Study Guide

Death of a Naturalist Sex

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"Death of a Naturalist" isn't the sexiest poem we've ever read. Let's face it: rotting flax, sod stench, and slimy frogspawn isn't all that hot. But this poem is dealing with sex nonetheless, in a scientific, animal kingdom sort of way. The entire premise of the poem hinges on the reproduction of frogs. The only way for frogs to produce frogspawn is to mate. So, implicit behind all the curiosity of a young boy who seems to like science and nature is the discovery of how (frog) babies are born. This is his "birds and the bees" moment, except it's a little gross and a little more traumatic. Perhaps part of his horror is realizing this. For a lot of kids, sex seems pretty disgusting when they first learn about it, especially frog sex. Ew!

Questions About Sex

  1. Does Heaney frame the reproductive process of frogs in a pleasant or unpleasant way? What examples from the poem support your answer? 
  2. At what point in the poem do you become aware that sexual reproduction is involved? 
  3. Do you think the speaker is completely aware that sex is involved in reproduction, or do you think he's still unsure? Why or why not? 
  4. What words in the poem could have a sexual connotation? Are there specific descriptions in the poem that don't directly relate to sex, but hint at it? Why do you think so?

Chew on This

The boy is doubly disgusted by the frogs' reproductive process, because he's of the age when any sex seems embarrassing and just plain gross.

The boy knows that sexual reproduction is natural, and he's aware of the frogs' process, but that's not what alarms him at the end of the poem. Instead, it's the sheer amount of them, and their generally disgusting behavior. Frog overload, y'all.

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