The Secret Life of Frogs (Poetry by Gwen Harwood)

‘The Secret Life of Frogs’ is a poem that delves into the childhood perception of war, in particular World War I, and the experiences of their fathers. ‘The Secret Life of Frogs’ deals with the idea of misunderstandings incurred when children attempt to understand adult concepts. This is evident through the use of punning. The term ‘Frog’, which is frequently used throughout the poem adds amusement to the text because to the readers, it not only translates literally to a frog, but also represents the rival French people in the war through a negative light.
However, the narrator, who is also one of the children in the poem, does not understand this other meaning attached to the term ‘frog’. This can clearly be seen in the final sentence when the narrator believes in protecting the amphibians, but does not distinguish the term ‘Frogs’ to also represent the French people. The use of allusion, reference to World War I in the poem, emphasizes the idea that children in their innocence, particularly children during the war, can misinterpret what adults talk about.
Evident in the line ‘some syllables we used as charms…Gallipoli’, where the children have heard of these words and the negative connotations attached, however they do not know of the magnitude of the events that are associated with the words. Throughout ‘The Secret Life of Frogs’ themes that are expressed include childhood innocence and the negative influence of war on children. The theme of the innocence of children is clearly conveyed through the use of the parenthesis, ‘(we thought a brothel was a French hotel that served hot broth to diggers)’.

This technique is used to enclose a thought that the children had in their childhood, and helps to further emphasize the idea that they misunderstood the adult concept of brothels. The parenthesis also helps to change the tone of the poem as it cuts the seriousness of the stanza through their misinterpretation of the word brothel. This highlights the idea that the children did not understand the insinuations of the word. The notion that the war had a negative impact on children is discussed throughout stanza 3.
The use of the metaphor ‘Dad the Impaler’, accentuates the idea that children saw this term in a very positive manner when in actual fact it has negative connotations. This highlights the brutality of war, and the negative influence of war on children because the children in the poem used ‘Dad the Impaler’ in a heroic manner. The use of simile in the last stanza ‘matchstick hands as pale as the violet stems they lived among’ is used to compare a frog to violet flowers, which are very delicate and easily broken.
The innocence of childhood is painted through this visual technique as the narrator only sees the frogs being very delicate, but to the readers the simile also creates a vivid image of the condition of the ‘Frogs’/ the French. The use of first person helps to create a reminiscent tone about the narrator’s experiences, and further helps to stress the ideas of childhood innocence and the influence of war on children because the poem is written from a child’s perspective.
The use of enjambment generates a conversational and personal tone, emphasizing to the readers the reality of the themes discussed throughout the poem. The use of symbolism of frogs as pets and also representing the French highlights the idea that adults saw ‘Frogs’ as insignificant or unworthy to speak about, whereas the children could not understand this adult thought, and they placed exemplary regard to the wellbeing of the frogs.

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