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Comparative and Contrasting Analysis of the Ways Used by Andrew Marvell and Seamus Heaney to Write about Animals

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The “Faber Book of Beasts,” (Muldoon, 1997) is an anthology of poems based around the theme of animals. Muldoon has created this anthology around the opinion that these poems are “a selection of the best animal poems,” (Muldoon, 1997). The two poems that will be discussed, “The Otter,” (Heaney, 1997) and “The Mower to the Glowworms,” (Marvell, 1997) both use animals as the protagonists in their poems. They do this in both comparable and contrasting ways.

Traditionally, when a poet uses animals, they use them metaphorically to highlight the similarities between the animal and another object- quite often a human (Brown, 2019a). Throughout these poems, the use of animals as metaphors contrasts significantly. In “The Otter,” Heaney uses the technique of anthropomorphism to create an image of a woman he loves. This is seen through, “I loved your wet head and smashing crawl,” (Heaney, 1997). Similarly, Marvell writes about his love for a woman, however, uses the glowworms as a metaphor for light, rather than to describe the woman herself, “ye living lamps,” (Marvell, 1997). Marvell is giving the glowworms elevated status as they are essential to the job of the mowers as natural light, “to wand’ring mowers shows the way,” (Marvell, 1997). Throughout these poems, the theme is similar, however, their use of anthropomorphism differs.

Both authors have written their poems in the first person. Heaney writes the poem from his own perspective, speaking of the actions that he sees and commits, “I sat dry-throated on the warm stones,” (Heaney, 1997). This is effective in allowing the audience to travel through the poem with Heaney and experience the poem through his eyes. Similarly, Marvell also writes his poem in the first person, however, he speaks to the glowworms and ends the poem by speaking from his perspective, “your courteous lights…that I shall never find my home,” (Marvell, 1997). This narrative style from Marvell enables the reader to connect with his images of the glowworms as natural light and understand the reader’s thoughts from his perspective.

Heaney creates a powerful image through the use of sibilance in the description of the otter, “swimmer’s back and shoulders surfacing and surfacing,” (Heaney, 1997). This creates a lyrical element within the poem. In conjunction with the lyrical element, it also slows the pace of the poem down for the reader, focussing on the description and movements of the otter, creating a vivid image. Similarly, Marvell uses consonance to describe the light of the glowworm as an “officious flame,” (Marvell, 1997). This creates quite a stark image in the reader’s mind, such as, a roaring, bright flame, that leads the way for the mowers. These two similar techniques, used for different purposes, are effective in portraying the theme and the stories they are trying to convey.

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With regards to the theme, Marvell makes use of a metaphor to describe the role of the glowworm. Describing the glowworms as “country comets,” gives sustenance to the theme of the poem. During the Renaissance, comets were viewed as an omen to predict unfortunate events to come, (sounds, 2020). However, the metaphor in this example, initially suggests, the inevitable cycle of grass cutting. Nevertheless, on a deeper level, it could be Marvell’s elaboration on how the poem ends, perhaps the woman is not reciprocating his love. Heaney also uses metaphors in this deep, elaborate way; however, they are contrasted to Marvell’s technique. The initial description of “the light of Tuscany,” combined with, “otter of memory… re-titling the light,” (Heaney, 1997), gives the reader the impression this is a fond memory that Heaney holds onto, embedded within nature and untouchable in his mind. The end description of the “re-tilting the light,” suggests their relationship came full circle and ended on a happy note.

In terms of tradition, Marvell’s poem can be viewed as a poem of conceit, a popular trend in European poetry throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth century, where the animal is used as a “vehicle for saying something broader about the world of human experience and their emotions,” (Brown, 2019b). This can be clearly seen by Marvell using the light of the glowworms to depict his journey of love for this woman, that ends unfortunately for him. This contrasts with Heaney, who uses the anthropomorphism to describe the human in question, rather than human experience and emotions.

Formal structure of the two poems are similar as they both are written in quatrains. However, “The Otter,” has more stanzas. This creates the effect of a more elongated depiction of Heaney’s vision of this woman and the journey they go through to be together. This is given sustenance using enjambment in the fifth and sixth stanzas, “in the pool of the moment, Turning to swim on your back,” (Heaney, 1997). This creates a faster pace to enhance the movements of the otter and the poignant image it creates in the reader’s mind. Heaney also uses the stanzas to create a change in tone. The poem begins in the past tense and in the fourth stanza, it changes into the present tense. This could suggest the turn of events in Heaney’s relationship with the woman, where they have grown closer. This contrasts with Marvell’s shorter poem, consisting of four quatrains. Each quatrain describes the light of the glowworms using different metaphors, “living lamps…officious flames,” (Marvell, 1997). All of Marvell’s stanzas are written in the past tense. This allows the reader to create many images of the light the glowworms produce and their elevated position in nature.

Finally, most significant contrast between both of these poems is their rhyme scheme. Marvell’s poem has a traditional ABAB rhyme scheme, written in iambic tetrameter, “iambic lines with four stresses,” (Brown, 2019c). This is effective as it has a lasting impact on the reader, through the regular rhythm it creates. A regular rhythm also makes the poem predictable to the reader, reinforcing the glowworms role in the poem; lighting the way for the mower and the inevitable cycle in which it contributes to. On the other hand, Heaney (1997), has written “The Otter,” in free verse, with no rhyme scheme. This style of writing depicts the poem as a story, emphasising the journey that Heaney and the woman’s relationship endures. It reinforces the actions of the otter, making them more vivid for the reader, viewing the scenes through Heaney’s eyes.

In conclusion, both these poems are very similar in their use of animals as a metaphor for the theme they are trying to convey. The otter and the glowworms are successfully depicted to reflect both poet’s experiences with the women in their poems. However, their use of descriptive techniques contrasts significantly. Heaney’s descriptions of the Otter, both metaphorically and through the literally, describes Heaney’s views of the woman and his experience at going full circle in the relationship. Whereas Marvell uses the glowworms, metaphorically, to highlight his fleeting love. The lights they emit are used to portray the foretelling of the journey and that it did not end in the same fashion as Heaney’s did. Both poems reinforce the fact that they are entranced by their respective animals within the poems and that particular moment is consumed by the images and actions of them.


  1. Brown, R. D., 2019a. Chapter 4 Reading Poetry. In: J. Brown, ed. Traditions. Milton Keynes: The Open University, p. 153.
  2. Brown, R. D., 2019b. Chapter 4 Reading Poetry. In: J. Hughes, ed. Traditions. Milton Keynes: The Open University, pp. 182-183.
  3. Brown, R. D., 2019c. Chapter 4 Reading Poetry. In: J. Hughes, ed. Traditions. Milton Keynes: The Open University, p. 178.
  4. Heaney, S., 1997. The Otter. In: P. Muldoon, ed. The Faber Book of Beasts. London: Faber and Faber, pp. 191-192.
  5. Marvell, A., 1997. The Mower to the Glowworms. In: P. Muldoon, ed. The Faber Book of Beasts. London: Faber and Faber, p. 159.
  6. Muldoon, P., 1997. Introduction. In: P. Muldoon, ed. The Faber Book of Beasts. London: Faber and Faber, p. 15.
  7. Muldoon, P., 1997. The Faber Book of Beasts. 1st ed. London: Faber and Faber. sounds, S., 2020. Comets in Ancient Cultures: The Harbinger of Doom or Messengers of the Gods?. [Online] Available at: https:strangesounds.org202004comets-ancient-history-culture-harbinger-doom-messenger-god.html [Accessed 13 January 2021].

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Comparative and Contrasting Analysis of the Ways Used by Andrew Marvell and Seamus Heaney to Write about Animals. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from
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