Seamus Heaney

Death of a Naturalist BY SEAMUS HEANEY

  • All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
    Of the townland; green and heavy headed
    Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
    Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
    Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
    Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
    There were dragonflies, spotted butterflies,
    But best of all was the warm thick slobber
    Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
    In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
    I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
    Specks to range on window sills at home,
    On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
    The fattening dots burst, into nimble
    Swimming tadpoles. Miss Walls would tell us how
    The daddy frog was called a bullfrog
    And how he croaked and how the mammy frog
    Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was
    Frogspawn. You could tell the weather by frogs too
    For they were yellow in the sun and brown
    In rain.
        Then one hot day when fields were rank
    With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
    Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
    To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
    Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
    Right down the dam gross bellied frogs were cocked
    On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
    The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat
    Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
    I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
    Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew
    That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.