October 11th, 2016

Ode to a Frog

My ex-husband has been going through his papers, and yesterday he found something I thought had been long lost—a poem I had written as a 14-year-old sophomore in high school.

How it came to be in his stuff I don’t know, but he’s somewhat of a pack rat. Did he find it in some desk in my parents’ house many years ago? Did he rescue it, put it away, and forget he had it? I can’t recall having seen it since around the time I wrote it—and that’s a long, long, long time ago.

Before seeing it again, I had remembered that the poem once existed. I had remembered what prompted me to write it. But I remembered very little about the poem itself. So seeing it again was like reading something brand new—a note from my 14-year-old self, a glimpse into my fourteen-year-old mind.

The poem, which I will reproduce in its entirety here in a moment, wasn’t written as a school assignment. It was written for my own pleasure, and out of my own feelings of guilt. The occasion was an incident in school biology class that disturbed me greatly at the time. The description of it in the poem is what actually had happened in real life.

At fourteen, I was already familiar with a poem that is still one of my very favorites, Robert Burns’ “To a Mouse, On Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Plough, November 1785” (I’ve previously written about the poem on this blog, with an excerpt, here). Burns’ poem is a long apology to a mouse whose home (“thy wee bit housie”—love those Scottish diminutives!) he had upended, and it ends with a meditation on the plight of man and beast in nature and in civilization.

My little verse isn’t up there with Burns’, not by a longshot (for one thing, I don’t have that wonderful dialect to work with). But I think that for a fourteen-year-old it’s not half-bad. I’ve resisted the urge to clean it up and improve it from the perspective of my much-older self. I’ll just add that although I use the word “experiment” in the title, the incident that sparked the poem was more of an exercise than an experiment. We were divided into pairs and each given (that is, loaned) a live frog. The phrase “prep sheet” refers to the instruction sheets we were given along with the frogs, and the instructions listed in the poem were what we actually were supposed to do. “Hubbard” is a pseudonym for the name of the real biology teacher.

Ode to a Frog: On Carelessly Breaking its Leg in a Bio Experiment

Frail thing, what did you ever do
To me, to have this done to you?
I never saw you ‘fore this day
And wish it could have stayed that way.

The prep sheet said to pinch your toes,
To poke your eye, to tweak your nose,
To put some acid on your thigh,
To place ammonia in your eye.

Hubbard didn’t show the way
We were to hold you down today
And so we squeezed a bit too much
We should have used a lighter touch.

And when we put you back to rest
(Until your next sadistic test)
Oh, only then it came to light
We must have held you awfully tight.

For (and we’re sorry, truly sad)
Your little leg looked really bad.
It seems in one unlucky stroke
Your tiny, fragile leg we broke.

There is no justice on this earth
There seems no reason for your birth
That you should have to suffer so
Your life to be just filled with woe.

We never meant it, never guessed.
We only had in mind the best.
O frog, forgive, I beg of you
The stupid things we humans do.

My guess is that the last line was inspired by Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” with which I also was already familiar when I wrote this poem: What fools these mortals be.

[NOTE: I don’t recall being the one to actually hold the frog and break its leg. But if I didn’t hold it, then I must have been the one to pinch its eye and poke its toes, etc. etc. and so forth. After this happened, I never again helped out a lab partner. In college biology lab—where it was required that we do dissections, although only on dead creatures, including a frog, a fetal pig, and a shark’s head—I was very fortunate to be paired with a dear friend who loved doing those dissections and didn’t at all mind doing them by herself. I let her do it, watched, and gave her moral support. Actually I’m not sure about the latter; I could barely stomach that lab, which was held right before dinner.]

29 Responses to “Ode to a Frog”

  1. FunkyPhD Says:

    Neo, I know you’re a Dickens fan, but many of the great novelist’s most fervent admirers never get to (or through) The Pickwick Papers, so you may not know of Mrs. Leo Hunter’s “Ode to an Expiring Frog” (Chapter 15):

    Can I view thee panting, lying
    On thy stomach, without sighing,
    Can I unmoved see thee dying,
    On a log,
    Expiring frog!

    Say have fiends in shape of boys,
    With wild haloo, and brutal noise,
    Hunted thee from marshy joys,
    With a dog,
    Expiring frog!

    I admire your poem–the handling of the rhyme scheme and meter is quite sophisticated and expert, especially for a 14-year-old. Bravo!

  2. brdavis9 Says:

    Bravo neophyte neo. Bravo.

    Deep night entered while all was still
    Dreaming of Rome on Time’s windowsill …
    Ages in passing, with no touch nor feel
    …while a butterfly was crushed under passing heel.

    …but no one wept for the death of it.

    No one wept for the death of it.

    …variation on a poem I first wrote in the 5th grade.

  3. Bilwick Says:

    In the early 1950s there was a very enjoyable English movie version of Dickens’ PICKWICK PAPERS. In one scene a woman who is throwing a costume party gets up and “entertains” the crowd by reciting an ode to a dead frog. You might want to see the movie and compare odes.

  4. Bilwick Says:

    Ooops, Funky Ph.d beat me to the Dickensian draw! I read the book over a decade ago and forgot that the poem appeared in the book, too. What’s interesting is how the movie, only ninety minutes in length, incorporates so much from the novel, which in my edition was about 800 pages.

  5. sdferr Says:

    A collaborative effort where Four Hands are better than two.

  6. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    A lovely poem neo.

    One thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to feel regret at inflicting needless pain upon another species. Do sheep sympathize with the wolf’s hunger? Do wolves think of the lamb left on its own?

  7. Rufus Firefly Says:

    That is sincerely very good, neo-neocon. It demonstrates a great deal of talent, especially for a 14 year old. Thank you for sharing that!

    Although you’re wrong about Shakespeare. He stole that line from Milton Leeds.

  8. Paul R Says:

    Amazing Neo…what a talent you have, and as a 14 yr old even…

  9. Juli Says:

    Very good. I wouldn’t have a problem dissecting a frog – we had fetal pigs in my high school Bio class, but I would NOT inflict needless pain on an animal such as you were forced to. Obviously, decades ago a refusal to do such would probably earn a failing grade on the assignment, whereas now our bravery would be viral on social media.

  10. neo-neocon Says:


    If your fifth-grade original was anything like the one in your comment, you were a genius.

  11. neo-neocon Says:


    Thanks! I had never seen that Dickens poem before.

  12. The Other Chuck Says:

    You were indeed a precocious child, Neo. For a 14 year old it is really quite good.

    Since we’re sharing childhood memories, I have a whimsical offering. It was written at age 16 as part of an assignment in American & English Literature. We were to write 5 poems in the style of various periods. The following one was supposed to be early American.

    Imagine Cotton Mather with a sense of humor, if you can:

    The Bee Upon A Clock

    Just as I looked up at the clock
    The time of day to see,
    Upon its loustrous wooden frock
    Had light-ed a tiny bee.

    O little stinger what’s thou need
    With such device as this?
    It clangs and ticks as though decreed
    In Satan’s evil abyss.

    At length God’s creature wing-ed flew,
    After awful bong!
    No doubt ’twas frightened through and through
    My mankind’s terrible song.

    Would that we could warning make
    Of every tick and clang,
    That man should see the snake
    And run like hell before the bang!

  13. neo-neocon Says:

    The Other Chuck:

    I see that you were precocious, too.

    There is a certain theme running through these, isn’t there?

    From Burns, circa 1785:

    I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
    Has broken Nature’s social union,
    An’ justifies that ill opinion,
    Which makes thee startle,
    At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
    An’ fellow-mortal!

  14. Mac Says:

    That’s really pretty brilliant for a 14-year-old, Neo, and not bad for anybody. These two lines:

    I never saw you ‘fore this day
    And wish it could have stayed that way

    are very memorable and could be put to many uses. 🙂

    The only poem I remember from my youth, closer to 17 than 14, was a free verse (yeah right) denunciation of the oppression of black people, insensitivity of white people thereto (I lived and still live in the south). I remember most of it but it’s too heavy-handed to be worth anything, except maybe for the image of black cattle and green grass (I lived on an Angus farm).

  15. The Other Chuck Says:

    Yes Neo, seems they have a recurring theme.
    Small correction to my little effort:
    By mankinds…

  16. SR Says:

    Sometimes I don’t understand why some neat people have ex’s

  17. edj Says:

    I’m reminded of Frost when I read this – his (apparently) effortlessly natural diction. The first three or four stanzas could stand almost unchanged. As a reader, i’d love to have a stanza about the benefits of experimentation, recognizing them. And then, what to say about it all, how to wrap it up – I don’t know.

  18. Frog Says:

    I am startled that you fourteen year-olds were schooled in sadism, because what you report in your poem as being commanded to inflict upon the frog makes no biologic sense. Acid here, alkali there, poke an eye, etc.
    It is and was very hard to get most high school girls to do anything even remotely physical like that to a critter, even if only impaling a bug to cardboard with a pin. We boys had to do that for them.

  19. neo-neocon Says:


    I was waiting for your point of view, given your moniker.

    I can’t quite remember the supposed justification, but I believe it had something to do with the frog’s reactions to said torments.

    Also, there was another demo, featuring a pithed frog. That was worst of all, but at least we didn’t have to pith one ourselves.

  20. SCOTTtheBADGER Says:

    Was it a dogfish that you dissected the head of?

  21. Caedmon Says:

    Delightful. Thanks.

  22. William Barton Says:

    The tenth grade biology teacher selected me from all the class to assist pithing the frogs. My career as a writer erupted from that day.

    “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods.” King Lear, I think…

  23. n.n Says:

    Pro-Choice. Amen.

  24. The Other Chuck Says:

    n.n. – a master of haiku.

  25. John Says:

    This lab exercise sounds like sadistic torture to me.

  26. neo-neocon Says:


    That’s what it sounded like to me, too.

    Although it wasn’t supposed to actually damage the frog (i.e. break its leg).

  27. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    Remarkable poem, whatever the age of the poet. Did you keep writing poetry, Neo?

    We had a very similar lab in my college bio class, freshman year. I don’t remember all of the details now, but we were supposed to inflict various painful stimuli on a living frog (not including breaking its leg), then kill it by pithing it, and repeat all the painful stimuli. I think the purpose was to find out which responses were reflexes that survived the destruction of the creature’s brain. It sounded so pointless and cruel that I refused to do it, and I wasn’t the only one – a good half of the lab section ended up observing as the lab assistant carried out the steps on one frog, rather than ten or fifteen of them. As I recall, our grades didn’t suffer. However, I distinctly remember noticing the remaining frogs, still cooped up in the tank, awaiting the arrival of the next lab section.

  28. brdavis9 Says:

    neo-neocon @6:29 pm
    brdavis9: If your fifth-grade original was anything like the one in your comment, you were a genius.

    LOL, tho’ thx neo.

    It was (lines 2, 4-6 are direct from the original, line 1 is a slight reword, and line 3 is changed), and I most certainly was (and am) not.

    I wrote a lot of [truly forgettable] poetry back then (and throughout most of my teens). That very early poem was just beginners luck (after a class exercise in haiku, and reading an obscure sf story on time travel paradoxes).

    I’ve always liked it, too.

  29. Susanamantha Says:

    S’mantha did a-shopping go, uh huh, uh huh.
    S’mantha did a-shopping go, uh huh, uh huh.
    S’mantha did a-shopping go,
    Some vittles for to cook you know, uh huh, uh huh.

    She did into her gay-rage go, uh huh, uh huh.
    She did into her gay-rage go, uh huh, uh huh.
    She did into her gay-rage go,
    The tire’s thump she did not know, uh huh, uh huh.

    The blob was flat from head to toe, uh huh, uh huh.
    The blob was flat from head to toe, uh huh, uh huh.
    The blob was flat from head to toe,
    The froggy did to heaven go, uh huh, uh huh.

    She shed a tear you all must know, uh huh, uh huh.
    She shed a tear you all must know, uh huh, uh huh.
    She shed a tear you all must know,
    He croaked and made her feel so low, uh huh, uh huh.

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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