Looking at frogs
We took the children on a walk around Loch Muick this week. The children had a competition to see who could spot animals along the way. We saw a pigeon, a blackbird, cows, deer, geese, ducks, chaffinches, a hairy caterpillar and a great many frogs.
The first pair we came across had picked a very precarious place to call home; their home was a large puddle on the track. There was frogspawn, but the sun was shining and the puddle didn’t look as if it would be there for terribly much longer.
As we went further there were wiser frogs colonizing shaded ditches. At the end of the loch there was a much larger colony of frogs with about twenty visible frogs and a grassy/weedy submerged island probably harbouring many more.
The first poem to hop to mind was “Death of a Naturalist” by Seamus Heaney where he describes:
… the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks.
He then goes on to:
wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst into nimble-
This poem in turn reminds me of another. In Carol Ann Duffy’s poem “In Mrs Tilscher’s class” the speaker describes the experience of coming to the end of primary school. One moment recalled is when:
Over the Easter term the inky tadpoles changed
from commas into exclamation marks. Three frogs
hopped in the playground…
So the frogs in Glen Muick were right on schedule.
At one point I was looking at a frog in a pool and it suddenly swam very vigorously for the other side of the pool and these words from Norman MacCaig’s poem “Frogs”, in which he accounts for his love of frogs, surfaced in my mind:
Above all, I love them because,
Pursued in water, they never
Panic so much that they fail
To make stylish triangles
With their ballet dancer’s
While MacCaig’s poem has a sense of childish wonder and clumsy but apt comparisons – with Buddha, opera singers etc – the other two poems look at frogs as a symbol for the beginnings of a loss of childhood innocence.
The life-cycle of a frog played out for children to see in ditches and puddles and pools lead both the other poets to convey a sense of “tangible alarm” when the children are faced with this cycle of growth and reproduction. In the Duffy poem the speaker immediately follows the release of the frogs into the playground with the comment:
…A rough boy
told you how you were born. You kicked him, but stared
at your parents, appalled, when you got back home
and the poet in “Death of a Naturalist” comes back to see how the frogspawn has developed:
…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.
His fascination with the frogs has turned to revulsion and fear, hence the title.
As for me, I enjoyed seeing the frogs heralding the beginning of spring. I enjoyed seeing their wee amphibious alien lives unfolding. I imagined a possible frog-based rewrite of ‘The Parable of the Sower’:
Some frogs went out to lay their frogspawn. Some laid their frogspawn in a puddle on the path and the sun dried up the water. Some chose ditches…
I’d need to do more research on the difficulties frogs face out there if I was to complete a parallel parable.
Or maybe I should write a frog poem of my own.