The speaker in "Death of a Naturalist" is at the age where he still has a lot of childlike wonderment, but he's starting to learn how the world works. This can be a shocking and exciting time. On the one hand, he's super-psyched (as ever) about spring coming because he gets to collect the gooey, nasty, but undeniably fun, frogspawn and watch it change on his windowsill. Plus, he gets to learn about how the whole process works at school. From a distance this is all good, but that one hot day, when he learns the reality of frogspawn, things aren't so simple. He feels disgusted by the reality of the slimy frogs having mated to produce the spawn. He feels oddly guilty that in collecting the frogspawn he may have messed with the natural balance of things, so the big bullfrogs might feel vengeful toward him. Our speaker is no longer carefree and innocent. He knows more, he's experienced more, and he's finding out that the world is a complex and sometimes uncomfortable place.
Questions About Innocence
What do lines 16–18 ("The daddy frog was called the bullfrog / And how he croaked and how the mammy frog / Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was") tell you about the speaker's innocence?
What about the speaker's curiosity and enthusiasm for the frogspawn (especially in the first half of the poem) makes him seem more innocent?
Does his teacher or his schooling do anything, in your opinion, to affect the speaker's innocence? What parts of the poem support your answer?
At the end of the poem, the speaker seems to have become aware of what the frogspawn is, where it comes from, and to whom it belongs. What about this newfound awareness affects his innocence?
Chew on This
At the beginning of the poem, Heaney shows the boy's excitement for the smelly, slimy, yucky, gross, and muddy things in nature because he wants to give the reader a sense of the young boy's innocent nature.
By the end of the poem, the boy hasn't changed at all. Just because he sees something that frightens him at the flax dam doesn't mean he's going to think of frogs or frogspawn any differently. Sheesh.