The young speaker of "Death of a Naturalist" is going through a personal transformation. He's growing up, and changing the way he sees his surroundings. Alas, we can't be young forever! The flax is changing (rotting) in the dam, and of course the frogspawn is changing into… frogs. The poem opens in spring, which is always a great time of change (plants grow, and the landscape changes, and all sorts of animals besides frogs give birth in the springtime). This poem shows how the young speaker comes to realize and experience change, and how he deals with it. And let's face it, whether it means outgrowing your favorite pair of jeans, or going to a new school, change is never easy, is it?
Questions About Transformation
Why do you think Heaney sets this poem in spring? What is the effect in terms of change as a theme in this poem?
How many instances of changes in nature can you find in this poem?
Do you think it's important that the speaker can actually watch the frogspawn change to tadpoles before his eyes in the jar? Why?
In what way(s) does the speaker undergo change in this poem?
Chew on This
Heaney sets the poem during springtime, when many changes in nature are underway, in order to highlight the changes the speaker is going through at the same time.
The speaker is completely unaware of the personal changes he is undergoing, and that's why he feels so shocked and afraid by the end of the poem. Frogs can really bring about painful reflective moments.