The title, Death of a Naturalist’ explains another part of the poem because it is literally about the little boy loving the warm thick slobber of frogspawn’. Then he grows older and loses some of the innocence that was present in the first stanzas. He is sickened by the gross bellied frogs’ and the naturalist in him is dead. The theme of Death of a Naturalist is also the power of nature. This is illustrated by the frogs having power over the author as a child. This powerful theme is conveyed in the second stanza, with phrases like angry’, threats’ and vengeance’. The frogs are described as being poised like mud grenades’ which brings out images of guns and strength. The writer uses emotional images, because it is the poet’s memory and he is reminiscing. Heaney uses a number of poetic devices to create images. Firstly, he uses the metaphor in the heart of the town land’ to add interest to the poem. He uses language such as sweltered’ and punishing sun’ to create an image of the hot summer that he remembered. The poet brings nature into the poem with the metaphor bluebottles wove a strong gauze of sound’.
This creates a visual image of the day he went to collect frogspawn in the reader’s mind and engages their interest. He uses alliteration in the line on shelves at school, and wait and watch’, to make the tone calm and happy with soft sounds. There is childish language like ‘mammy’ used to convey an image of innocence in the first stanza. In the second stanza, the mood changes dramatically from one of nostalgia and innocence to vulgarity and almost horror, although there are hints to this tone in the preceding stanza. The poet uses words like ‘rotted’, ‘slobber’, and ‘festered’ as a hint that all is not well. In this stanza, the mood is dark, and vile, conveyed by language like ‘rank’, ‘gross’ and ‘vengeance’.
Heaney creates a tense image with the bass chorus of the frogs. He describes the frogs’ necks as ‘pulsing like sails’ and their blunt heads ‘farting’ to convey his terror that his once loved frogs would wreak ‘vengeance’ on him. The frogs are described as ‘slime kings’, once again bringing out the dominance of nature. Heaney uses onomatopoeia in the words ‘slap’ and ‘pop’ to create an image in the reader’s mind. The poem concludes with the poet saying that ‘the spawn would clutch’ his hand. This communicates his terror and reflects the poem’s central theme of the power of nature.