Trout is featured in Death of a Naturalist, published in 1966. Death of a Naturalist is Samus Heaney’s first major published volume. It consists of 34 short poems that depict childhood experiences and a reflection on identities, relationships, and life. The collection includes poems such as Digging, Death of a Naturalist, and Mid-Term Break, among others. Death of a Naturalist won the Cholmondeley Award, the Gregory Award, the Somerset Maugham Award, and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize.
Trout is a descriptive poem with four quatrains. It has 16 lines of mainly 6 syllables and a final line. The poem is written in blank verse and, thus, it has no rhyme scheme. Trout is constructed as an extended metaphor likening the trout to a firearm. This is because there are constant references to guns and to their power. Hence, the form, shape, color, and movement of the trout resembles to that of a gun.
In order to portray a natural scenery, it is said that Heaney was inspired by his childhood home were rivers and streams were part of his daily landscape. In Trout, the poet takes advantage of this space and uses it to comment on a contemporary universal issue, such as violence and guns. You can read the full poem here.
Hangs, a fat gun-barrel,
the throat of the river.
The first stanza sets the scene. The title merges into the first line of the poem to portray the first picture of the trout (“Hangs, a fat gun-barrel/deep under arched bridges”). The lyrical voice will describe, throughout the poem, how he/she sees a trout, and notice that, from the very beginning, the animal is compared to “a fat gun-barrel”. The trout “Hangs”, suspended, like a gun waiting to be triggered. Moreover, the lyrical voice pauses over the “arched bridges” to watch this creature and acquaint him/herself with the life-forms in that particular stream. Nature is a central theme as it allows the lyrical voice to talk about other issues, using an extended metaphor (the comparison between the trout and a gun) throughout the poem. Moreover, the lyrical voice continues to describe the trout’s movements: “slips like butter down/the throat of the river”. There is a great contrast between the inertia of the first section, the trout that “Hangs”, and the movement in the second part where it “slips”. Furthermore, note the food imagery on the final two lines: the trout moves like “butter down/the throat” of the river.
From depths smooth-skinned as plums
that vanish, torpedoed.
The second stanza depicts the trout’s movements. The lyrical voice describes that the trout goes from the bottom to the surface of the water in order to get some food. Nevertheless, like in the previous stanza, this description is full of weapon and naval imagery. The trout initiates the movement (“From depths smooth-skinned as plums”) and it prepares to attack, just like a gun (“ his muzzle gets bull’s eye”). The trout, as a weapon, is very precise and “picks off grass-seed and moths/ that vanish, torpedoed”. There is no escape from the accuracy and the pace of the trout, that works exactly like a gun. In this stanza, there is both animal and plant imagery and the extended metaphor of the trout is consolidated by further use of images such as the “bull’s eye” and the “torpedoed”.
Where water unravels
white belly reporting
The third stanza contrasts with the previous lines. The lyrical voice describes how the trout moves “Where water unravels over gravel-beds”. Notice the assonant pair unravels/gravel and how it creates and flowing movement between the words similar to that of the water. The trout once again is described with weapon imagery as it is said that it “is fired”. This stanza presents the trout’s movement in shallower water areas and how it leaves a track on them (“white belly reporting”). The lyrical voice focuses on the movement, and the gun imagery conveys it perfectly.
flat; darts like a tracer-
A volley of cold blood
ramrodding the current.
The final stanza continues with the description of the third one. The lyrical voice describes that, once the trout has fulfilled its mission, it returns to the depth of water. Once again, the trout moves like a weapon (“darts like a tracer”) and goes “bullet back between stones”. The creature positions itself back in the bottom of the river because this is a secure place where the trout “is never burn out”. Nevertheless, despite the fact that the trout returns to the initial place, the creature is untiring and tenacious: “A volley of cold blood/ ramrodding the current”. These final lines summarize the trout’s power and its similarity to weapons. Notice that the last line is separated and constructs a dramatic effect in which the nature of the creature is expressed. The final image demonstrates clearly the close relationship between the trout and a gun.
About the Seamus Heaney
Seamus Justin Heaney was born in 1939 and died in 2013. He was an Irish poet, playwright and translator. During his lifetime, he was an important figure in poetry and he is believed to be one of the best Irish poets of all times. Robert Lowell said he was “the most important Irish poet since Yeats”. Seamus Heaney received several awards during his lifetime, including the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (1968), the E. M. Foster award (1975), the PEN Translation Prize (1985), the Nobel Prize in Literature (1995), the Golden Wreath of Poetry, and the T. S. Eliot prize, among others.
He was born in Northern Ireland, raised in County Derry, and then lived many years in Dublin. In the 1960s Seamus Heaney became a lecturer in St College in Belfast after attending Queen’s University Belfast. From 1981 to 2006, he lived part-time in the United States. Seamus Heaney worked as a professor and was a “Poet in Residence” at Harvard University. His most notable works are: North, Field Work, The Spirit Level, Beowulf, District and Circle, and Human chain. Furthermore, one of his most well-known poetry collections is Death of a Naturalist. Death of a Naturalist was issued in 1966 and was Heaney’s first major published collection. The book won several awards, including the Gregory Award and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and consists of 34 short poems.