by Seamus Heaney
has a grim subject: the drowning
. But this is only superficial; the real subject of the poem is Animal Rights
. Heaney recalls his experiences from childhood
growing up on a farm in Ireland
The poem is blunt but yet also carefully constructed. The choice of kittens is clearly chosen to emotionally impact the reader: for most "townsfolk", kittens are the very icon of cuteness. Killing them then seems like cruelty in the extreme. But Heaney helps to show the "alternative" reality of farm life where such things are simply neccesary. Kittens therefore represent an example of a sharp contrast between town and country life.
The poem is particularly important in recent years, where we have seen protests in England from countryfolk upset that controls are being imposed on them by people who do not understand their way of life.
I was six when I first saw kittens drown.
Dan Taggart pitched them, 'the scraggy wee shits',
Into a bucket; a frail metal sound,
Soft paws scraping like mad. But their tiny din
Was soon soused. They were slung on the snout
Of the pump and the water pumped in.
'Sure, isn't it better for them now?' Dan said.
Like wet gloves they bobbed and shone till he sluiced
Them out on the dunghill, glossy and dead.
Suddenly frightened, for days I sadly hung
Round the yard, watching the three sogged remains
Turn mealy and crisp as old summer dung
Until I forgot them. But the fear came back
When Dan trapped big rats, snared rabbits, shot crows
Or, with a sickening tug, pulled old hens' necks.
Still, living displaces false sentiments
And now, when shrill pups are prodded to drown
I just shrug, 'Bloody pups'. It makes sense:
'Prevention of cruelty' talk cuts ice in town
Where they consider death unnatural
But on well-run farms pests have to be kept down.