pride.

For an analysis of these states, see Oram 1997: 252– 54, and Tonkin 1989:176–81. The four concluding cantos describe Calidore’s adventures after he abandons his quest and enters the pastoral world. His vision of Pastorella culminates in his vision of the Graces, and his courtship of her culminates in their union (x 38); and only after he rescues her from the brigants, and restores her to her noble parents, does he seek to capture the Blatant Beast. This pastoral interlude surprises any reader, not because Calidore abandons his quest – the Red Cross Knight and Guyon do the same – but because he is rewarded for doing so.

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