The Early Purges & Woodchucks

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If asked how one feels about animals, most people wouldn’t have a definite feeling one way or another. However, when an animal starts invading their lives and homes, a feeling of strong distaste emerges. Many would not think anything of killing a rodent or insect that started taking over their home; however most people wouldn’t kill a domesticated animal because it is taking up too much room or eating too much food. In fact, killing a domesticated animal, such as a dog or cat, today could result in jail. In the poems, “Woodchucks” by Maxine Kumin, and “The Early Purges” by Seamus Heaney, two drastic examples of killing an animal is discussed. Although both of these poems discuss the killing of animals; one is about the extermination of “pests” and the other is the killing of a family pet. Both poems tell a story of killing an animal; however, they are told from different perspectives. The following is a comparison of each of these poems and discusses how even though the narrators share a common bond; their story is very different because of their point of view, style in telling the story, and tone in describing the killings. Poets use different points of view depending on how they want their audience to react to a certain poem. In the poem “Woodchucks”, the audience sees the poem through the eyes of the killer as the events are occurring. This allows the audience to have a better understanding of the events leading up to the killings and exactly how the killings occurred. The poet says, “Now drew a bead on the littlest woodchuck’s face” (Line 17), and “Ten minutes later I dropped the mother” (Line 19). The poet describes the actions of the woodchucks as they are happening as well this is seen when she says, “Next morning they turned up again, no worse” (Line 7), and “They brought down the marigolds as a matter of course and then took over the vegetable patch nipping the broccoli shoots, beheading the carrots” (Lines10-12). Because the events are being told in present tense by the killer, the reader is able to identify her actions and have an understanding for her justification; to save her garden and vegetables. Unlike “Woodchuck”, Heaney’s poem is told from the perspective of an adult looking back on an event that occurred in his childhood. In Heaney’s poem “The Early Purges”, an adult recalls a vivid childhood memory of kittens being drowned. In the very beginning of the poem he starts out by saying, “I was six when I first saw a kitten drown” (Line 1). Although the story is being told by adult, the reader can envision a six year old witnessing this tragic event. He remembers feeling as a child that this was a cruel punishment for the kittens, and states, “Suddenly frightened, for days I sadly hung Round the yard, watching the three sogged remains turn mealy and crisp as old summer dung” (Lines 10-12). Towards the end of the poem, the narrator, now an adult, has changed his attitude toward the killing of animals. Even though there is no other reason for killing them than to get them out of the way, he acts if killing any animal is warranted. This is seen when the poet says, “And now, when shrill pups are prodded to drown I just shrug, ‘Bloody Pups’” (Lines 16-18). All the sadness and pain he once felt is gone. The people and storyline in this poem is very different from those in “Woodchucks”, where the killing of the woodchucks was necessary to stop them from eating the garden. Here, there is no reason given that can justify the killing of the kittens and the only understanding is how the narrator was changed as a person by being a witness to the drownings. Every poet has their own style in the way they compose their work. Both, Kumin and Heaney share the same approach by telling a story within their poem. Although both of their stories are about killing animals, the way in which they tell it leaves a different feeling for the animals and their killers. In “Woodchucks”, the narrator takes...
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